As Manuel Pellegrini and David Moyes prepare for their first Manchester derby on Sunday, the two coaches are unlikely to be fazed. While the Scot has vast experience of the Merseyside affair, his Chilean counterpart has sampled the unique atmosphere of El Clasico. But it is perhaps fitting that they should undergo this Mancunian initiation ceremony together in the week that the Champions League returns to our screens. After all, their first taste of that competition - and the only other time they've met - came when their then sides faced off in a controversial qualifier back in 2005.
Moyes, of course, was in charge at Everton at the time and had guided them to an impressive fourth-place finish in the Premier League, leaving holders Liverpool to rely on special dispensation just to make the draw. Pellegrini went one better in his first season coaching in Europe, taking unfashionable Villarreal to third in the table behind Barcelona and Real Madrid. It was the first time either club had been involved in the Champions League and they were drawn against each other in the third and final qualifying round. "We are thrilled to be in the draw but we know that Everton will be a hard game," said Pellegrini on the eve of the game. "They did well last year in the Premier League and it will not be easy."
I think it was the biggest turning point in my history at Everton.David Moyes
Pellegrini may have been anticipating a contrast in styles. While Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard incurred the wrath of Moyes for claiming Everton were "very direct" as recently as last year, back in 2005 it is fair to suggest that would have been a more accurate assessment. James Beattie, Duncan Ferguson and Marcus Bent represented the forward options with the aggressive figure of Tim Cahill providing robust support from midfield. If nothing else, opponents could expect a tough evening at Goodison Park.
Pellegrini was happily indulging a very different type of talent in the province of Castellon. Juan Roman Riquelme had been dismissed by some as an anachronism after struggling at Barcelona. Here was a languid genius supposedly lacking the energy to thrive in the cut and thrust of the European game. But the enganche from Argentina was enjoying himself under the former River Plate boss and preparing for an ideological battle over two legs. "They play a very direct style of football and we shouldn't get drawn into playing like them," was Riquelme's take on Everton. "In fact we should do the opposite."
Everton were at home in the first leg but any advantage was spurned as they were beaten 2-1 despite an intimidating atmosphere being generated by their own fans. If Diego Forlan could be accused of underwhelming English audiences, what of Villarreal team-mate Luciano Figueroa? The Argentine forward had made one solitary Premier League appearance for Steve Bruce's Birmingham but was now a reinvigorated force in Spain and opened the scoring with a precise finish. Although Beattie levelled things up for the Toffees before the break, holding midfielder Josico popped up with a header to net a second away goal and restore Villarreal's lead.
That could well have been that. With Pellegrini's side capable of sterile domination courtesy of their passing game and Everton not expected to repeat their blood and thunder tactics on Spanish soil, Villarreal were entitled to believe the job had been all but done. However, Moyes had forged a team of battlers. Eight years on and the blue half of Merseyside are still talking about the second leg at El Madrigal.
Villarreal scored first. Juan Pablo Sorin's long-range drive deflected off David Weir and past the foot of Nigel Martyn in the Everton goal. It was a busy night for the visitors' keeper. The veteran England international was embarking on what would prove to be his final season as a professional but produced a series of fine saves to prevent Villarreal killing off the tie. It looked to have paid off with Mikel Arteta's free-kick putting the game back in the balance.
Everton grew into the game and the momentum was with the Premier League team. Martyn even suggested it was part of the manager's plan to keep things tight and try to make things happen late on. "For probably 15 or 20 minutes, which is what we'd hung in there for at the start of the game, we were all over them," he told Everton's official website. "We had a real go at them. We pulled it round and I think their keeper made a couple of good saves and we created one or two chances and they were certainly rattled."
Then came the moment of controversy. Duncan Ferguson rose to head the ball into the net. Ten minutes remaining and the goal would put Everton in front on the night and the teams locked at 3-3 on aggregate. Extra time beckoned. Anyone's game. But Pierluigi Collina, perhaps the most celebrated referee there has ever been, spotted an infringement that everyone else in the stadium had missed. The television cameras showed nothing. But the goal was ruled out.
Collina has since explained his decision, revealing he had not blown for a foul by Ferguson but rather a clash elsewhere instead. "It was because I've seen a foul made by another player - Bent," said the Italian. "Away from the ball, during a free-kick or corner kick, in the penalty box, there are several couples of players. The referee cannot follow all of them but your attention is on some of the players."
"Sometimes you can see things happen at other times you cannot see. If you're looking at another couple of players, you're not able to see the other part of the box. At that time, I was looking at those players - Bent and his Spanish opponent, and I've seen something that probably television didn't show. Clearly, Duncan Ferguson didn't make any foul but I didn't punish him for a foul. I punished Bent's foul."
He was the best in the world at the time but he gave a decision that a Sunday league referee might give. It was that poor.Nigel Martyn
Not everyone was satisfied with the explanation. "It was bizarre," added Martyn. "When you see them, they do come together but it's nowhere near the ball, it doesn't affect the goal. It was nothing really. It was so disappointing for us. For a referee of that stature - he was the best in the world at the time - but he gave a decision that a Sunday league referee might give. It was that poor."
As Everton chased the game, Diego Forlan netted on the break in the dying moments to give the scoreline a different slant. Villarreal had won home and away. Pellegrini's side proved they were one of the best sides around and went on to reach the semi-finals, only denied a place in the final after a hard luck story of their own. Against Arsenal in the last four, that man Riquelme had a last-minute penalty saved by Jens Lehmann that would have taken the tie into extra time. Everton, for their part, have not made it back to Europe's premier club competition since.
Moyes still rues the result. Speaking this summer, his assessment of the game trod the uncomfortable line between wistful wonderings and piercing conspiracy theories. "I think it was the biggest turning point in my history at Everton," he said. "We had come up against a right good side but, if we had made the group stages, then that pot of money meant we might have been able to maintain it that little bit longer. But we lost. If you remember that was the year there were five English teams and I still, to this day, think that they could not have afforded to have had five English teams in the main draw."
Understandably, the game left rather less of an impression on the current Manchester City boss but he too recalled the events of that night upon his arrival in England - even acknowledging his good fortune. "I know David Moyes," said Pellegrini. "When Villarreal played against Everton I remember it was a difficult game. We arrived at the group stage against a very difficult team, but we had the luck." The United boss may well feel he owes his City counterpart one when they meet again at the Etihad Stadium this Sunday afternoon.