Ferguson and Moyes speak differently of Wayne’s world
The two can be directly compared on their handling of Rooney
New Manchester United manager David Moyes
David Moyes’s first Manchester United press conference was notable for the deference he showed to his new surroundings, which ranged from painstaking – “Bobby Charlton came in and saw me and that was amazing for me” – to painful – “the Aon training centre”.
The awestruck tone was most evident whenever the name of Alex Ferguson came up. Everybody in football respects Ferguson, but Moyes’s respect is so profound that he couldn’t bear the thought of Ferguson seeing him wearing jeans. In Moyes’s telling, Ferguson commanded him to take the job: “You are the next Manchester United manager.”
Clearly it was an offer Moyes was never going to refuse, but aren’t even those kind of offers usually presented as a choice?
It’s curious that Ferguson evidently saw Moyes as the most like himself of the available candidates. In fact, the two men seem only superficially similar.
How realistic was Ferguson’s self-assessment? In his autobiography he talks about how loyalty was “the anchor of my life,” yet in practice he rarely allowed loyalty to affect the clarity of his thinking.
The anchor of his success was his ability to shift effortlessly between contradictory characters: father-figure and bully, guardian of tradition and scourge of referees, sly raconteur and humourless fanatic. He was a working class hero who owned racehorses, a firebrand shop steward who collected fine wines, the humble club servant who went after the major shareholders in the courts.
Ferguson was convincing in all these paradoxical roles; in a way he was one of the great actors of his generation.
Moyes, by contrast, seems only ever to inhabit the one character: intense, serious, somewhat straight-laced. Maybe Ferguson saw in Moyes an idealised version of himself, a man in whom the virtues of principle and integrity are less compromised by Machiavellian expedience.
Already we can directly compare the two on the basis of their handling of the Wayne Rooney question. Last March, when newspapers reported that Rooney was considering his future at United after being left out of the Champions League game against Real Madrid, Ferguson issued a definitive denial. “There is no issue between myself and Wayne Rooney...He’ll be here next year. You can have my word on that.”
With hindsight we can say that there certainly was an issue between Ferguson and Rooney at the time, and we also know that when Ferguson promised Rooney would be there next season he already knew that he was retiring and that the decision on Rooney’s future would not be his to make. Nevertheless, Ferguson did not let the facts interfere with the story he wanted to put out there.
His fluent dissembling on that subject was in marked contrast to the performance of his successor last Friday. Moyes’s insistence that Rooney was not about to leave sounded like the non-denial denials of a politician who doesn’t want to be caught out by facts which have yet to emerge.