‘The chosen one’ as he has been nicknamed by the Old Trafford faithful has had a tough start to the season after an underwhelming summer in the transfer window but his honesty with the media, press and the fans has been unequivocal.
Moyes has always had a ‘straight-talking’ approach to media interactions in his decade at Goodison Park and even prior to that at Preston North End but the demands and pressure at Manchester United, the most popular football club on the planet, were always going to be greater than he’d ever experienced before.
To compound this – the new environment, the new personnel, the new and increased pressure – comes a different kind of pressure. Not only does Moyes have to take over from one of the greatest managers of all time but he has to take on the image and the personality of the club, the legacy that Ferguson left behind.
United fans and the press have heard one voice for 26 years – that voice was an unflinching, unfazed, uncompromising and often uncooperative voice that had the respect and fear of the British press, officials, the FA, players, staff and the fans. No one spoke out of line in Ferguson’s presence and the elder Scot always stuck to his guns. If Ferguson said the sky was green, it was so.
Ferguson, over his tenure at Old Trafford, became a master of mind games and manipulation, using the media to his advantage, always ten steps ahead of his rivals. I would even go so far as to compare him to former government spin-doctor Alistair Campbell for his exceptional ability to twist a story, a negative, a bad result, a scandal, or a problem to his advantage and always upheld the image of the club.
That image has been created over the years from a repetitive narrative that Manchester United are one of the biggest and most successful clubs in the world, they don’t like to lose, they never give in and they always represent the badge with pride. Players, staff members, or even members of the press who in any way attempted to deviate from this message were immediately removed, dismissed or supressed.
Ferguson has revealed himself in an article with Harvard Business School that he was, in effect, a dictator – no one was allowed to be bigger than him. David Moyes comes in as the Head Boy to take over the watch of the Headmaster – as he said himself, no one said it would be easy.
But, can the rookie (comparatively) help himself? Can he ease the pressure he’s under by emulating Ferguson’s approach to the media? So far he’s been a little too honest and, in my estimation, hasn’t done himself any favours by taking a soft approach.
So far the incident or situation I believe he’s handled best was the Wayne Rooney saga this summer – why? Because, he took a hard line, a bold and unequivocal stance that the player was not for sale and would remain at Old Trafford as part of his plans for the coming season. End of.
He never waivered from that narrative, where as, in other areas this summer and since the start of the season he’s come across a little unsure of himself – the results haven’t gone his way to be fair, but he ought to have come out and played ‘bad cop’ a little more often, pointed to the players who let him down on Sunday in the derby or, preferably, before that, called for some of the underperforming players to show him what they’re made of – he could have pre-empted a lot of the curve balls he’s been thrown so far.
He could have protected himself in case of defeat prior to the derby – that’s what Ferguson always did, he would try to take the sting and heat out of a potential defeat before it happened, messed around with Manuel Pellegrini’s mind a tad, tried to undermine him.
Synonymously, he could have taken a more assertive stance in front of the press – they’ve been battering him in the papers. Would Ferguson have stood for that and then chatted to them contentedly in the press conferences? I don’t think so.
The problem, of course, is that David Moyes is not Sir Alex Ferguson and no one should expect him to be – he is his own person and he will do things his own way, with integrity, honesty and humility and, if he’s given time, faith and patience that will likely become a voice and an image that Manchester United get used to.
image: © illarterate