Imagine being Davie Moyes right now, having your face splashed across the media for days in the wake of your very public dismissal from the biggest job in football, evidence of your failure analysed, dissected, and held up for the entire world to ponder and gloat over.
Most of us, if honest, will have enjoyed watching the public demise of this man we have never met, don’t know, but yet have been invited to excoriate over the duration of his tortured reign at Old Trafford. What does this public and ritual flogging of a man whose only crime was to be selected to manage Manchester United by its previous manager – the most successful occupant of a dugout in British football history, Sir Alex Ferguson – only to flounder and steer last year’s champions into the shallow waters of average and below average: what does this say about us?
Football has traditionally played the role of a pressure valve for the working class, an all too brief escape from the grinding pressure to make ends meet and an opportunity to experience the vicarious glory of a team on the up and up, or else let off steam by giving star players ninety minutes of verbal as an antidote to the stifling constraints and frustrations experienced during the course of the working week. In no other arena are people afforded the license to vent their anger without fear of recrimination or consequence as they are at a football match. Making the experience more salutary is doing so in the company of tens of thousands of other fans in a packed stadium as you watch twenty two millionaires and multi millionaires strut their stuff.
The love-hate relationship between major clubs and their supporters in the modern era lends itself to serious psychological analysis. Given the inordinate money earned by even your average Premier League player, resentment is never far from the emotions of the average supporter, whose season ticket is a luxury and who will not hesitate to turn on any player or manager they believe isn’t up to the task and worth the huge money they’re on.
Think about it: Moyes has gone in ten months from being the ‘chosen one’, Fergie’s dauphin, basking in the kind of endorsement bestowed on adopted sons by Roman emperors when choosing a successor, to being the most ridiculed, loathed, and derided public figure in the country this past week. With every passing and excruciating minute in the job towards his inevitable end, how he must have cursed the day Alex Ferguson called to invite him round to his house to personally offer the opportunity of his life – the opportunity to leave a job for life at Everton, where expectations were low, and fall flat on his arse at Old Trafford, the reputation he’d dedicated himself to attaining over long years spent working long hours at the less than salubrious footballing environs of Preston North End and Everton trashed in the process.
The sullen and serious features of the Glaswegian teetotaller he carries are an instant giveaway. Nothing achieved in David Moyes’ life ever came easy. He comes over as a poster boy for the virtues of corporal punishment in a child’s development – a man who, to judge by a demeanour that is so rigid and stiff he makes a lamppost appear animated by comparison, grew up expecting life to be hard and became hard as a consequence.
Unfortunately for Davie Moyes, surrounded as he was at Old Trafford by a history of near neverending success and the sense of expectation and entitlement that goes with it, the capacity and appetite for hard work was never going to be enough on its own. The paucity of flair and creativity he exudes on a personal level has been evident in United’s performances on the pitch all season. It was as if a brickie had been handed the conductor’s baton of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, such was the laboured and disjointed performances of his team. His inherent conservatism and lack of tactical nous when it came to making adjustments during matches, you could tell, had a negative influence on the confidence and performances of the team as a whole.
The man who appointed him, Alex Ferguson, was obviously drawn to Scottish working class characteristics of hard work, persistence, and grit that he himself possessed in abundance as a young manager making his way in the game. But the modern game is about more than that; it’s also about being able to connect with a squad of very rich young men used to being lauded as latter day divinities at one end of the spectrum, and derided as useless idiots and clowns at the other end. Seen in this light, a talent for man management is essential if there is going to be any chance of success in forging the bonds required to motivate players to give it their all throughout a long season.
The failure of Davie Moyes to slot in at Man Utd is the story of the rejection with which both he and his methods were met by a group of players who’ve been instilled with the values of the gambler and not the artisan. Moyes came up against a tradition of excellence and success built on the repetition of magic rather than the methodical. It’s a realisation that will provide little comfort as he weathers a media storm of vilification, criticism, and outright hostility – the ritual and very public humiliation that comes with the crime of failing to make 75,000 people happy every week.