Complex, private, intense, driven... and charming: Biographer's view on new Manchester United manager David Moyes
Martin Baker, the author of David Moyes' autobiography, tells the story of their 15-year relationship and how he has come to a know a person who is complex, private, intense, driven... and charming
Friday 10 May 2013
David Moyes appears to be a known entity – killer baby-blue eyes, careful Caledonian courtesy, a study in Scottish steel.
But there's far more to Moyes than Glaswegian, working-class stereotype. He is a complex and unusual man. And my journey towards getting to know him, and writing his autobiography (as yet unpublished), certainly began in an unusual way – on the pitch at Deepdale, Preston, in front of the Bill Shankly Kop, some 15 years ago.
My first meeting with Manchester United's new manager was brokered by the then chairman of Preston North End, Bryan Gray. Gray had been an outstanding chairman of the football club, but he'd taken a risk in appointing a youthful Moyes as manager, back in January 1998. North End fans – I know, I'm one of them – can be a curmudgeonly lot. There had been a deal of griping and groaning about the promotion of the 36-year-old centre-back and assistant manager. It was a cheap option, apparently. He didn't have the experience. There were better qualified candidates, notably Ian Rush and Howard Kendall. The arguments ventilated then were not dissimilar to the quibbles and rants circulating today.
The volume and the vitriol of the moaning had increased after the kind of start that Moyes simply cannot afford at Old Trafford – with the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand in front of the dugout, and the great man himself up in the gods behind. After claiming a win at the first attempt – 1-0 away at Macclesfield in the Auto Windscreen Shield – Moyes oversaw three consecutive league defeats, culminating in a 1-3 home loss to Carlisle United, after which Moyes retired as a player to concentrate on his great strength, namely coaching.
And straight away the results began to improve. Speaking in an interview recorded years later, Moyes remembers that early period: "I was in charge for 20 games that season. The final 10 saw us playing some decent, confident football. The team averaged almost two points per game in this spell and we finished the season off in style, beating my old club Bristol City 2-1 at Deepdale. City were promoted, and our win denied them the champions' title. I took no pleasure in that, but I felt our performance gave us hope for the coming season and possibly over the longer term."
That last remark is typical of the man. For all the brouhaha regarding Manchester United's courtesy, or lack of it, towards Everton, you can be certain that, however much Moyes will want to win when United face his former club – and he has a voracious hunger for victory – he will take no pleasure in inflicting a defeat.
The first 10 games of Moyes' managerial career, however, saw his team averaging less than a point per game. Still a journalist back in 1998, I had gone to Preston to interview the management of what was a stock market-listed club. I asked Gray how the young manager had turned things around. The playing staff had changed hardly at all – yet their form and football had improved beyond recognition.
Gray, a lay preacher, stopped in his tracks: "I've thought a lot about this. Without wishing to be funny about it… I think he makes the players love each other a bit more."
At which point, you might think I'm suggesting David Moyes has a managerial style based on a solid knowledge of The Sound Of Music. Far from it, of course. All the flintiness you see on the television is there in real life. In his first game in charge of Everton, Moyes oversaw a crucial 2-1 win over Fulham – and followed an international down the players' tunnel after he kicked over a water bottle in frustration at being substituted. Moyes offered the hapless individual various forms of emergency surgery without the benefit of anaesthetic, to the huge approval of the Goodison faithful – all this on his first game in charge. And surely I am not alone in wondering how Roberto Mancini's head remained on his body after their touchline spat a couple of years back as Everton inflicted yet another defeat on Manchester City.
"Love", of course, does not equate to weakness. But it fits perfectly with Moyes' intensely personal management style. Moyes wants to know the individuals he manages, and he requires them to play – excuse the banality – as a team.
Moyes has been criticised in some quarters for a lack of decisiveness in the transfer market. Construed in the context of his desire to know who these expensively acquired individuals are, the "Dithering Dave" accusations are as risible as they are unfair. Over the course of various visits to Everton's Finch Farm training ground, I have seen – but not opened – lengthy dossiers on players. The reason for the research is simple: if Moyes is bringing someone into the heart of his club and his team, he wants to know who that person is, and what type of impact he might have on those around him.
Now that Moyes is, arguably, custodian-in-chief of the biggest brand in world sport (United are only run close by Real Madrid and the New York Yankees), the question of "who that person is" is one that the world media will be demanding answers to.
I have spent – there's no other way of putting it – an unhealthy amount of time seeking an answer to that very question. After Gray brokered a five-minute meeting, which I drove nine hours for (London to Preston return, admittedly with an overnight stop), Moyes and I arranged a longer get-together. This time the allotted hour, spent in the windowless, Hitlerian bunker that used to be the manager's office at an undeveloped Deepdale, turned into four.
A burning intensity, a quiet courtesy, and a desire to learn all shone through in that first, long session. I had interviewed many highly successful business people, and thought Moyes had every quality of the natural leader, allied to an acute, if largely untutored, intelligence. I believed he would get to the top, and said as much.
"But what if I don't?" he flashed back. I knew then that this was a man who would never feel that he was "at the top". I'm certain he doesn't now. There's a huge heap of trophies to be won, and even then they'll never be enough. At the time, I merely countered that I'd help with a bit of media training – something he's never had, and now plainly doesn't need.
Over the years, and the course of many interviews, I have discovered Moyes to be a natural leader of men. That core skill is complemented by a careful, methodical approach to all aspects of his work, and a wide-ranging intellectual curiosity.
The aura of leadership is well illustrated by one incident that stands out in the memory. After I spent a week shadowing Moyes for a lengthy article for The Observer Sports Monthly, a photographer drove up from London to do the photo shoot. He asked if he could go back for some extra shots. Moyes, generous with his time, as he regards journalists as working people with a job to do, acquiesced. The photographer drove up again a week later, and was photographing Moyes in the claustrophobic players' tunnel ("It's maybe a bit intimidating – I quite like that," Moyes said to me at the time). Ever inquisitive, Moyes was asking questions during the shoot – the photographer's professional experience, techniques, his personal life. The photographer told him he was the father of two children and Moyes enquired about his wife. When the photographer said he wasn't married, Moyes cocked his head. He'd had two children with the woman, and she wasn't his wife? Then the conversation moved on. Nothing else was said. The photographer – bear in mind, a staffer on a liberal newspaper – was clearly impressed. He drove down the M1 and proposed the same day.
And so to the Manchester United job, which became the giant pachyderm in the corner of our discourse. Moyes' passion for Everton and his deep friendship with chairman Bill Kenwright were evident truths. But the United position was difficult to discuss. Our conversations would take on a dynamic, akin to a defence lawyer dealing with a client on a homicide charge. The one question you don't ask is: "But, did you do it?" The succession to Sir Alex would hang in the air, as deliciously inescapable as next-door's barbeque smoke.
Now the neighbour's sausages have well and truly landed on Moyes' plate and he will find himself the subject of universal attention. For an essentially private person and family man – he is married to Pamela, has a daughter, Lauren, and son, David Jnr, who is a football agent, and his representative is his brother Kenny – this may be a trial. His beautiful, secluded house in rural Lancashire, where the grounds also house, separately, Pamela's mother and his father, may become something of a fortress for a while. It will be one of the few places he won't be judged.
Of all the situations I've found myself in with David Moyes – and I've managed to get lost upstairs in his house a few times – I think the colour-coded player-performance chart in his office best expresses the essence of the man. Moyes judges others and is confident of the accuracy of that judgement. But he doesn't trust emotions, even his own. The chart – and the players never know what the colours signify – is used to distance himself from his own subjective judgement. It helps him to externalise and critique his own thoughts. Moyes wants to examine those thoughts outside himself, just as he appraises a player. But he keeps the meaning of the colour- coding to himself. It is, perhaps, the most important part of his office, and maybe even an unconscious gesture of his soul – open, but secret.
David Moyes has never been more in the open than now.
Martin Baker's new novel, 'Version Thirteen', is available from Unbound: unbound.co.uk/books/version-thirteen
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