Brian Viner: Learn from the Moyessiah's gospel and forgive fallen idol Rooney his sins

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The Independent Football

Were a Franciscan friar to find fault with the writings of St Francis of Assisi, he would be plunged into torment. So it was for those Everton fans last weekend who, for the very first time, found themselves profoundly disapproving of the words of David Moyes. The religious analogy is not wholly inappropriate, either. Not for nothing is the Everton manager nicknamed the "Moyessiah" by those fans whose dreams he has resurrected. For Evertonians, from the moment Moyes declared in his first press conference that he had joined "the People's Club", his every syllable had been beyond reproach. However, by standing up for James Beattie, whose running head-butt on Chelsea's William Gallas was one of the most indefensible fouls I have ever seen on a football pitch, Moyes entered uncharted territory: all sensible Evertonians disagreed with him.

Were a Franciscan friar to find fault with the writings of St Francis of Assisi, he would be plunged into torment. So it was for those Everton fans last weekend who, for the very first time, found themselves profoundly disapproving of the words of David Moyes. The religious analogy is not wholly inappropriate, either. Not for nothing is the Everton manager nicknamed the "Moyessiah" by those fans whose dreams he has resurrected. For Evertonians, from the moment Moyes declared in his first press conference that he had joined "the People's Club", his every syllable had been beyond reproach. However, by standing up for James Beattie, whose running head-butt on Chelsea's William Gallas was one of the most indefensible fouls I have ever seen on a football pitch, Moyes entered uncharted territory: all sensible Evertonians disagreed with him.

But to keep up the analogy, then came redemption. After watching the incident on video, Moyes realised he had been wrong to defend Beattie. By admitting as much, he emerged from a miserable business with an already formidable reputation enhanced. At first we thought Moyes had embraced the gospel according to Arsène Wenger: even if your player brings down an opponent by whipping out a double-barrelled shotgun and blowing off both his kneecaps, offer no public chastisement. Just say that from where you were sitting, the incident looked innocuous. Or maybe that you didn't see it at all. "You say he used a gun, and I admit the groundsman found two kneecaps in ze centre circle, but I did not see eet, so I cannot comment."

Happily, it emerged that Moyes, while yet to prove himself Wenger's equal as a manager, is more than his match as a man. He announced that he had spoken hastily, and that Beattie - in whose chunky frame he has six million quid's worth of expectation invested, don't forget - had behaved like an idiot. He assured us that the player would be subject to the club's normal disciplinary procedures, which doubtless include a cold stare from the manager.

Just to get back to religion for a second, it is not widely known that Moyes is a fiercely committed Christian, and that the tenets of Christianity inform the way he goes about his job. I must say that I am pretty sceptical when it comes to God's role in sport, and have been ever since I watched an American golfer called Tim Simpson win the 1985 Southern Open in Columbus, Georgia, then declare in his acceptance speech that the victory was not his but the Lord's. After which he declined to sign autographs before roaring off, flamboyantly, in his Porsche.

On the other hand, here is a man - Moyes - who keeps his faith entirely to himself, yet exudes morality and decency in an increasingly amoral, grubby profession. All of which leads me to this afternoon's fifth round FA Cup tie between Everton and Manchester United. Evertonians owe it not only to themselves, but also to the best manager the club has had since the first coming of Howard Kendall, not to demonise Wayne Rooney if and when he runs out on to the surface of the moon, aka Goodison Park, in a red shirt.

I was at the Nou Camp a few years ago to watch Barcelona play Real Madrid. It was after Luis Figo's controversial transfer to Real, but Figo, forgivably, couldn't quite shake off an injury in time to play. Yet still the Barça fans in the upper tiers took the time to burn his effigy. Absurdly, the energy they expended on the abuse of a man who was not even in the stadium far exceeded support for their own team. Everton fans must take care not to become similarly consumed by loathing, the more so as it is generally acknowledged that, had Rooney stayed, the team, still in thrall to a superstar, would not now be so high in the Premiership.

The matter has been debated on Everton websites all week, with right-minded contributors insisting that the best way to wind up Rooney is not to howl his every touch, but to offer thunderous encouragement to his former team-mates as they attempt to knock him and his current team-mates out of the FA Cup.

That in itself is going to be a tall order, thanks not least to the brainless antics of Beattie. As for Moyes, he has appealed for restraint in Goodison's treatment of its former teenage idol. In other words, may the New Testament spirit of forgiveness prevail over the Old Testament spirit of retribution. Fat bloody chance, as Matthew said to Luke.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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