• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Manager caught in worldwide web of ridicule

THOSE who know David Moyes well describe him as the sort of guy who thinks you still need a 2p coin to work a public telephone.

Discontent about the tenure of a United manager is nothing new, but the derision of David Moyes after a difficult start to his reign at Old Trafford has shown just how much times have changed
Discontent about the tenure of a United manager is nothing new, but the derision of David Moyes after a difficult start to his reign at Old Trafford has shown just how much times have changed

Being a stranger to modern technology cannot be anything but a major advantage to the beleaguered, embattled manager of Manchester United these days. Moyes is as familiar with social media as he is with advanced quantum physics, but he is clever enough to sense how he is being treated out in cyberspace.

Things were gentler back in 1989. An Old Trafford season ticket-holder famously rose to his feet at one game and held up a bedsheet on which he had scrawled the words "3 years of excuses and it's still crap…ta-ra Fergie". A United fanzine, Red Issue, infamously wrote "when is Mr Ferguson going to realise that he doesn't know what he is doing and return to that quiet backwater, Aberdeen?" The bedsheet and the fanzine anecdotes were trotted out repeatedly when Ferguson retired last May because those two episodes - and hardly anything else - captured and archived the unrest among some United supporters 25 years ago.

It is all very different today. Plenty of United supporters are grumbling again, but it is the wider ridicule of Moyes which has been so startling since the start of the season. Abuse, insults, jokes and doctored photographs pour on to the internet every day, intensifying in frequency whenever United stumble again. There are dozens and dozens of them, such as a picture of Old Trafford with the slogan: "Manchester United were a Goliath in football . . . and then along came David."

There are lists of "the best David Moyes jokes" online. One genuine, undoctored piece of video footage yesterday showed Ferguson and Sir Bobby Charlton in the stand at the end of Tuesday's Capital One Cup semi-final first defeat by Sunderland. It shows them looking at each other without words before Charlton briefly shakes his head in the briefest show of being fed-up. "The shake of the head that Manchester United manager David Moyes has been dreading," wrote one newspaper yesterday, absurdly giving weight to Charlton's natural little reaction as if it were an Emperor turning down his thumb.

The overall tone is unchanging: Moyes is hopeless, he does not know what he is doing, he is heading for the sack, he is a secret agent plotting United's demise. In spoof pictures he is often shown grinning maniacally like some sort of crazed figure. When Ferguson features in any of them he is shown to be sniggering about his successor's incompetence, or furious about it, or plotting a comeback to make everything right.

There is not a shred of sympathy for Moyes in any of it, nor respect. The enormity of the United job, the perceived epic scale of his failure and the fact they previously had the same manager for 26 years have all combined into a perfect storm for Moyes. He is seen as a figure of fun and fair game, like a disgraced politician or a celebrity involved in some sort of scandal.

That is where football is in modern culture. It does not matter that the team at the top of the Barclays Premier League, Arsenal, were beaten when they came to Old Trafford. Few care that United cruised through their Champions League group and won it by four points, unbeaten. Only a 1-0 Old Trafford win is required in the second leg against Sunderland to take them through to the first cup final of the season. They are seventh in the league, in the last 16 of the Champions League with a kind draw against Olympiakos and on the brink of a cup final. Average by their standards? Of course. But a crisis? Because of injuries their most talented player and most prolific source of goals, Robin van Persie, has played in fewer than half of their games so far.

United stuttering in the aftermath of losing British football's greatest ever manager and often doing without their top scorer does not fit the wider popular narrative, which demands that Moyes is hopelessly out of his depth and will soon be humiliatingly sacked. It has become an unedifying feeding frenzy. As soon as he took the United job Moyes was catapulted from second or third-tier fame to a level of stellar celebrity. Was he ready for it? "No manager can really be prepared," said Ferguson himself once he had been United manager for six years. "It's so different from any other club in Britain."

The online hysteria dips only when United win, as they did for six consecutive games in December. Moyes looked as though he had found a way out of the woods only for the collapse of three defeats in the three games his side have played so far in 2014. The most damaging of those by far was the home defeat by Swansea City in the FA Cup. Moyes has won nothing as a manager and getting even one of the cups back to Old Trafford would amount to him planting a flag and delivering a pass mark in his first, transitional season. The chance of the FA Cup was conceded cheaply.

Turning around the narrow deficit against Sunderland would put United through to the Capital One Cup final, which could well be a Manchester derby. Winning the Champions League looks far too much to ask of this United team but a top-four finish - and qualification for next year's Champions League - would be the other realistic and worthwhile achievement which could be salvaged from Moyes' first campaign. They are only five points behind Liverpool, who are perceived to have had such a strong first half of the season.

United have looked ordinary and inconsistent. They are not used to sucking up home defeats by the likes of West Brom, Everton, Newcastle United and Swansea. It is crystal clear that the set of players Moyes inherited would never have been champions last season were it not for Ferguson's genius. The derby in September, when they were skewered 4-1, showed City to be capable of moments of brilliance way beyond this United team.

Moyes' results have been unimpressive so far but when United decided he was "the chosen one" - the phrase is on a banner which hangs from the Stretford End - one of the qualities which persuaded them was mental strength. Those who know him say Moyes will not have slept much during the fall-out from the past three defeats, but there is nothing new in that. He is not exactly a long sleeper. That heavily-lined face? It is not looking any more wrinkled than it did when he was the lord of Goodison.

He is the type to store all the mainstream criticism - from the broadcast and newspaper journalists and commentators - and to privately catalogue those who have been quick to turn on him. Whether he has the players or the managerial ability to do it will become clear in the coming months, but he will be almost pathologically committed to turning United around from here.

Ferguson's longevity and the appointment of Moyes - an unfashionable home-grown coach with a comparatively modest track record - make United a highly unusual club among football's elite. They have looked as though they stand for something, and it is the antithesis of the mocking, knee-jerk bloodlust around their manager.

Contextual targeting label: 
Football

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

204557