Many good judges are predicting that, with the Alex Ferguson era over at Man U, the club will now struggle to continue with their run of success. By common consent, Fergie was not the greatest coach or tactician out there – his major contribution to the success down Salford way was more to do with his choleric temperament and his habitual intimidation of referees, reporters, players, other managers – just anyone who got in his way, really. The terrifying effect of “The Fergie Factor” made the big difference in a game of fine margins, as a legion of cowed and downtrodden individuals would confirm, if they thought it was safe. But now we have ex-Everton boss David Moyes, and his track record suggests nothing of the talent Fergie had for using tantrums and hairdryer-like bollockings to get his own way. But could it be that the new gaffer is now setting out on the process of reinventing himself? Are we about to see the Fergification of David Moyes?
It wouldn’t be the first time that a youngish football manager, with illustrious predecessors inconveniently prominent in fans’ memories, has appeared as a sheep trying to don the clothing of a wolf. Allan Clarke, after an apprenticeship at Barnsley, returned to Elland Road as manager, and immediately started trying to come over all Brian Clough. “I’m a winner!” he would bark whenever a microphone was pointed his way. As a player he certainly was just that, and he’d made a decent start in management too. But as the new boss of Leeds United, following hard on the heels of the hapless Jimmy Adamson in 1979, he was suddenly operating in a goldfish-bowl environment, all eyes trained on him, all ears hanging on his every pronouncement. His “I’m a winner” mantra swiftly made him a laughing-stock among local football writers, and he managed to fritter away the goodwill that had been built up between the club and the reporters by previous managers Don Revie and Jimmy Armfield. Few tears were shed among the denizens of the local Fourth Estate when “the winner” turned into a loser and took Leeds down. The moral would appear to be: Don’t reinvent yourself – just BE yourself. Clarkey had some limited managerial success later on, so maybe he’d learned his lesson.
The early signs of similar folly are there with the Man U new boy Moyes. Either off his own bat, or in response to a Govan Growl of advice, he’s setting forth to sound like an echo of Fergie – the accent is there to start with, but the incipient paranoia sounds familiar too. Take his comments about the Man U opening fixtures. If you read them without knowing it’s a Moyes quote, you’d be looking for a name at the bottom and expecting to see that it was one A. Ferguson. In a delayed response to the fact that Man U have to face Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool in the first five games, Moyes opined: “I find it hard to believe that’s the way the balls came out of the bag, that’s for sure. I think it’s the hardest start for 20 years that Man U have had. I hope it’s not because Man U won the league quite comfortably last year [that] the fixtures have been made much more difficult.”
It’s to be hoped that Moyes doesn’t feel he’s under any obligation to reprise his immediate predecessor’s policies of intimidation, or the tiresome “Mind Games” so beloved of a media in thrall to the grizzled and grizzling Glaswegian. One of the many benefits of a Fergie-less football scene – apart from the very real prospect of Man U collapsing amid internal strife and external expectations – should be the chance of a rest from all of the nonsense that went with Ferguson and the way in which all and sundry used to defer to a man who really needed nothing more than a lesson or two in manners and deportment. It seems highly unlikely that the relatively diffident Moyes could carry this tribute act off in the longer term, so surely he’d be better off setting out to stand or fall as his own man – not as some watered-down version of the tyrant he’s replaced.
The jokes have been going around along the lines of – oh dear, a nice Man U manager, how very unusual and depressing. But in reality, Man U are in sore need of a bit of niceness at the top level of the club – they’ve had 27 years of the other thing, and have seen their image growing steadily grubbier in the process. Good luck to Moyes – if that’s who he decides to be. He could be instrumental in reinventing a once-great football club. But if he chooses merely to ape Fergie in his pronouncements and his modus operandi – as suggested by his sulky comments over the opening fixtures – then he’ll deserve all he gets, which would probably amount to a needlessly sullied reputation – and a premature P45.