Tuesday 24 April 2018

Losing the window acceptable if all the other exits are covered

Dion Fanning

Manchester United's new chief executive, Ed Woodward, was said to be dismayed when the club didn't get the credit they deserved for not selling Wayne Rooney in the summer. Or the transfer window as it is now known.

It was understandable if many were distracted by United's desperate state in the final days of the window as they appeared to act with the poise and sense of Maggio in From Here to Eternity when he was let loose in the New Congress Club.

Manchester United had to deny that the men attempting to secure Ander Herrera from Athletic Bilbao were confederates working for them, creating the sense that events had now moved beyond their control or had spun out of control, a sort of deadline-day Dallas, November 1963 as imagined by Oliver Stone, with Woody Harrelson's father now conveniently placed in the Spanish League's offices, not mysteriously behind the grassy knoll.

At the end of it, they had Marouane Fellaini but they didn't have Herrera or Fabio Coentrao. They also had Rooney who has, in the early weeks of the season, vindicated United's position that to sell him to Chelsea would represent a surrender of a profound kind.

They might have been right when they felt that even Manchester United couldn't cope with that this summer. Alex Ferguson's retirement was a surrender in itself, even if only a surrender to time and nature.

A man who has joked about outliving death finally retired which has brought a surreal sense of calm to English football, a sense of relief similar to that when a respected but overbearing guest leaves a party where nobody had expected him to stay all night. Everybody can be themselves again which is not something Ferguson would necessarily consider a good thing.

One of his core values in management had been revealed to Dave Brailsford, a core value which would undoubtedly leave him in agreement with Bronn in Game of Thrones that "there's no cure for being a c***".

The absence of this ruthlessness may have led to a distorted view of what has been happening in the early months of Moyes' reign which is naturally as notable for Ferguson's absence as any presence.

Clubs were flush with TV money in the summer and there was the sense that the transfer window was almost a prize to be won, a sense confirmed when José Mourinho declared Tottenham the "kings of the transfer window".

This used to be a prize claimed regularly by Newcastle who were the unchallenged kings of the summer but if Tottenham claimed the first trophy of the season, United were almost unanimously declared the losers.

Perhaps they were simply coming to terms with the peace dividend. Certainly it seemed unlikely that Rooney would still be at Old Trafford when Ferguson was using his farewell interviews to tell the world the player wanted to leave.

Last week, Mark Halsey made claims about his friendship with Ferguson which were said to have surprised United's old manager, but they told a familiar story of Ferguson's capacity for friendship, unhindered by any bourgeois restrictions.

Ferguson always had a great capacity for whatever the opposite of friendship is and Rooney was the latest to enter into that category.

Yet United and Liverpool resisted the agitation from their key players to leave, defying a convention that says when a player wants to go, he goes. Liverpool could thank the clear-headed words of John W Henry but, in the post-Ferguson world, United's leadership was more unclear as they wandered out blinking into the dawn.

United looked to Moyes, who has to be judged against Ferguson, even if his initial revelations about his appointment stressed a commitment to more suburban values.

At his unveiling, Moyes described the day he got the Manchester United job, revealing that he had been on a trip to Altrincham with his wife to have a new link fitted in a watch before a call came from Ferguson asking to come over, which caused a desperate panic because he was wearing jeans – jeans! – and didn't want to go to Sir Alex's house in denim. He realised he wouldn't have time to get home and change but he was able to drop his wife at the shopping centre in Cheadle before heading to Sir Alex's home, flamboyantly, if regrettably, dressed in a pair of run-of-the-mill jeans, jeans which didn't prevent Sir Alex informing him that he was the new manager of Manchester United.

This was Henry Hill's desperate day in Goodfellas as he juggles cooking a family meal with cocaine smuggling and adultery but with suburban priorities instead of a wiseguy's. Moyes laughed as he recalled the day he juggled the link in the watch, the jeans and then the call that he would be a made guy, even if he was the made guy who would have to hold it together in the post-Ferguson world.

Moyes has retained Rooney and that is a victory even if the transfer window was lost. As the Glazers denied that they were about to take another significant amount of money out of the club, it was another reminder that Ferguson held this together by the staggering force of his personality which may or may not have included friendly texts with Halsey.

Manchester United post Ferguson once looked like it could be a post-Tito Yugoslavia but perhaps it is more resembles English politics post-Thatcher, even if that comparison would appal Ferguson. Ferguson remains a presence, stating last week how happy he is that Rooney is in form, a statement that is said to ensure there will be peace and possibly a new contract for Rooney.

Moyes was selected for his similarities to the figure who had dominated for a generation before he revealed that he has a more muted personality. Like John Major, he has different values, even if he may not go as far as tucking his shirt into his underpants.

dfanning@independent.ie

Sunday Independent

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