After a start to the season that proved every bit as testing as the fixture list suggested it would be, United have lurched into what might tentatively be described as ‘a run of form’. The Stoke game demonstrated the extent to which peoples’ expectations have been tempered over the last couple of months – you only had to witness Hernandez’s winner being celebrated like we’d won the European Cup.
The general consensus appears to suggest that Moyes has had a terrible start to his United career, but in reality the team isn’t playing any worse than we did for much of last season. The difference is that last year – through a combination of strength of will and extreme good fortune – we were getting away with it week after week. This season however, we’re being picked off and punished. It’s a simplistic appraisal, I know – but that’s the reality.
United haven’t suddenly become a worse side and only an idiot would claim that our present predicament is down to the change of management. In brutal terms, the limitations of the squad are now common knowledge and teams have sussed we are beatable. It’s not the end of the world, it’s just going to take a while to sort out.
Fortunately for Moyes, most people at OT seem reasonably sanguine about the prospect of a fallow period whilst he gets himself acquainted with the job. Rightly so, too. If a certain amount of goodwill still exists for a pair of clowns like Nani and Anderson after 6 seasons of consistent underperformance, then surely the manager deserves at least a couple of years grace before people start to get on his back?
Nani of course, was the recipient of some grief from the OT crowd following his stinker of a performance and substitution in the aforementioned Stoke game. A few have suggested the reaction in the stands was indicative of the changing make-up of United’s support – the inference being that wigged up muppets have no patience and such wilful insubordination would never have happened in the good old days… which is total bollocks, of course.
Although incidents of individuals being booed aren’t common, they’re not exactly without precedent either. Forlan, Richardson, O’Shea, Fletcher and Carrick (off the top of my head) have all been singled out in recent years – the treatment of Nani has just proven more newsworthy as it’s occurred in a period where the spotlight has intensified due to Moyes coming in and the team looking decidedly out-of-sorts. If Nani wants to guard against similar abuse in future, he simply has to stop playing like he’s missing a brain (tricky, I know) and if substituted, understand that sauntering off pitch in a Neil Webb-style strop is completely unacceptable.
Moyes’ ongoing travails have been a mere sideshow this month, as the real story has been the anything but low key release of his predecessor’s book, the timing of which caused Barney Ronay in The Guardian to amusingly describe Fergie as “the managerial equivalent of the father-in-law from hell”, undermining Moyes with “his continued and undiluted power to fascinate and control.” Moyes of course, would no doubt dismiss such a notion out of hand and launch into an impassioned defence of his mentor. What else could he say? He’s hardly going to admit, “yeah, could do without all this at present.”
It didn’t occur to me to join the scramble for Fergie’s first solo gig at The Lowry but I ended up going down as a good mate of mine was quick on the draw for tickets and managed to grab a pair. I’m fully aware that paying £40 to listen to a bloke being interviewed is fairly unhinged – but once I was offered the chance to go, I didn’t feel I could turn it down. In my defence, it appeared some lunatics were paying £300 a pair on eBay – so despite being a bit of a crank, at least I wasn’t as big a crank as them.
Any thoughts the event would attract a crowd of thesps and pseuds were immediately banished upon entering the bar – it was packed with so many faces from the match, it was more reminiscent of a United away than a night at the theatre. Denis Law and Albert Kitman were mooching about in the foyer and getting mithered for photos, whilst plenty of CES Security goons were on hand – the fact (gasp!) football fans were in attendance presented an increased security risk, one has to assume.
As well as Albert and Denis, numerous other United luminaries turned out. Moyes himself, Sir Bobby, Capable Hands, Martin Buchan, Mike Phelan… no Woodward strangely – rumours he got confused and spent the night wandering round the Lowry Hotel knocking on random doors are as yet unconfirmed.
In my head I tried to convince myself this might be a proper Q&A, taking the Question Time format where everyone gets to submit a question and a few are selected with a view to stimulating debate and perhaps tease out some new material from the Ferguson archives. Dan Walker even hinted that we might expect rich pickings during his introductory spiel, this was to be Sir Alex ‘up close and personal’ – no cameras, no mics, no press in attendance. Not a chance, sadly.
Instead, to no one’s great surprise, we got an hour of Fergie giving the kind of on-rails interview we’ve seen him do a 100 times before. It was okay and there were a few little bits and pieces to be gleaned, it’s just a shame there was no way he was ever going to deviate from the well-worn script. He wasn’t facing a baying mob of anti-Glazer protestors ready to trip him up or drive him out of his comfort zone, he was sat with a crowd of respectful MUFC loyalists – the very people who’ve hung on his every word for the last quarter century.
As it was, we got a quick run through his career in football with only a few little nuggets that could be considered anything like ‘new’. His favourite non-United player was always Zola; in 27 years he only fell out with 6 players (pardon?!); Liverpool’s record is the yardstick United will always be measured against; and he came up with a great little line that neatly encapsulates the magic of King Eric, “Cantona always made a simple pass look great.” He certainly did.
After an hour, to the strains of The Stone Roses’ ‘Waterfall’ and an inevitable standing ovation, Fergie nearly provided a spectacular end to proceedings by almost walking into a wall attempting a stage left exit. We all received a signed copy of the book to go with the sense of anticlimax whilst the star of the show, presumably, was straight onto a tour bus heading north for the next night’s hometown gig up in Glasgow.
The book itself is anticlimactic too. Anyone hoping it complements the excellent Hugh McIlvanney-penned volume published in the aftermath of the treble season is in for a disappointment. In comparison, Paul Hayward’s effort appears rush-released and thrown together. Whilst it’s all very readable and of interest to any United fan, I found myself flicking back on numerous occasions to check I hadn’t missed a page out due to chapters suddenly veering off-topic or the appearance of an entirely unconnected anecdote. It’s almost stream of consciousness at times – as if Hayward has transcribed the interviews they’ve done and then copy and pasted the most interesting passages. The number of factual errors is also quite unbelievable for such a high-profile work.
Nevertheless, if you haven’t read it yourself yet, it’s almost certain you’ll be getting a copy off Father Christmas in a few weeks’ time. It’s sold thousands upon thousands already and will no doubt continue to do so. Ker-ching! Truth is, it wasn’t even the best autobiography by a legendary, cantankerous dictator released last month. That award, if you weren’t already aware, went to Morrissey.
Copyright Red News – November 2013