He is having a busy summer watching the golf at the Open, watching the racing at Chester, telling any reporter he meets that Manchester United’s vice-chairman Ed Woodward wouldn’t recognise Lionel Messi if he passed him in the street.
This time last year, Moyes had it all in front of him. He had just been appointed manager of the champion club; he had inherited an operation which, commercially, was the biggest in the land; he had a bunch of players who had won everything available in the domestic game. What an opportunity lay ahead. What a chance to mark his name indelibly on football history. And he blew it. Comprehensively and horribly, he got it all wrong. How he must look back with dismay.
I was one of those who believed David Moyes had the wherewithal, nous and cunning to succeed as Alex Ferguson’s successor. He had done a magnificent job for over a decade on limited funds at Everton and I thought with the additional resources available to him at Old Trafford he would grow into the role. Obviously he would need time but provided there was no panic if things went wrong early on, he would pull through.
Those close to the action, however, had a very different view. From the off they could see the appointment was a disaster. They pointed to mounting evidence that the idea that Moyes was the natural successor to Ferguson was nonsense. The idea that he shared the great man’s footballing values and talents was based on nothing more than the supposition that if they both hailed from the same town they must embrace the same beliefs.
Those in the know could see a shambles from the off. And they were right. He was, from the very moment he stepped into the unforgiving glare, bemused and baffled by the scale of the task he had taken on. He was drowning.
How must he feel now, then, having blown the biggest chance of his life – the biggest managerial opportunity in the game - as he watches from a distance a man showing every indication of knowing precisely how to do it. Where Moyes stuttered and faltered, Louis van Gaal swaggers. Where Moyes swallowed and gulped, Van Gaal looks down his nose in disdain. Where Moyes wondered by what unlikely mistake he had ended up in the job, Van Gaal has the bearing of a man who thinks he should have been appointed years ago. His every utterance asks this fundamental question of United: what took you so long?
Football management is ultimately a con job. A manager has to convince all of those in his charge that he knows what he is doing. Even if he doesn’t. He has to make everyone – in the dressing room, in the media, in the stands – believe that he has the magic ability to make the team better. Players respond to those who they think will improve them. This is all they want in a manager. And from the off the United players looked at Moyes with suspicion. His training methods were seen as hopelessly out-moded, wrong-headed, deathly dull. They looked him in the eye and all they saw was doubt and fear.
Immediately the difference is obvious with Van Gaal. He has a style, he has a method, he has a philosophy. His training is already enthusing the players. Based on technique rather than sweat, it is interesting, intriguing, improving. In matches he has a plan and he knows how to apply it. Unlike the shambles of Moyes’s first few games in charge, Van Gaal has thus far presided over three victories.
Tour matches are no proper indication of how a team will fare when the real competition starts, of course. But the sense of style, of ambition, of organisational control is unavoidable. This time United seem to have made an appropriate choice as manager.
Watching how it should be done, watching Van Gaal’s utter self-confidence when dealing with the press, watching the way he does everything on his terms, happy even to question the governing commercial impulses of the operation, must make Moyes think, 'if only'. If only he had gone about it with a bit more panache, a bit more gusto, a bit more ambition. Instead of apologising if only he had been a bit more flamboyant. If only he had had a philosophy he might have imposed.
That surplus of if only might, of course, trigger an altogether different impulse in the broken man. Seeing someone do it so easily, maybe it will make Moyes appreciate all the more pressingly that he was never equipped for the job. It wasn’t Woodward’s fault he was let go. It was his.
- Sports & Recreation
- David Moyes
- Manchester United
- Louis van Gaal