Ferguson and Moyes speak differently of Wayne’s world

The two can be directly compared on their handling of Rooney


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.

Non-denial denials
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.

“The fact is Wayne Rooney is not for sale,” Moyes said, which confirmed nothing except that Rooney will have to put in an official transfer request if he is to be sold.

Asked whether Rooney had categorically confirmed his desire to stay with United, Moyes categorically confirmed that he had been training really well.

The friction between Rooney and Ferguson was rooted in their differing assessments of his recent form: Rooney thought it was okay, Ferguson disagreed. Moyes’s comments on Friday appeared to place him in the Ferguson camp as he talked about Rooney in terms that suggested the player was in need of rehabilitation.

“We are working and trying everything to get Wayne to the level where we think he should be...we are trying to get him back to the Wayne Rooney we know.”

Unusually good shape
Nemanja Vidic confirmed that Rooney has returned from holiday in unusually good shape. Is that because he has accepted Ferguson’s judgment and resolved to do better, or because he is fired by the desire to avenge the humiliations of last season, perhaps by moving to another club and winning the title?

“It’s interesting to think that Wayne is only 40 or 50 goals behind Sir Bobby Charlton and I think 40 behind Denis Law,” said Moyes, pointing out a fact that you suspect is entirely uninteresting to Rooney himself. When was the last time he thought about the records of Charlton or Law?

Today’s players set little store by old statistics. If they watch the old footage of Real Madrid’s 7-3 defeat of Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 European Cup final, Ferenc Puskas’s paunch will leave a deeper impression on them than his four goals.

They know the distance footballers cover in a match has doubled since the days of Charlton and Law, who scored many of their goals against defenders whose bellies were splitting with steak and chips.

Moyes warmed to his historic theme: “If I was Wayne I would look at the legends who have played at this club. You can see their pictures at the training ground – George Best, Bobby Charlton, Roy Keane. Wayne is not too far away from that.”

It’s hard to see that line of talk having much impact on a man who already considers himself the equal of those legends. Moyes may be enraptured with United’s history, but footballers like Rooney are concerned only with the present and the future, and right now that may look brighter elsewhere.

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