Friday 17 January 2020

Get rid of Rooney, bring in Fellaini, respect the past

James Lawton

Eleven years is a long time to play the role of the master's apprentice – certainly long enough for David Moyes to know that the challenge of filling Alex Ferguson's shoes is no longer about the qualities of patience and unswerving professional values.

Moyes didn't build an empire at Everton. He simply didn't have the resources. But he did do the next best thing. He built a series of teams that consistently over-achieved, who represented superb levels of commitment and enduring strength.

Now he has to pull off something more dramatic – and more quickly than anything that has been asked of him in a career of obsessive attention to the art of the possible when confronted by huge and discouraging odds.

Moyes has to declare himself, just about instantly, as his own man, ready to make his own decisions beyond the shadow of Ferguson's huge and serial achievement – and the pervading sense that he has not been so much selected for a job, brilliantly earned by his work on the shoe-string budget of Everton down the years, but the gift of an unprecedented inheritance.

With the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo thought by many to be a fait accompli, with Wayne Rooney bruised and restive and demanding a move, with Ryan Giggs an elder statesman playing football almost from memory but on unending waves of respect, it is not hard to imagine Moyes as a captive of circumstances rather than the vital mover in a new phase of the club's history.


It is an idea he has to smash almost before he orders up new curtains and decoration for an office from where English football has been hugely shaped over the last 27 years.

How does he do it? To a certain extent it has to be an uncharacteristic elevation of his own tough personality.

Over the years at Goodison Park we have read the character of Moyes simply by looking at his team. But what will football see if Moyes fails to put an early imprint on his new side? They will see Ferguson's players, Ferguson's football, Ferguson's life.

This phenomenon caused havoc at Old Trafford 40-odd years ago when the fading legacy of Matt Busby, creator of the fabled Busby Babes and then the European-Cup winning team of the Holy Trinity of Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best, claimed a string of victims, starting with the ferocious old United player Wilf McGuinness, so traumatised by his swift dismissal as coach his hair turned white almost overnight, and then the widely respected Irishman Frank O'Farrell, who quipped to a colleague "it's a nice day for an execution," when he was marched to the dressing-room to explain disappointing results.

For one reason or another, such notable football men as Tommy Docherty, Dave Sexton and Ron Atkinson all failed to pick up the baton, though if there was one compelling theory it was that none of them had managed to inflict their own authority firmly enough under the gaze and lingering influence of Busby.

Times and conditions change, of course, but the imperative for Moyes remains immense. The image of Busby, the director retained for his supreme knowledge of how the club worked, has been replaced by that of Ferguson and in so many ways it is even more imposing.

For one thing, Busby's success was on the ebb when he stood down. Ferguson's continues to be luminous. It means that right from the start, Moyes has to make a little bit of Old Trafford – and especially the dressing-room – his own.

He is keen to bring his stalwart player Phil Neville back to Old Trafford as a key adviser, not least on the dynamics of a club he served so well for so long.

Much more significantly, though, he would import at least one major player of his own and none could have a more dramatic effect than his much-admired Everton midfielder Marouane Fellaini.

Signing the big, combative and extremely talented Belgian might certainly further ruffle the feathers of Moyes' old chairman Bill Kenwright. But the new master of Old Trafford might easily say that this particular account has been settled satisfactorily on both sides.

Fellaini would serve two hugely important purposes. He would represent an authentic Moyes presence on the field. He would address the main weakness in a United team whose runaway Premier League triumph will always be seen as a definitive Ferguson triumph for his signing of Robin van Persie and a classic piece of sustained motivation.

Michael Carrick performed heroically but never to the point where the need for a new and powerful presence in midfield could be seen as anything but imperative.

Moyes might also see much potential in the signing of his impressively developed Irish full-back Seamus Coleman, not to mention a most impressive challenger to the long residence of Patrice Evra at left-back – Leighton Baines.

If Rooney remains restive, Moyes might conclude after his early battles with the former Everton prodigy that it is indeed an appropriate time for him to move on – a time, indeed, when a whole team, rather than one disaffected player, is required to find itself under new leadership.

Certainly, Ferguson never lacked an awareness of the need to make his early impact deeply felt. Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside were the victims of the new manager's belief that, for all their talent, they were at the centre of a drinking culture he could not abide.

Bryan Robson survived, largely because of what he still represented, consistently, on the field. Later, Ferguson showed the extent of his ruthlessness when he dropped his goalkeeper Jim Leighton before an FA Cup final replay.

That degree of authority regularly punctuated Ferguson's regime as it moved from one level of success to another.

He had worked the trick that Moyes now has to perform under pressure that few football managers have ever known before. He cannot but respect so much that has gone before and not least the remarkable title triumph of a few weeks ago. He cannot dismiss a brilliant past, as Brian Clough once did so catastrophically at Leeds United.

But he can say that he is charge of his own team, his own way of moving on. In this, it is hard to imagine a more potent symbol than Fellaini.

Irish Independent

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