Tag Archives: David Moyes

If Moyes Really IS Discussing Leeds Job, LMA Should Intervene  –   by Rob Atkinson

Moyes - not wanted or needed at Elland Road

Moyes – not wanted or needed at Elland Road

One real caveat to this article. The recurring “David Moyes for Leeds” stories are mainly appearing in that part of the press more suited to the facilitation of post-excretory hygiene than any real attempts to inform or even entertain. Ever since it started to look likely that Steve Evans might be the right man at the right time for Leeds United, the doggedly Whites-hating sector of the Fourth Estate have been engaging in their usual distracting habits. Talking up a replacement manager who has flopped in his last two posts is one part of that (attempting to tap up Lewis Cook on behalf of a minor manchester club would be another).

So, on the one hand, it’s quite possibly not true, falling into the “unhelpful and unsettling negative Leeds United rumours” category so beloved of our more tawdry hacks. On the other hand (like the irritating Lewis Cook thing), there just might be an element of truth hidden somewhere within the ever-present clouds of speculation and wishful thinking. And, if that’s the case, then it shouldn’t only be present incumbent Evans who might be more than a little angry.

For a start, it’s clear that the vehicle for this Moyes story is a putative takeover, or major investment, by Leeds fan and business mogul Steve Parkin. That worthy is said to have identified Moyes as his preferred head coach, regardless of the fact we have a manager in situ. Now, I’m not privy to the inner workings of Parkin’s mind – but presumably he’s got something about him to have amassed a supposed £200m personal fortune (on the other hand, look at the none-too-bright Alan Sugar). You really might expect, though, that a man and fan, who is contemplating such major changes at the club he loves, might wish to play his cards a little closer to his chest. And he might, perhaps, be looking at making a welcome difference after the craziness of the Cellino regime – rather than perpetuating il Duce’s “hire and fire” vicious downward spiral into chaos.

It’s also becoming steadily more apparent that Evans is settling in well at Elland Road, putting his stamp on the place and making that difference we all so want to see on the pitch. He’s promised winning football and, an awful lapse against Blackburn apart, he’s doing fine. The fans have, by and large, cottoned on to this, despite initial reservations arising out of Evans’ abrasive reputation – as well as that sombrero. Given all of the above, it would seem that the case for yet another change at the helm of team matters is hardly made. And yet still, this unwelcome chat goes on. It’s hardly conducive to the stability we yearn for, having so sadly lacked that vital commodity of late.

All of which leads me at last to the point of this article (yes, there was always going to be a point, sooner or later). Having established that it’s by no means certain the Moyes link is anything more than a Wapping great lie, we are nevertheless forced to consider the ramifications in the event of there being any truth in it. And, surely, if David Moyes is talking to a Leeds United-connected party about a job that is currently amply filled, then he would be open to some criticism under professional standards established within the managerial game for some time past.

Over the last couple of decades or so, there have been laudable attempts by the League Managers Association (LMA) to clean up the act of their collective members, certainly in terms of a set of standards to be applied in the matter of how club posts become vacant and are filled. Our own Howard Wilkinson was in on the ground floor of this, as he was with so much else, and a lot of the more enlightened policy-making over the recent past has carried his unmistakable brand of common sense and integrity. One of the examples of bad practice thereafter distinctly frowned upon was an unfortunate tendency for currently-filled managerial posts to be bruited about as if available, regardless of the feelings and morale of the poor sap actually doing the job, with prospective candidates for these posts encouraging – or at least not discouraging – such speculation.

Nowadays, with the LMA keeping a beady eye on things, there is a more civilised feeling about the whole thing. Managers linked with jobs currently being undertaken by some poor, under-fire soul will tend to refuse to comment on speculation surrounding those posts. As a past and prospective member of the managerial fraternity in England, Moyes will surely be aware of the current conventions. As he can’t be unaware of his name being linked in the press with a post-takeover position at Leeds United, could he not perhaps have made it known that he’s refusing to be a party to such speculation as there has been a manager recently appointed at Elland Road? A dignified silence, after all, only takes you so far – and can be interpreted in more than one way. By his failure to distance himself from the Parkin/Leeds scenario, Moyes is hardly doing Steve Evans any favours.

And, if the LMA are to have any bite or credibility at all, shouldn’t they themselves be all over this situation like a cheap suit? It’s the LMA’s responsibility to ensure fair play, professional standards and “To encourage honourable practice, conduct and courtesy in all professional activity” (LMA Major Aims #6). They too will be aware of a rising tide of speculation to the detriment of a fellow member who has been in his job only a few weeks. Why don’t they say or do something about it? The silence from all parties on this matter, while the press engage happily in their damaging and irresponsible speculation, is ominous.

I’ve blogged recently about there being no current need to do anything other than stick with the man in charge for the foreseeable future. With Massimo Cellino in yet another froth of confusion about whether he’s selling up, fighting his ban or (like some Schrödinger’s Tycoon) both simultaneously – we might expect that his attention will currently be elsewhere and Evans can perhaps be left to get on with the job he’s admirably doing. It would seem that the clearest and most present danger to Evans’ tenure is in the form of a man outside of the club, currently out of work, and with only startling failures in his last two posts to recommend him.

It remains quite possible that all of this speculation is based upon nothing more than the old press habit of adding two and two to reach a total of five. But, if there is anything in it, then it’s time somebody acted to nip it in the bud – at least until such time as there might be an actual vacancy (heaven forfend). I’m reasonably sure I speak for a majority of Leeds fans when I say that we’d prefer the historically successful Steve Evans to continue trying to repeat that success in LS11 – rather than a serial failure in Moyes. But who listens to the fans? So it would be rather reassuring if the LMA could show some minerals, or Moyes himself some trace of professional courtesy and honour – and just utter a few pointed words to end the matter, so we can all move on to the next crisis.

And worry not, “gentlemen” of the press – at Leeds United, that next crisis is never very far away. 

Advertisements

For Evans Sake, Leeds Utd Have the Right Man. Now Stick With Him – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United Manager Steve Evans

Leeds United Manager Steve Evans

The unseen benefit of the scattergun, hire ’em and fire ’em recruitment approach adopted by Leeds United since the takeover of il Duce Cellino, is that at some point, unwittingly, you’re probably going to stumble haphazardly upon the right man for the job. And one of the obvious drawbacks of such an amateurish policy is that you’re all too likely then to dismiss him, either in a fit of Latin pique, or because you’ve been replaced by new owners who want their own man.

The evidence of the first few weeks of the Steve Evans era at Elland Road would seem to suggest that United have, for once in a very long while, got a square peg for their square hole. Having been lucky enough to do that, Leeds must not now, under whatever ownership, retreat back into their accustomed suicidal self-destruct mode – and dispense with a man and manager who might just be the best fit our maverick club could possibly wish or hope for.

The Steve Evans track record speaks for itself in both the best and worst of times. His human fallibility is evident from a brush with the law earlier in his career – but lessons learned from negative episodes in life can be instructive in the making of a highly effective professional. And it is this image that emerges from the Evans record of achievement at his previous clubs. It is an enviable record of unprecedented success at those clubs, by virtue of what the man himself succinctly refers to as “winning football”. He has no need or desire to elaborate on that two-word summary. He simply promises the fans just that – winning football. He knows and we know that everything good will flow from that.

The complexity and effect of the man is emerging little by little as a picture Leeds United fans have been wanting to behold for many, many years. There are echoes of the early Sergeant Wilko in the way Evans has breezed into the club with no fear on his own account, and the clear intention of doing things his way. Though not afraid himself, he appears to rule partly through fear – and partly by employing the encouraging “arm around the shoulder” approach. We hear that he can hand out rollickings to those who need it, as well as boosting those in need of a boost. It’s not rocket science – just horses-for-courses man-management, the type of thing that has produced results for the enlightened since time immemorial. The proof of the pudding, though, will be in the eating – but early indications are that certain Leeds United players, who had been under-performing, are now walking about with a new spring in their step. Long may that continue.

The danger now apparent is of yet another change; this one unwanted, unnecessary and foolish, with talk in various sections of the media that any possible new owner – a prospect widely perceived among Leeds fans as A Good Thing – could bring with him a change of manager, with Pride of Devon flop David Moyes touted as a likely contender for a job that really should be flagged up as unavailable. It may of course be that this is largely the not exactly Leeds-loving media being their usual mischievous and unhelpful selves. We can but hope.

What we have here is not yet a recovery, nor yet even a definite upward swing in the fortunes of our beloved Leeds United. The general stability of the club is far too fragile to make extravagant claims like that. But what we do seem to have are tentative green shoots emerging from what has too long been an arid desert of hopelessness. Little buds of confidence are emerging that just might flourish and bloom into full-on optimism – given the chance. Everywhere I’ve looked in the virtual world of Leeds United lately, I’ve seen surprised, almost bemused comments along the lines of “this bloke is really growing on me!” about our new manager. And one of the most noticeable things about Steve Evans is that he openly lays claim to that title. Leeds United manager – there’s a ring to it which the half-baked “head coach” thing lacks. It’s as if Evans knows he has ventured into shark-infested waters, and that he’ll have to be brave, bold and confident if he’s to succeed. He’s certainly making all the right noises, so far.

In Steve Evans – a man who swiftly acknowledged that he wouldn’t have been the first choice among Leeds fans (adding that he doubted he’d have been in the top ten) – we may just have the ideal candidate for the next holder of the Mr. Leeds United accolade. Steve Evans genuinely could be Mr. Leeds United, in a manner akin to earlier greats like Wilko, or even the as yet incomparable Don Revie. He reflects the club as those legends did – unprepossessing to outsiders, with a tendency to inspire fear and dislike among enemies. But there’s a steely determination there also, an unshakeable belief in his own ability that is likewise redolent of Leeds at its very best. That extra spring in the step of some of the young stars, those early results as they start to pick up – they’re down to that brash, ebullient presence rocking around the corridors of Elland Road and Thorp Arch. There seems little doubt of that.

I had my doubts too, at the start, though I was mainly preoccupied with being dismayed at yet another abrupt change of management. I heard of Steve Evans discussing his appointment to take over with no great enthusiasm. But first impressions are rarely all that reliable,  and I’ve never been so thrilled to have it demonstrated to me that, like thousands of others with the colours of this club running through their veins, I have good cause to believe team affairs are at last in safe hands. And, having accepted that – by hook or by crook and more by luck than good judgement – a bona fide appointment has at long last been made, I’m now in the same position as so many other fans, of being desperately concerned that – this time – we should stick with our man and see it through. See what kind of Leeds United Steve Evans can build. Hope that he will be given the time and the tools to finish the job, as he’s so successfully done elsewhere.

If, in a few weeks or months time, I’m writing another blog in bitter frustration and helpless anger, bemoaning yet more self-harming short-termism on the part of this crazy club – if, in short, Leeds United have lost their nerve yet again, and prematurely sacked yet another manager – then it’ll be with a sense of baffled despair about our club’s chances of ever making it back to the level of the game where they assuredly belong. It’s for Leeds now to stick with their man, back him through whatever high-level changes may be in the offing and try to ensure that, on the playing side of things at least, there is some stability and confidence. Those two advantages will come only with the security of a man in charge being given ample opportunity to do his job and earn success. For all our sakes, let this come to pass.

And if not – why then, the fans of this club will know for sure that they are the only stable and worthwhile thing about the place. They’ll know that the club can’t be trusted or relied upon to do anything but periodically make of itself a laughing stock before lesser clubs and lesser fans. It would be the only conclusion we could possibly draw – who could really blame us? The powers that be at Leeds United (whoever they might be on any given day) had better take warning; our faith in the direction of the club can only take so many hits before it crumbles into pieces. So don’t screw this up, guys.

Steve Evans has made it clear that he regards himself as privileged to be the Leeds United manager. He’s made it clear that he regards the fans as an asset unmatched elsewhere (If we played a five-a-side in Asia at three in the morning, they’d be there). Evans “gets” Leeds. He can see what the club – and the fans – are all about. You have the impression that he can sense a kinship – that he feels at home and wants beyond anything else to restore Leeds United to greater days. This blogger could listen to him talk about Leeds all day long – it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

You just can’t put a price on that feeling, and – for the first time in such a long time – I and many others believe we might just have a real Leeds United manager on our hands. Someone who appeared as a match summariser on Sky Sports Saturday earlier today, and made a point of giving the Leeds salute when on camera. I could barely believe my eyes. Now, that’s a real candidate for the next Mr. Leeds United.

So, for Evans’ sake – and for the sake of all of us and our turbulent love affair with football’s craziest club – let’s please see it through this time and go marching on together, back towards the top, behind a man who – given an even chance – just might make it all happen for us once again.

Can Leeds United Hero, Agent Moyes, Keep Up his Good Work?? – by Rob Atkinson

Moyes - a hero to not just Leeds fans

Moyes – a hero to not just Leeds fans

The Leeds United “Man of the Season” for 2013/14, David Moyes, certainly pulled all the stops out last time around as – virtually single-handed – he returned Man U to the mediocrity from which they should never have emerged, cheering up all real fans of the One True United in the process.

Sadly, his distinguished service to the game in general, and to those of an Elland Road persuasion in particular, earned him only the dubious reward of the sack. It’s a shame, especially as he was looking ready and able to build on his many unprecedented achievements at the Theatre of Hollow Myths. Now the fallen media favourites will set about recovery. True to their legendary youth policy and horror of buying success, they already seem committed to a £60m outlay on two players. Even though talent and success are withering and waning at the Trafford Redsox Ballpark, hypocrisy, that hardy annual of the Man U psyche, flourishes yet.

The fantastic job Moyes did at the Man U franchise, reducing the Pride of Devon to the laughing stock of the North West, was a masterpiece of destruction, fully appreciated by football lovers everywhere except Torquay, Milton Keynes and Barnsley. Every other Lancashire club helped themselves to six easy points from the so-called “Greatest Club in the World” and two feeble Cup exits at home had proper football fans everywhere splitting their sides laughing. For those with the good of the game at heart, the legend that is Moyes attained a status accorded normally only to heroes. How very apt.

Now it appears that Moyes is set to move on to the other target at the top of any Leeds fan’s hate list, and set about his work of annihilation at Galatasaray, a club who deserve to plummet just as precipitously as did Man U – if not more so.

No explanation is necessary for the hatred and contempt that Leeds United fans bear for that dreadful club and its animal fans.  The matter speaks for itself. Suffice it to say, as far as this blog is concerned, that failure and misery is the very least we wish them – and if last season’s exploits are anything to go by, then we might just have the very man in David Moyes to bring about those desirable outcomes.  However he managed to compass the demise of the Stretford Scum, more power to his elbow in employing exactly the same techniques to bring down the most disgusting club in the world to a well-deserved low point in their recent history.

Moyes, after all, has done it once; he can certainly do it again.  Even at Everton, where his performance supposedly fitted him for “elevation” to the hot-seat at the Theatre of Hollow Myths, his record was notably silverware-free.  In the wake of his departure for pastures more perilous, Everton – under the studiously technical guidance of Roberto Martinez – have enjoyed their best season for years, including six points from Man U as they finally fulfilled Moysie’s decade-long dream of finishing above their rivals from the red quarter of Manchester.

Good luck then, David Moyes, adopted hero of Leeds United fans as well as those of several other clubs, as you set forth to write a new and hopefully grimly disappointing chapter in the history of a club for whom despair and disappointment should be the norm.  We shall follow your progress with interest.  Closer to home, we’ll all be hoping that the legacy of your reign at Man U is not so easily undone, and that a repeat of last season’s hilarious cock-ups may be afforded us.  Really, as long-suffering Leeds fans, it’s the very least we deserve. 

The LUFC Prophet on “Why Moyes Never Stood a Chance at Man U” – by Rob Atkinson

Ta Ta, Taggart

Ta Ta, Taggart

As a Leeds United fan, I don’t get many chances to say “I told you so”.  I’ve made two football bets recently, and I’ve paid out twice – a fiver to a Newcastle fan who told me to my disbelief they’d lose at home to some Premier League no-hopers (and they did), and a bar of Dairy Milk chocolate to my Barnsley-supporting postman who bet me we’d beat them at Oakwell. I didn’t mind paying out on that one.  My only chance of coming out ahead now rests on a tenner I have with a mate which says Arsenal will win the Cup.  Fingers crossed…

But in matters Man U, I was a prophet of peerless foresight as long ago as July last year – when I forecast that David Moyes was doomed to failure at the Theatre of Hollow Myths.  I reasoned that the brooding presence of eminence grise (avec le nez pourpre) Alex Ferguson would do Moyes no good as he sought to make his own influence the guiding light at the Pride of Devon.  I figured that he would be hampered by the proximity of the ex-boss – just as happened before, 40-odd years ago, when Busby stepped down but refused to go away.

Well, I did tell you so – and lo, it has come to pass.  Whatever now happens to the fallen champions-turned-also-rans, it should be noted that some of us out here saw months ago that there’d be tears before bedtime round Salford way. I might be accused (accurately) of wishful thinking – but the logic behind my prediction has, I feel, been shown to be impeccable.  Below is what I wrote on July 7th, 2013 as Moyes was setting out his stall as Man U manager.  I will not gloat over his downfall – but the fact that he has brought the club I detest down with him is extremely amusing and satisfactory.

-o0o-

There are worrying signs already for the inheritor of the poisoned chalice that is the Old Trafford hot-seat.  David Moyes has been gathering his own people about him as he sets forth to put his own stamp on the Man U machine – but Moyes will be grimly aware that The Ghost of Alex Ferguson Past is the least of his worries.  The man himself will be there all too often, all too real and large as life, in the flesh and walking the corridors of power down Trafford way.  It’s the presence of the former boss that is likely to make an already difficult task that bit less easy for the 50 year old heir to the throne.  If you know your history, you’ll be aware that Wilf McGuinness, the successor to Matt Busby, had to go about his work with the Busby factor still about the place, the old man still visible backstage, the players saying “Morning, Wilf” to McGuinness – but “Morning, Boss” to Busby.  He didn’t last long before the sainted Matt was back to try and steady a sinking ship. His successor, Frank O’Farrell, didn’t do much better.

You might hope, for Moyes’ sake, that Ferguson will have the forbearance to stay away from the training ground and the stadium when the day-to-day business of running the club and the team is going on.  Perhaps he will, but media pressure is already a clear and present danger for Fergie’s successor. The press don’t want to let Fergie go; he’s been a rich source of copy for them for so many years that many hacks who have covered all matters Man U can hardly remember a time when he wasn’t there – and they want to stay snug in their Fergie comfort zone, with their cosy old stand-bys of the hair-dryer and the stop-watch.

The signs were there even at Wimbledon this past week.  Fergie took his place in the Centre Court dignitaries’ enclosure to support his compatriot Murray, and the commentary box fizzed in a fever of ecstasy as that familiar purple face gazed o’er the scene.  The cameras lingered lovingly on those craggy, ravaged features and many were the cutaway shots of Fergie’s reactions as Murray laboured to his victory.  Afterwards, the desperation to lever S’ralex into the post-match interview was as cringingly embarrassing for the viewer as it was perplexing for Murray, who perhaps naively expected tennis questions.

The message was resoundingly clear: Fergie is still The Man as far as the press are concerned.  Reports of Moyes’ early press conference at Old Trafford leaned heavily upon comments such as “Fergie would have approved of Moyes’ flash of temper”, “Moyes displayed a Fergie-like tenacity” and so on and so forth.  There are clear indications that every word Moyes utters, every decision he takes, will be viewed in the light of “what S’ralex would have said/done” – and clearly, this is bad news for anyone wanting to to make the job his own and do it his own way.

It might even be interesting to speculate on whether Moyes would perhaps quite like to be portrayed in a different light to that which has shone on the Man U manager this past 27 years.  Moyes seems a sensible and modest chap after all, any similarity to his predecessor appearing limited to the accent and the obsession with the game.  A departure from the arrogance and overbearing nature that has characterised the club during Fergie’s reign might be welcome to such a relatively pleasant bloke, but it appears unlikely to be allowed judging by the tone of some of the press quotes from this preparatory phase of the season.

We are given to understand, for instance, that late last season Moyes was honoured with a personal visit to his home from The Fergie Himself.  “I thought he’d come to tell me he was taking one of my players”, said the ex-Goodison boss, to an unheard and incredulous chorus of “What the hell…?” from Evertonians everywhere.  So this is how the Old Trafford club have been used to operating in the transfer market?  Hmmmm.  But instead of airily notifying a “lesser club” of an impending transfer swoop, Fergie was there to tell Moyes he was the next Man U boss.  Not ask, tell.  Moyes’ eager compliance was taken as read.  The Man U brand of arrogance, it seems, will take more than a change of manager to eradicate.

I’m not particularly worried about the prospect of Man U being less successful in the next few years, and of some of their legions of fans being seduced to supporting clubs closer to home, such as Torquay or Spurs or Nagoya Grampus Eight.  I’d be quite happy with that; I have no love of the Trafford-based franchise or the way it operates.  But I am slightly concerned for Moyes himself, who seems a decent cove, and who I can see going the same way as McGuinness went; a proper football man crushed by the weight of recent history and cowed by the long shadow of his immediate predecessor.  For Moyes’ sake, I hope that doesn’t come about, but all the signs are already there that it might.  Only Fergie himself can decide to remain in the background, the media are far too much in love with the myth they have created to let him go easily.

Perhaps, though, Fergie will actually do the decent thing?  I somehow doubt it.

It Was the Man U Myth, NOT the Job, That Was Too Big for Moyes – by Rob Atkinson

Moyes - brought down by a myth

Moyes – brought down by a myth

So the dust is settling on David Moyes’ departure from the appropriately-dubbed Theatre of Hollow Myths. It was the increasingly poignant tragedy that had been waiting to happen as Moyes appeared to become progressively more haunted and helpless with every passing interview, following each successive, damaging defeat. Now, in the aftermath of his inevitable sacking, the media have gathered like a host of scavenging vultures and they’re asking one question above all. David Moyes: was he really clueless – or merely luckless?

The thing is, though – this has not really been about David Moyes at all. His sad fate would have been the natural destiny of any inheritor of what was clearly a poisoned chalice, made more poisonous by the addition of the lethal factor of self-delusion. Because Manchester United have succeeded in convincing themselves that they are something special; the Biggest Club in the World™. It is a problem that is unlikely to go away in the short term, whoever eventually succeeds the former Everton boss. The problem that Manchester United have is that the myth they have been complicit in building up could well now be the one single factor that reduces them to the ranks of also-rans.

Manchester United have willingly, eagerly saddled themselves with this “Biggest Club in the League/World/Universe” tag, one that they were only ever even apparently able to live up to through the – let’s say “unique” – approach of former manager Alex Ferguson. His intimidatory, choleric style and remorseless insistence on the accrual of each and every marginal advantage available, resulted in a domination of the rest of the pack. In a game of fine margins, Ferguson’s regime – his mind games, his fear factor, his volcanic tantrums – continually gave his club the edge over the rest. The truth of this is amply illustrated by the club’s title success last season – with a squad probably the fourth or fifth best in the league – and conversely by their hapless capitulation this season. A serpent with its head cut off is bound to find that its biting potential is not quite what it was.

Even on the morning of Moyes’ sacking, as BBC radio went into debate and post-mortem frenzy, the usual suspects were still at it. Ex-Man U player Mickey Thomas talked fluent bollocks about Moyes taking charge of “the biggest club in the world”, having to cope with “the biggest job in the world”. This lazy tendency towards hyperbole has long caused hysterical laughter in places like Munich, Madrid, Barcelona, Milan and Turin – even in London and Liverpool – and understandably so. Take any empirical measure of the size of a club – stadium capacity, attendance records, trophies won – anything – and Manchester United would have to acknowledge, in the cold light of day, that they are not world leaders. And yet the myth has persisted, has thrived even, as the club and the media have deliberately nourished it. It has been an extremely useful marketing tool in the interests of encouraging the mass-delusion of the particular type of people – of whom Dr Freud would have had so much to say – that choose to support a club based on perceived size and power. There is now a nervous terror out there in Singapore, Nairobi, Bangkok and Milton Keynes, at the thought of not being the biggest and the best – and that is very much the product of expectations fostered by extravagant and untrue claims. But, perhaps fatally, it has become self-delusion on a grand scale too.

Some of the sound-bites from the morning of Moyes’ dismissal were risible – and frankly insulting to other institutions of the game. Moyes, it was said, “lacked big club experience”. This is a man, let us not forget, who was in charge for over a decade at Everton – an undeniably massive club of illustrious history and achievement; one which was able to win League Championships in the eighties on a pre-Murdoch, pre-Sky level playing field – something which conspicuously eluded the alleged “biggest club in the world”. This casual denigration of fine and dignified football clubs is very much a part of the modern Man U psyche, and it is something that – aided by a complaisant media and a gullible support – they were allowed and able to carry off under the bluster and tyranny of Ferguson. But it’s a dog that will no longer bark when reality sets in; when the tyrant is deposed and when the superior quality of rivals has consigned the fallen champions to the hinterland of mid-table mediocrity.

Manchester United today stand in dire need of a wake-up call. Like it or not, they are not the biggest club in the world, and a continued insistence on such a demonstrably groundless claim will do them more harm than good in the future. Whoever next ascends the hot-seat will find that he is playing catch-up as thoroughbreds like Liverpool, City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and – yes, Everton too – threaten to disappear over the horizon. One thing Man Utd do have going for them is a large and, in parts, fanatical support – but even this is an asset that will eventually be diluted by foolish attempts to perpetuate a dying myth. All football fans share a common “we are the greatest” delusion to a certain extent, but at Man U it’s been elevated to the level of brand identity – and that cannot be sustained in a harsh, post-Ferguson reality, where there is no longer a fulminating Govan Svengali to hold the rest of the game in thrall, and to inspire fear and terror in the corridors of power.

Man U is a huge club and one that should be able to sustain success along with the other huge clubs. But they have no divine right to that success, and certainly not to utter domination as they have rather stupidly come to expect. Whoever comes next will have the best chance of long-term recovery if they have the wisdom (and if they are granted the time) to introduce a modicum of humility and respect; two qualities that have been sadly lacking over the past two decades in this part of Greater Manchester.

A failure to embrace and deal with this new mid-table reality is going to mean that things will steadily get worse before they can feasibly get better. The days of domination – of a near-monopoly – have gone, and for the game of football as a whole, that is definitely A Good Thing. The current big four, and the pretenders just behind them, will not allow that situation to be repeated. Ferguson was a one-off and not in a particularly good or healthy way. His time is gone, and now football goes on without him – and without the skew effect his tenure imposed on the game’s honours list. Manchester United now have to learn to live with this – and if they are wise, they will commit to a manager who is capable of finding for them a place in a game where it’s a lot tougher at the top than they have been used to.

Who that man will be is a matter for speculation. But again, whoever comes in, it will be necessary to be realistic. This is still a poisoned chalice of an inheritance in terms of exaggerated expectations from a global, glory-hungry fan-base; yet there is no Champions League football, possibly no Europe at all next season. Will the top players come in at that price? Will the likes of Rooney, van Persie and even Mata relish at least a season out of the Champions League limelight?

Whoever the next manager of Man Utd might be, he certainly will have a job on his hands dealing with just these problems. To expect him to labour under the weight of a hollow myth as well, is likely to be too big an ask. The spurious label of “Biggest Club in the World” proved to be a fable too far for the hapless David Moyes. His successor will have to hope – probably in vain – that wiser and more realistic counsel will prevail from now on.

Would Leeds United Fans Welcome David Moyes? – by Rob Atkinson

McDermott: miracle man

McDermott: miracle man

The unthinkable has happened.  It’s been the talk of football for the past few weeks, the subject of fevered speculation.  Debates in pubs and clubs up and down the country have raged white hot, with arguments put passionately on either side.  And now, after a comprehensive two goal defeat at the weekend, the sensational news can be confirmed:  Brian McDermott is still in his job at Leeds United.

In other news, Man U have sacked David Moyes.

On the face of it, these two facts have very little to do with each other.  But McDermott’s continued tenure at Elland Road is, if anything, much more unexpected and sensational news than even the sacking of Moyes.  The received wisdom has been than Man U are a club that do not subscribe to the hire and fire cycle common to – well, more common clubs.  This is all part of the Man U self-image as something special, the hollow “biggest club in the world” façade that is rapidly being eroded away by a new, post-Ferguson reality.  The news that Moyes has finally gone is, really, no surprise.  He had been struggling with a job at a club founded on self-delusion, the “Biggest & Greatest” myth. Anybody would have struggled. The next man will too, unless Man U wake up and smell the coffee.  But that’s their problem, and I wish them endless bad luck with it.

The point, as far as Leeds United are concerned, is that there is now a managerial high-roller on the market, at a time when our incumbent man – nice guy though he undoubtedly is – has a record which would normally have earned him a whole pile of P45s under previous regimes at Elland Road.  It might be that people would scoff at the idea of somebody like Moyes at Elland Road – and yet ex-England boss and former Dutchman Schteve McClaren has been in charge of comparative minnows Derby County this season, to good effect.  It may also be that Moyes himself, once bitten and twice shy, would not wish to work with a character like Massimo Cellino who appears to change managers on a whim, depending how he feels when he gets up that morning.  But the question is still there to be asked: would Leeds United fans welcome Moyes to Elland Road?

The immediate objection is the fact that he’s been in charge of “them”.  But really, the Man U pedigree is a non-factor.  Let’s not forget, two of our favourite sons in Johnny Giles and Gordon Strachan were denizens of the Theatre of Hollow Myths, until they saw the light and bettered themselves. And Moyes was a square peg in a round hole at Man U – he started out by trying to act like a Fergie-Lite, attempting to carry off a whinging and moaning act worthy of the Govan tyrant.  It wasn’t in him; he’s not that type of guy, and the Man U experience has worn him down to a twitching and Gollum-esque husk of a man, bug-eyed and hunted – it’s easy to feel relief for him that his misery there is over.

What could Moyes bring to Elland Road?  A reputation untarnished by his time with Man U, for a start – certainly among football people including the more enlightened fans.  He’s liable to have benefited from a massive pay-off from his former employers, who have torn up most of a six-year contract before his bewildered eyes.  It may well be a more relaxed and a happier Moyes that walks into his next job.  And he might possibly prefer, in the immediate aftermath of his Pride of Devon experience, to shun the Premier League limelight.  Again, this appears to have been the option favoured by McClaren, another former Man U man and another highly effective operator in more conducive circumstances.  Moyes did a solid job over many years with little money at Everton.  He was recognised as a highly competent coach before that, at Preston.

The hole that Brian McDermott currently finds himself in, following yet another abject display against Notts Forest, could well be too deep for him successfully to clamber out of.  His first year at Elland Road has been one of upheaval; takeovers protracted to a farcical degree, sackings and reinstatements, the whole nine yards.  Leeds United have been – along with possibly Blackpool – the Charlie Corrolli of the Championship, the laughing-stock of the league.  In these circumstances, it’s difficult for any manager to manage but – again, even acknowledging his undoubted good-guy credentials – the performances have been abject and now the excuses are beginning to have the dull ring of repetitive hopelessness.

This blog has been a supporter of Brian McDermott – but there comes a time when you just have to acknowledge that something isn’t working and that it urgently needs remedial action.  If the time is right for a change of management (or coaching) at Elland Road, then it’s also an appropriate time to be looking at who is out there, who might be available.  Malky Mackay is a name that many might advance, and with good cause.  Billy “Job Done” Davies?  No, thanks.  David Moyes – hmmm.  It’s a fascinating thought, not all that realistic on the face of it – but just imagine.  What if Moyes, not short of a quid or two after his Man U contract is settled, were to stroll into Elland Road and re-establish himself as a football man who knows what he’s doing?  What if he were to drag our club back up by the bootstraps and get us motoring into the Promised Land?  Giles came from Man U as a player and did it for us.  Strachan too.  Could Moyes be the latest Man U discard to find success in LS11?  Could he complete a hat-trick for us to relish?

Stranger things have happened.  If you want to identify just one – it’s the fact that, after Forest cruised to victory at Elland Road in second or third gear, Brian McDermott remains Leeds United manager.  Surely that is one ongoing miracle whose days are well and truly numbered.

Leeds Forever – but Liverpool for the Title Would be a Feelgood Feast – by Rob Atkinson

Liverpool - climbing back onto their perch

Liverpool – climbing back onto their perch

Liverpool, having thrashed Man U at the Theatre of Hollow Myths last week, had to work a bit harder at Cardiff, going behind twice before emerging impressive 6-3 winners.  It will, however, have been the easy triumph over the Pride of Devon that provided the Real Reds with the most pleasure – these are two clubs who, to say the least, aren’t exactly fond of each other.  The last thing either wants to see is the other winning the league – which means that there are a lot of nervous plastics out there, sweating in their Devon armchairs right now; because Liverpool seem to mean business and they are currently rather handily-placed for a late title push.

For the neutral, things could hardly be better, with the tables so dramatically turned in this long-standing battle of Lancastrian one-upmanship.  Rivalry of that depth and bitterness tends to polarise opinion – there aren’t many fence-sitters when Man U and Liverpool meet.  For me, as a true white rose White, if Liverpool were to be Champions again at the end of this season, it would be an outcome second only to seeing my own beloved Leeds back on top.  OK, so I’m a proud Leeds United fan – so what has this got to do with me?

Well, I’d have to start by declaring an interest – as a die-hard supporter of the One True United from the right (Yorkshire) side of the Pennines, I’m not exactly enamoured of Man U.  I never had much time for them, even before that awful, whisky-nosed Govan Git came down to pour his choleric bile all over what had, until then, been a relatively civilised (give or take Brian Clough and nearly all the fans) English football scene.  There was always that irritating air of spurious arrogance about them, as well as this “you’ve got to love us because of the Busby Babes” thing – which all the media seemed to lap up so eagerly, much to the disgust of real fans everywhere.  So clearly, I don’t like them – never did.  That’s in my Leeds United DNA.  But I’m not just a Leeds fan, I’m a fan of football in its widest sense – and I mourn the game we once knew which seems to be gone forever, swept away by a grotty tide of filthy lucre

Time was when Man U were grudgingly respected, other than by determined haters like me and my fellow Whites.  Since Sir Alex Taggart landed at the Theatre of Hollow Myths though, they’ve gone from “quite easy to dislike” to “impossible to stand the sight of” faster than you could say “Envious of Liverpool”.  The Purple-Conked One made it clear from the off that he was determined to “knock Liverpool off their perch”.  What we didn’t realise when he started his vendetta in 1988, showing no immediate sign of being any more successful than any of the other post-Busby failures, was that the whole face of football would have to change to realise Ferguson’s warped dream.

In 1967, Man U won their last ever proper League Title, making seven in total – quite respectable.  Then – nothing, for 26 years, culminating in a deserved last-ever old-style Football League Championship triumph for Leeds United. But since 1993, when a greedy and ruthless Aussie bought the game and gift-wrapped it for a curmudgeonly and ruthless Scot, the title “race” has been more of a procession.  The honour has ceased to be about virtuosity on the field; now it’s mainly about money and markets, and Man U have had much more of both during the whole Murdoch era.  Result: thirteen plastic titles.

Football is now a tacky, merchandise-driven, unseemly drive for profit over pride, and the dominance by Man U of such a grubby era is undeniably apt.  But we are still close enough in time to the pre-greed days for those of us of a certain age to remember when the game was about glory, not greed; when the aim was winning, not wonga, when the important people were supporters, not shareholders.  In those days, the distribution of wealth was far more even, and the field of possible title-winners was far wider; the competition (over a grueling 42 match course, with un-manicured pitches and un-pampered pros) was far more fierce.  And yet, even in this environment of white-hot combat and intense rivalry, Liverpool reigned supreme, not for months, not years, but for literally two decades.  By 1992, they had compiled an honours list that seemed likely to see them at the top of the game for many years to come – unless someone sneaked in and moved the goalposts.  Cue evil Uncle Rupert.

Man U fans can crow all they want about 20 titles (and, true to their loathsome nature, they will).  But the evidence to confound them is there for all to see, like some geological stratum separating the dinosaurs from the mammoths.  That schism dividing the game as it was up to ’92, from the showbiz shenanigans of ’93 onwards, stands out like a Tory at a Foodbank, exposing Man U as the wealth-backed, monopolising opportunists that they are.  And it has all been done with such bad grace, another indictment of this new and joyless age we’ve been plodding through these last twenty-odd years.  No gentle wisdom of the Bob Paisley variety – instead we had the sour bile of Ferguson and now seemingly a Fergie-Lite clone in the newly growly and grouchy, yet undeniably Gollum-esque David Moyes.  No loveable old-style hard-man Desperate Dan type like Tommy Smith – we just had the manufactured machismo of Roy Keane, a supposed tough-guy with an assumed snarl and trademark glower, whose typical party trick was to sneak up behind wee Jason McAteer and fell that not-exactly-scary individual with a sly elbow.

The comparisons could go on all day, but the bottom line is that Liverpool at their peak – and it was a hell of a peak – typified all the values of football that some of us remember from a pre-Sky, pre-glitz, pre-greed age when it really was all about a ball.  Now, it’s all about money, and contracts, and egos, and snide bitching to the media if you don’t get all your own way – and lo, we have generally had the champions we deserve.

Only now, when Taggart has slithered into retirement, are we seeing anything like a level playing-field – and even then, it’s just among the moneyed elite of the Premier League.  Without Ferguson, we suddenly have a new Big Four, sans Man U, and all the better for that.  For all of this season, it has been the thoroughbreds of Liverpool, City, Arsenal and Chelsea dominating at the top, whilst Man U desperately cling to the coat-tails of Everton and Spurs, desperate even for the dubious compensation of Europa League qualification. Clearly, then, the era of Man U domination has been much more a function of the unique personality – to put it politely – of Ferguson, than any real superiority on the pitch.  In a game of fine margins, that crucial factor made such a difference. Hence, the whole record of the past 21 years would appear to have been slewed in one club’s favour, courtesy of one bile-ridden Glaswegian and a covey of co-operative referees.  The records, as they appear to stand, are grossly misleading.

To apply a conversion rate which takes account of the foregoing and sums up all the anger and disgust I feel for the way our game has been degraded – I’d say each Premier League (or Premiership, or whatever else it’s been marketed as) is worth maybe half – at the very most – of each proper Football League Championship from the days when the game still belonged to us and the world was a happier and more carefree place.

At that rate, Man U are still a good long distance behind Liverpool, which – judging by the paucity of ability and bottle they have displayed under Moyes this season – is precisely where they belong.  Now we’re witnessing a resurgence for the club which – under Shankly, Paisley and the other boot-room boys – dominated English football for most of my youth and early adulthood. A Liverpool title victory this season would be the closest we can now get to a return of those good old days.

Because of the Ferguson Factor, history and the record books are poor teachers for the modern student of football.  So as the Reds look to challenge strongly again at the very top of the English game, while a Fergie-less Man U, shorn of their X-factor, languish in their mighty wake – what better time than now to emphasise the simple truth once and for all? Liverpool are still The Greatest.

Chelsea Defeat Best Proof That Man U Miss the Fergie Fear Factor – by Rob Atkinson

Image

S’ralex in happier times

This year, just as in the past two seasons – but for a vastly different reason – the Chelsea v Man U fixture has provided a litmus indication of the influence Alex Ferguson has held over the game of football in England since the inception of the FA Premier League in 1992.  In the previous two meetings between the two clubs at Stamford Bridge, Ferguson was still very much in charge of Man U – and it showed.  This season’s clash found the Pride of Devon under new management – and, boy, did that ever show too.

Two years ago, it may be recalled, the game followed a pattern very similar to Sunday’s clash – up to a point.  Chelsea established a three-goal lead by early in the second half on both occasions, but from then on the games followed very different paths.  Back in February 2012, the brooding presence of Ferguson in the Man U dugout, together with the co-operative Howard Webb on the field, saw two penalties awarded to the away side as they swiftly reduced the arrears to a single goal.  By that point, Chelsea were reeling, their confidence shot through, and it was clearly only a matter of time before an equalising goal.  When it came, in the 85th minute, the build-up told its own damning tale.  The sight of a demoralised Chelsea defender, attempting to close down a left-wing cross as he backed away, hands studiously behind his back, clearly convinced that a third penalty would be awarded if the ball could be struck against any part of his arms, was symptomatic of a refereeing culture dominated by fear of what Fergie might do or say if his side were defeated.  It was like watching a boxer trying to avoid a knockout blow with his guard held down, a pitiful sight.  In the event, two dropped points meant the title would end up with Manchester City – but Howard Webb had done his bit, as he did so often for the benefit of Man U.

Last year’s game between these two at Stamford Bridge was even more indicative of where the power really resided.  This time, Man U had raced to an early two-goal lead and it appeared that no undue interference with events would be needed.  But two goals from Chelsea in four minutes either side of the interval restored parity – and suddenly the establishment’s favoured team were in danger of losing a game they had looked to have comfortably under control – and what would S’ralex say then, pray?

That thought was plainly too horrible to contemplate for the referee, Mark Clattenburg on this occasion.  His sending-off of Ivanovic for a foul on Young was reasonably clear-cut – but then Clattenburg made two decisions which demonstrated the influence of the Ferguson Fear Factor.  Firstly, an already-booked Torres was clear and racing through on goal when he went down under challenge from Jonny Evans.  If the foul were to be given, then Evans would have to go for a professional foul, and it would be ten-a-side.  Clearly, that would not do – so Clattenburg brilliantly decided that Torres had dived, issued him a second yellow and made the contest 9 v 11.  To cap a tremendously influential performance, he then allowed the clearly offside winner for Hernandez after 75 minutes, and Man U saw the game out against their demoralised opponents to bank the three points.

Both of these games stand as damning evidence of what former referee Graham Poll admitted recently – that when officiating in a Man U game, it was always a relief to get the match over with, ideally with Man U winning – and certainly NOT having made any crucial calls against them, for fear of what Ferguson might say or do in retaliation.  But for this year’s game, there was no Ferguson in the dugout – and the performance of the referee seemed suddenly free of those perceived pressures of the Fergie years.

It’s not as though Man U didn’t try to apply such pressure.  There were concerted efforts by their bench, with Moyes to the fore in his Fergie-Lite guise, to get David Luiz sent off instead of merely booked – to no avail.  Penalty shouts – an ever-present feature of any Man U game – likewise went unheeded, despite the presence of the usual diving suspects.  Chelsea, having eased into a three-goal lead despite a well below-par performance, never looked seriously troubled.  In contrast to the two previous years, they never seemed to have the slightest fear that the game might suddenly turn against them.  The referee even went so far as to dismiss Vidic and book Rafael for ugly challenges – decisions he probably got the wrong way around.

The late-ish Man U goal might have heralded a late onslaught in previous years, with the winning side suddenly assailed by fear and insecurity – but that was when Fergie was on the bench.  Now, with the impotent tyrant up in the stands, shaking his head glumly, there was no sign that the consolation goal would be anything but exactly that.  Man U had been beaten, despite early dominance of possession, despite a lacklustre showing by Chelsea.  It was their seventh defeat of the season, leaving them 14 points behind the leaders – or, more relevantly, a possible 7 points off Champions League qualification.  Tellingly, people have even begun to speculate as to their main rivals for a Europa League place.

It’s a new and unwelcome landscape for the ailing champions, and a lot of people are beginning to wake up to what all of this says, not only about their immediate prospects, but also of their record over the past twenty years, and to what degree that has been skewed by the ever more apparently crucial Fergie Fear Factor.  Thirteen titles in twenty years – how many would they have won without the dubious methods employed by the Govan Gob?  A virtually identical squad to last season’s runaway winners is now being revealed as the ordinary group that it is.  The myth of Man U is being ruthlessly exposed – and while nobody could argue that this is good for them, or for their globally spread cadre of fans, including the tiny minority that actually attend matches – it surely has to be good for the game that such an evidently dominant force for the swaying of authority and the warping of results has now departed the scene.

It would seem likely that history may not take quite such a rosy view of the Ferguson legacy as he would perhaps like – and the ironic fact is that this could perhaps come about not because of results under his leadership, but in the light of the pallid performance of virtually the same team, newly deprived of the advantages bestowed by the malign influence of S’ralex.  If that turns out to be the case, then we may all be taking a somewhat more realistic view of those so-called Ferguson Glory Years.

Man U’s “Olympic Diving Trio” Fail to Deny Spurs – by Rob Atkinson

Image

That Moyes half-time team talk in full

It seemed as though the selection of referee for today’s Man U v Spurs match at the Theatre of Hollow Myths was spot on and just right for the job in hand.  Howard Webb is a man who has proved time and time again that he’s one referee who knows exactly how to deal with the acknowledged divers of the best Man U tradition. Howard does not shirk his responsibility, Howard acts decisively. Howard doesn’t even hesitate; he gets the whistle to the lips and blows shrilly for the statutory penalty.  We’ve seen it repeatedly down the years.  The man is Mr Consistent, and his collection of Premier League title winners medals have been due reward for this.

But clearly, something went badly wrong today.  A goal down at half time, and needing their main man on form in the second half, Man U increased their divers complement, using all three specialists at the club with Ashley Young joining Welbeck and the promising young triple-salko expert Januzaj.  Between them, these three gave Webb every opportunity to award penalties, with brilliant build-up play leading to immaculate finishes, landing on the face in the box in the approved fashion. Webb, though, appeared to have forgotten his lines completely, refusing to give even one penalty and actually booking the latest “New George Best”! His performance was disgraceful, and he is expected to be carpeted at Carrington later this week. On this performance, Webb’s place in Moyes’ matchday squad must be in doubt.

Looking at the displays of the three-man dive squad against Spurs, any and all of them could have had success on the day were it not for the official deciding to come over all impartial, in blatant breach of the standard contract.  Let’s take Danny Welbeck first:

Image

Welbeck’s matchday scorecard

Danny tried hard, but possibly a little too hard.  One of the tabloids, the Metro, has chosen to be a little treacherous and highlight one of the lad’s less subtle dives – and oh dear, it does look bad (see here). Overall, not one of Danny’s better displays. But, at the risk of straying into irrelevant areas, at least he scored.

Moving on, let’s check out the promising young Adnan Januzaj’s form:

Image

The Januzaj scores.

Young Adnan again is a trier and he shows real potential.  The fact is though that he’s been booked at least twice now, for “simulation” as they prefer to call it these days (cheating is such a nasty word). This may indicate that he’s perhaps not yet a true Man U class diver.  It’s a part of his game he’ll obviously be encouraged to work on – Moyes is on record as saying he’ll be having a chat with the lad, and there are good, solid examples of effective diving already at the club, from whom he can learn a great deal.  But for the moment, he’s flattering to deceive, and there are even suggestions that the blatant nature of some of his “precipitate descents to ground level” are threatening to blow the gaff on the very fabric of the club’s entire diving policy. This is something that should put all concerned on notice; the quality of diving needs to be addressed just as much as does the inexplicable form of the normally-reliable Webb.

Last, but by no means least, we have Man U’s main diver, usually benched until his particular gifts are needed – the one and only Ashley “Nautilus” Young:

Image

Ashley’s impeccable style and artistic interpretation

If there is one man who should shoulder no blame whatsoever for today’s defeat, it’s that man Young.  Always available to come on when required, his single-minded approach warms the hearts of every fan from Torquay to Milton Keynes and back again.  Such dedication deserves some reward; on days like this, Ashley could be forgiven for thinking he might as well go back to playing football.  But such a devoted practitioner of his art will not long be cast down.  You can guarantee that Ashley will be back, arms and legs akimbo, nose ploughing a furrow inside the eighteen yard box and that lovely, fluid motion as the dive turns seamlessly into a loudly-squealed appeal to the normally willing ref.  Looking at today’s match, Moyes was livid that one dive of utter quality didn’t result in a penalty. Unlucky, Ashley – don’t give up.

As for the rest of the match – Spurs even had the cheek to claim a penalty of their own.  But goals either side of half-time, both inexplicably allowed, were enough in the end to see them take the three points.  Sadly, it will have been an uncomfortable journey back south for the bulk of the Man U support, having to share trains with gloating Spurs fans.  It’s at times like these that the mettle of such faithful and dedicated gloryhunters is truly put to the test.

These are worrying times though for Man U.  Spurs have been nothing special this term, and the fact that they have been able to face Man U’s triple threat and not concede even ONE penalty is a matter of grave concern.  Some MPs in Home Counties constituencies are being asked to table questions in the House.  It’s that serious.  The problem, clearly, is with Webb – and you’d almost wonder on today’s performance if someone’s got at him? The Premier League Referee’s Panel, perhaps – though they’re normally very good at keeping their nose out of Man U’s private affairs.  Whatever has happened, something has to be sorted out, and soon – or it will be hard to see how personnel changes are to be avoided.  Several younger refs have put in promising performances for Man U lately, one even pulling a muscle in his eagerness to point to the spot.  It may even be time to think the unthinkable and act to replace Howard – even though there’s little doubt that he will go down as one of the true greats in the club’s history.

It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall when Webb is summoned to meet an irate David Moyes in the next few days. He’s likely to have to do some hard, fast talking to have any hope of retaining his squad number, and even then it’s likely that beady eyes will be watching him from the stand.  Yes, even his old mentor S’ralex is rumoured to be bitterly disappointed with Webb’s lamentable display today.  Things are getting serious – for sound marketing reasons, Man U simply must finish in the top four at the very, very least.  So could we really be about to see the end of a glorious Man U career?  The next few days way well decide that.

Spurs Pay the Usual Penalty for Failing to Finish Off Man U – by Rob Atkinson

Look ref - here's what you do...

Look ref – here’s what you do…

Yesterday’s entertaining draw at White Hart Lane featured a Spurs team trying to recover from their six-goal hiding at Man City last time out, and a Man U team which featured Wayne Rooney, who should have been absent suspended after his wild kick at Cardiff last week, the type of foul for which only a Man U shirt will exempt the offender from a richly-deserved red card.  Rooney, let us not forget, scored twice at Cardiff when he should by rights have been wallowing in self-pity and an early bath.  And he scored twice again at Spurs, one of them a traditionally dodgy penalty as Welbeck somehow managed to hit the arm of keeper Lloris with his trailing leg and collapse like a house of cards – as per the kind of training drills they’ve provided at Carrington and the Cliff for years now.

The four goals Rooney has scored, when he shouldn’t have been on the pitch at all, have garnered the Pride of Devon 2 points that might well otherwise have been none.  David Moyes therefore has the nervousness of referees to thank for there not being a great deal more pressure on him this morning.  It was a factor that had often come to the aid of his curmudgeonly predecessor.  Plus ça change…

Spurs had taken the lead twice, firstly from a zippy Kyle Walker free-kick blasted along the ground under the defensive wall.  The Man U defenders had jumped in anticipation of something quite different, ending up politely letting Walker’s effort through to beat an unsighted de Gea.  The second Tottenham goal was a real beauty, Sandro looking up and striking a violent shot which soared into the net under the angle of post and crossbar, leaving the keeper rooted to the spot.

In between the two Tottenham strikes, Walker had gone from hero to zero when a cross ball into the Spurs area hit him too briskly for him to control it and bounced fortuitously into the path of Rooney (who shouldn’t have been playing).  Sandro’s goal was worthy of deciding any match, any time, anywhere. It was so good that Man U should really have put their hands up and said, ok – fair enough.  Instead, spoilsports that they are, they waited only three minutes before playing their penalty joker.  As Welbeck hit the ground, referee Dean had already sprung eagerly into life, risking muscle injury in his haste to sprint towards the penalty spot where he stood, quivering with virtue and resolution as he pointed for the award that was a foregone conclusion.  And Rooney – who should have been back home in Manchester – blasted his penalty down the middle to deny Spurs the win they probably deserved.

After the match, AVB – a man who has been under the cosh all week – was a mixture of defiant and philosophical.  He dismissed the rantings of the gutter rags with admirable contempt, not being drawn into any discussion of the scorn heaped upon his head since the disaster at the Etihad.  As for the Man U penalty, he simply shrugged and pointed out that he’s seen their players hang a leg out to win penalties before.  He knows, as we all do, that these are the penalties refs will always give at the end Man U are attacking, just as the ones they give in the area they’re defending are as common as hens’ teeth.  It’s the way of the world – and you could empathise with the Spurs manager’s wearily resigned acceptance of it. But rival managers must surely be heartily sick of this ridiculous quirk of the game by now. It’s been over twenty years, and the wonder is that, even with such a helpful wind at their backs, Man U have somehow contrived not to be champions on several occasions. That’s like tossing a double-headed coin and calling “tails”.

For all that it could have been worse for Man U, had Rooney been dismissed last week as he should have been, and had Welbeck been booked for deliberately tripping over the keeper’s hapless arm yesterday, as he should have been – still, two points from two away games is not vintage stuff.  But it’s two more than they should have had, and those nicked points might just count at the end of the season – even if it’s only to get Man U into the Europa League ahead of the likes of Newcastle.

Managers come and go, but some things never change, it seems – and so the fading champions are “only” nine points behind Arsenal, who looked irresistible at Cardiff.  There’s a long way to go yet – and surely there won’t be a defender’s gift and a soft penalty for Man U every week?  Watch this space.