Comment: It looks bad for Manchester United manager David Moyes right now, but the example of Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool shows how things can change

‘Ask him who gave away a free-kick six years ago and he’ll get it in an instant’

Yes, it’s a bad place for David Moyes; a place so full of people pointing both barrels in his direction that he even found himself on the BBC 10 o’clock news on Friday – and not as a sport item. They screened a clip of him being asked to discuss Manchester United’s share price, which seemed exceedingly tough on the man.

Brendan Rodgers has not yet made it on to prime-time TV in this way – Being: Liverpool is as bad as it has got – but you only need to consider how far Liverpool have travelled since the depths of last winter, when Rodgers’ own first season at the helm of a football institution put him in some fairly desperate straits, to know that perspective, rather than panic, is required where Moyes and United are concerned.

It was actually a year ago next weekend that Liverpool suffered that desultory FA Cup exit away to Oldham Athletic, at which point in the season Rodgers’ team were seventh in the Premier League, just as United are now – and 22 points off the top, compared with United’s 14. A friend of mine was at Melwood the day after that Cup defeat. “A morgue,” is how he remembers it. Of course, Liverpool were not the defending Premier League champions, but their journey in 12 months does reveal the change that can come with time, the introduction of a few new players and the chance for a group who are the manager’s own to bond and to adhere to his ways.

The question is – what qualities does Moyes have to lift United from the place where they find themselves? When you listen to evangelising managers such as Rodgers and Everton’s Roberto Martinez, radiating their positivity and philosophies, it’s easy to see why they sweep players and media along. Moyes is different: intense in the extreme and just not given to that kind of exuberance. The contrast between him and his Everton successor, as they held court within an hour of each other last Friday, was startling to behold. First up was Martinez, tanned from his club’s Tenerife break and turning another press conference into an oration. Then came Moyes – taciturn, tetchy and turning his own into an inquisition, 20 miles up the M62.

Gary Neville's autobiography Red describes how Sir Alex Ferguson could be far less intense in the dressing room than his image suggests Gary Neville's autobiography Red describes how Sir Alex Ferguson could be far less intense in the dressing room than his image suggests (AFP/Getty)
The Glaswegian’s intensity promotes the lazy assumption that all this is destined to end in failure at Old Trafford. The visual age we’re in, where smiles, jokes and rapid actions are de rigueur, simply doesn’t help people like him.

He is an arch-analyst, who pores over defeat, takes it badly and “locks himself away with it,” as one friend of his describes it to me. “A black dog mood doesn’t begin to describe it…” Moyes’ former Everton physio Mick Rathbone, whom Sir Alex Ferguson appointed as a mentor to United’s junior players 14 months ago, has said of Moyes that he is “like the bloody Rain Man” with an “almost supernatural ability to read, understand, analyse and recount every single passage of play while he is in the dugout”. Forget much talk of anything other than football with this man. One former player recalls how, when he first arrived at Everton, he could not strike up any conversation with Moyes which wasn’t about football.

Delve back into the very few crises Moyes has experienced in his professional life – the most instructive way of analysing whether he can solve this one – and you will find that all this intensity can be a double-edged sword. It is a positive, in the way that an exhaustive grasp of players, systems and winning methods is a requisite for success. “If you ask him who the Chancellor of the Exchequer is, he probably won’t be able to tell you,” Rathbone said. “But ask him who gave the free-kick away that led to Aston Villa’s equaliser at Villa Park six years previously and he will get it in an instant.”

Elite players expect that, though you certainly feel that Moyes might adhere a little to the philosophy of Carlo Ancelotti, who in an immensely revelatory interview with the Financial Times this weekend reflected: “Football is the most important of the less important things in the world.” There is wisdom in that. Gary Neville’s autobiography Red describes how Sir Alex Ferguson could be far less intense in the dressing room than his image suggests.

One former associate of Moyes tells me he believes that the intensity, and hyper-analysis which is bound up with it, explains the “streakiness” of his teams, who can tend to go on extended runs of both victories and defeats. It is as if the process of computing reasons for defeat means that reversing the trend takes time. There was a grim initial period at Preston; Everton’s eight defeats in nine at the beginning of the 2005-06 season; and the dreadful losing end to the 2003-04 season at that club.

David Weir, Moyes’ captain in 2003-04, has written of the difficulties between Moyes and the players which that season created. “We were getting beaten right, left and centre,” Weir said in his own autobiography, Extra Time. “There was a bit of a watershed when we lost 5-1 to Man City in the final match of that season. The manager was in the depths of despair. He couldn’t believe what had happened and the players had turned against him a bit at that point. There was almost an ‘us and them’ feeling at that time.”

Weir was describing the effects of what Rathbone calls the Reverend Ian Paisley mentality in Moyes. But the postscript to the defender’s story is revealing.

A small group of Moyes’ senior players told him that summer that the intensity was becoming debilitating. He, with his collegiate approach to management, listened, heard them and loosened up a little. He made his squad smaller and tighter that summer, brought in Tim Cahill – who became the figurehead of his team. Moyes was not intransigent. And he did not look back.

The size of the task ahead of him is in a different stratosphere now. The sight of Rafael da Silva running concentric circles around United’s penalty area as Samuel Eto’o limbered up for Chelsea’s second goal on Sunday may cause him to wonder what the hell he has walked into. But Rodgers can say he’s been there, too.

It was only last week that he offered his own fleeting insight into the pit of despair Moyes occupies, by describing driving home to Formby after a pitiful defeat at Stoke on Boxing Night 2012. “There was family in the house. But I went straight upstairs to the room,” Rodgers related. “I didn’t come out.”

 

Suggested Topics
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick