What can a "holiday" have meant to David Moyes? A moratorium on answering questions, for starters. There is no vacation for the incoming manager of Manchester United that could possibly have matched the luxury of six weeks unofficial occupation afforded by the terms of his release from Everton. The idea that he has been writing postcards by a pool in Fuerteventura or following the Inca Trail while waiting to fill boots that rank among the biggest in the history of the game is as amusing as the idea of Cristiano Ronaldo returning to Manchester.
During his period of radio silence Moyes has observed the proposed exit of Wayne Rooney, the imminent acquisition of Thiago Alcantara and the tease of Ronaldo moving back to Alderley Edge. While all three are important players, and there is little to rival the exquisite tittle-tattle of transfer speculation for fans in summer, United's most significant signing is Moyes.
The job at Old Trafford is onerous enough. Assuming the manager's role after the 26-year reign of Sir Alex Ferguson adds a freakish dimension, the like of which no manager has ever faced. It is safe to assume that Dario Gradi's first team-sheet at Crewe will not fetch £20,000 at auction no matter the 24 years in gestation. Fergie's masterpiece from the fixture at Oxford that grim November day featured the lumbering centre-back Graeme Hogg, who must be the first United player with a value less than the paper he was written on.
Football was another country when Ferguson journeyed south from Aberdeen in 1986. United were a grand institution but with no greater means than other "big" clubs to shape their destiny. Fergie ran the club from top to bottom, his control absolute. Ask him now and he still won't know what a director of football is or does. Ferguson enforced old school habits, informed by mores that had governed the game for a century. He was the last of the empire managers, his reign coinciding with the massive commercial expansion detonated by the emergence of something called television rights.
While the landscape changed, Fergie stayed resolutely a 20th century football man. He could afford to resist the commercialisation going on elsewhere at United because once he started winning, the titles kept rolling in. The board indulged his methods because he was successful. Moyes will not have that luxury. If United go down 3-0 at Fulham with two midfielders in central defence he will be expected to answer for his selections.
Beyond his obligations to broadcasters at televised matches, Ferguson would not be seen dead speaking to the media after games. Fired by some old personal grudge he told the BBC where to get off, ignored Premier League directives to share his views and, like the grand old dame he was, went about his business with two fingers raised in the direction of Fleet Street. That was power.
After a decade of efficient husbandry at an institution that once rivalled United's for status and prestige, Moyes has arrived at the ultimate career juncture. This the big one. But he will not be afforded the licence extended to Ferguson to run the club as he wishes, nor the same tolerance if results go against him. The power is elsewhere.
The first requirement is for Moyes to be himself; the last is to please Ferguson. He cannot succeed if he is constantly appealing to the Fergie hovering over his shoulder. He has been appointed because of the qualities he demonstrated at Everton. His job is to apply those same attributes to his new environment and utterly erase Ferguson from his thinking. We shall see soon enough if he has what it takes.
For all he achieved at Everton, only late in the piece did he come close to establishing an aesthetic of wider appeal. Everton were always dogged but only latterly properly attached to a passing template. Moyes argued that he didn't have the players to develop a more expansive style. There is no need to delve into that old debate. He simply has to at United. Besides, Steven Pienaar, Leon Osman, Leighton Baines, Kevin Mirales and Marouane Fellaini spoke eloquently enough for him in the end.
Moyes has another week's grace before his official unveiling. The players return to training on Wednesday week before embarking on a mad itinerary of global marketing that includes time zone marathons in Thailand and Japan. The fixture list has not been kind, either, with the computer coughing up Chelsea for his first engagement at Old Trafford followed by successive away days at Anfield and the Etihad. At least he can get a cab home from there.
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