Modest CV left Moyes with no authority over dressing-room
Published 23/04/2014 | 02:30
Immediately after Alex Ferguson's final game as Manchester United manager, the chaos of their defending prompted Ryan Giggs to joke in the dressing-room "David Moyes has just resigned!"
Moyes had already been confirmed as Ferguson's successor, 'the Chosen One', as that increasingly conspicuous Old Trafford banner would aver. He was taking over a group so secure in their position as English football's market leaders that the late spillage of three goals in nine minutes at West Brom left even Ferguson smiling.
Where was the threat to United?
They had finished 11 points clear at the top of the Premier League, dealing crushingly with the title defence of their Manchester neighbours, City.
United weren't, thus, seeking inspiration in their new manager. Consolidation was the priority.
The gentle conceit they peddled was of the club as an institution above recruiting a vulgar, attention-seeking personality like Jose Mourinho whose behaviour might draw unflattering attention.
Moyes was considered safe.
A low-maintenance personality who, as Ferguson wrote in his second autobiography, "was a fine judge of talent who laid on some marvellous football at Everton when he was allowed to sign a higher class of player."
Moyes would, wrote Ferguson, "have no trouble embracing our traditions."
Just a pity the players concluded otherwise.
Their shamefully ambivalent performance at Everton on Sunday articulated a virtual downing of tools by footballers who knew their manager to be a whole lot more expendable than themselves.
The very safeness that drew United to Moyes, the quality that Ferguson specifically seemed to decree vital to the club's future, thus all but painted a target on Moyes' forehead in the players' eyes.
He became almost apologetic in the role of leader whereas, before him, Ferguson had been such an irresistible symbol of achievement.
A herd instinct kicks in with footballers when they sense authority unravel. Hence the constant trickle in recent months of rumour and wounding anecdote from the United dressing-room as players' grumbles over-ran Moyes' increasingly pallid efforts to turn things around.
With Ferguson upstairs, United no longer played with the intoxicating pace of old. Their football became tentative, etched with caution, an almost diagrammed process instead of instinctive.
The harder Moyes tried, the more his players seemed enigmas to him.
Because the natural dynamic of a dressing-room did not, could not exist at United from the moment he began to struggle.
How could he honestly hope to cajole, badger or intimidate footballers whose body of work so witheringly outstretched his own?
The job just seemed uncomfortably huge to him. And, for the modern footballer, that represented a gaping get-out clause.
So a six-year contract curdled into a 10-month crucifixion. Worse, the pretence that United operated to higher standards of behaviour than, say, the new-moneyed citadels of City and Chelsea became hopelessly exposed by Monday's clearly choreographed leaking of the Glazers' intentions to media.
This was the red-light district of football administration. Grubby, classless, ugly.
Yet, the "lack of decency" referenced by Gary Neville on Sky Sports yesterday will be just about the least relevant thing now to the footballers Moyes could not galvanise into significant action.
Chances are he needed to challenge the hierarchy of what was essentially Ferguson's dressing-room, either through an early marquee signing or the sale of some supposedly cornerstone figure. But Moyes did neither. His biggest achievement was thus deemed to have been keeping Wayne Rooney from the clutches of Mourinho at Chelsea. An achievement attached to a price tag in excess of £300,000 a week.
Yet, the most ruinous image of Moyes' reign is the current Premier League table showing an astounding 51 points turnaround in their position relative to Liverpool's.
If Ferguson's career was defined by a compulsion to knock United's north-west neighbours "off their f ... ing perch", it has been Moyes' misfortune that his struggles became illumined by the palpably thrilling unity of business at Anfield just now.
Brendan Rodgers has turned Liverpool around, above all, through the old-fashioned concept of coaching footballers to be better. But he also displayed the gumption in pre-season to send his best player, Luis Suarez, training with the reserves rather than allow his sulk contaminate the dressing-room.
Rodgers does not seem a naturally adversarial type but, from that moment on, he had the attention of his staff.
Moyes, by contrast, made what felt a token gesture of disciplining Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and Ashley Young last week, long after his voice had, clearly, lost any real traction in their lives.
In many ways, he gave United precisely what his track record promised on the tin. Honesty, care, diligence, conservatism. To survive, he needed to bluff.
He needed to be a Charlie-Big-Potatoes in the United dressing-room even if every molecule of his being ached to pull the other way. But David Moyes couldn't.
United, thus, sacked him for just being true to himself. And now they are shopping for glory in Hollywood.
As a certain Scot of their acquaintance might say "Football ... bloody hell."
Pellegrini hopes Silva scan yields positive news
Manchester City will today learn whether their hopes of overhauling Liverpool at the top of the Premier League have suffered a crucial blow when influential midfielder David Silva undergoes a full scan to determine the severity of the injury he picked up on Monday.
After the Spain international was carried off during the 3-1 win over West Brom, City boss Manuel Pellegrini, said Silva had suffered a recurrence of an ankle injury which had been dogging him in recent weeks.
Today's scan will reveal whether the injury will rule Silva out for the rest of the season, though even if it is not that serious he is almost certain to miss City's League trip to in-form Crystal Palace on Sunday.
Any absence could prove costly for Pellegrini's team, whose win over relegation-threatened Albion put them six points behind the leaders Liverpool with a game in hand. Such is Silva's influence in the City side – particularly in the continued absence of Yaya Toure – his involvement is widely believed to be crucial to City's slim hopes of overhauling Brendan Rodgers' men.
The City defender Pablo Zabaleta said: "We know how important David Silva is for the team. With him in the starting 11, it's different. He is the one who has everything. He simply makes us play better."
West Brom also face an anxious wait to determine the fate of full-back Liam Ridgewell, who picked up a knee injury in the City match. His manager Pepe Mel said early indications were that the player could miss the rest of the season.