Thursday 26 April 2018

Scholes' signal to those in the know suggests end for Moyes

Paul Scholes enjoyed a career of success at Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson
Paul Scholes enjoyed a career of success at Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson

Dion Fanning

The moment when Manchester United fans turned on Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford last Tuesday night is rightly being afforded significance as David Moyes' time as Manchester United manager draws to a close, marked by a ceremonial fly-past this weekend.

Ferguson's discomfort might have signalled the moment when the present became unbearable for Manchester United. It also made clear with some force that the club had entered uncharted land.

Ferguson – the great leader, the man who would outlive death and who believed above all else in control of Manchester United – was now helpless, an enemy of the state or at least of the supporters.

Ferguson, it was always said, wanted to go out on a high and last season's title win allowed him to do that. But now it has appeared that his career has ended in failure, soiled by the appointment of David Moyes, the man who was appointed to ensure stability and has instead brought unimaginable chaos.

If the abuse Ferguson received indicated that supporters were ready to revolt, there have been frequent signs that everything has changed.

A few weeks ago when Manchester United played Liverpool, Mark Clattenburg awarded three penalties to Liverpool and only failed to award a fourth because he may have sensed that the third penalty he had granted Liverpool at Old Trafford was a little generous. So he hesitated in awarding a fourth penalty to the opposition – to Liverpool, at the ground of the club once managed by Alex Ferguson. Then we knew for certain that none of the enduring myths that had preserved the regime would be obeyed in this world.

It was as if, at the time of the fall of the Soviet Union, protestors had infiltrated Lenin's Mausoleum, toyed with Lenin's body and then decided that urinating on it would be in bad taste.

Each week there is some new humiliation which would have once seemed far-fetched and while Ferguson was being abused, we looked at pictures of stewards guarding 'The Chosen One' banner and wondered if, having made a mess of the succession, Manchester United were now attending to the inevitable dismissal of David Moyes with an equally unsure touch.

This made the appearance of Paul Scholes even more significant. Scholes appeared on Sky Sports last week like one of those Tory grandees from the influential 1922 committee who would speak in a code which indicated to all in the know that some people were no longer prepared to put up with things. He was Geoffrey Howe helping to unseat Thatcher, even if Scholes wasn't suggesting upheaval, stressing that Moyes needs time but wondering if he knows his best team and if Juan Mata is playing in his most effective position.

Scholes is part of the influential 1992 committee, the Class of '92 which was prominent last week buying Salford City FC and being suggested as front men for a Qatari takeover of Manchester United, a story that was dismissed.

Few had expected anything from Scholes' appearance but he delivered wounding blows, blows made more significant by his flat delivery which made him sound like a midlands farmer discussing headage payments with a Department of Agriculture inspector.

Scholes gave one of the great authentic television performances as he dealt with Mata, Moyes, and the responsibility of the players before efficiently dismantling any pretences Arsenal had about themselves and a title challenge.

If Moyes' ongoing problem beyond results has been his inability to sound like a Manchester United manager, here was Scholes sounding like a Manchester United man and leaving it for everybody else to notice the difference.

* * * * *

Anyone who has ever stopped for a moment to ponder life's great questions, to ask 'What's it all about, eh?' will have taken some comfort in UEFA's proposals for a Nations League which is scheduled to begin in 2018 and will continue far into eternity. For too long UEFA, along with every other sporting body, has been obsessed with the naive concept that there is a destination where we will find perfect happiness.

We strive towards this, aiming for some fantastical place, insisting that all we want is to be happy and we would be happy if we could achieve just one more thing.

In football terms, this is a World Cup or European Championship finals. Our lives are lost in pursuit of this goal, in the belief that if we can simply get to this utopia then everything will be all right. As Ireland discovered at the European Championships, utopia does not exist.

It was David Foster Wallace who, in 'Some Remarks On Kafka's Funniness', said that Kafka's central joke was that the "horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from the horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is, in fact, our home".

This view can be seen as glum but it can also be the best hope man has for peace and enlightenment, liberating us from the idea that perfection is achievable some place else. Happily, it was recognised by UEFA in their plans for the Nations League.

No longer do teams have to embark on a journey believing that the destination will be a home where everything is right with the world. Thanks to the Nations League, international football will be a recognition that the journey is where we begin to understand ourselves, something which will be important as it goes on endlessly with a four-team pool turning into a knockout stage before UEFA's week of football in the European Championship qualifiers begins which will be followed by a final competition that takes places in many cities across Europe and may be hard to distinguish from some or all of what has gone before.

At that moment, sport will be a metaphor for life as humanity and the human lives of international footballers become inseparable from the horrific struggle.

In fact, international football may become nothing but the horrific struggle of endless games against Scotland and Poland.

We will have no difficulty comprehending that the endless journey towards home is, in fact, our home because we will have no place else to go.

Sunday Indo Sport

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport