I have just sent a card to Mrs David Moyes. David’s sacking as manager of Manchester United feels like a bereavement, and the note, for all its chattiness, carries the tone of a concerned family friend. Sorry for your loss.
Or rather, in my case, disgusted by the way a thoroughly decent man has been treated. I’ve known Moyes for over 16 years. He’s been an occasional confidante and a long-term friend, whose help through a messy period in my own life was quietly sustaining, helpful, kind.
Seeing him let down by players – several of whom are guilty, at the least, of desertion of duty – has been sickening. I doubt that Moyes will have watched Ryan Giggs’ jocose, gurning performance at yesterday’s press conference; he tends to shun media after a severe setback.
For me, watching Giggs being self-satisfied and with a limited sense of brotherhood, called to mind Macbeth. I see Moyes as the decent, trusting Duncan, hurt in what was supposed to be a place of safety. An honourable man has been dealt with dishonourably, that much is clear. And sooner or later the sweet milk of concord will certainly get poured down the very cracks of hell – or the Old Trafford boardroom, at least.
As the whole farce unfolds (Roy Keane has been touted as assistant manager at Manchester United, for heaven’s sake), Moyes will be keeping his own counsel. There’s been a short statement, and that’s it. Now it’s time for a long, slow, painful recovery.
In 2009 I ghosted Moyes’ autobiography. Although he had green-lit the project in 2008, he decided against publication – even though Random House were desperate for the book, and had made 38,000 pre-sales (very unusual for a book that hadn’t even been delivered). I am still not sure why we didn’t go ahead. It’s our book, but his story – and I never asked for a reason, just as I never asked whether he coveted the United job.
I suspect that the decision not to proceed was partly disappointment at Everton’s loss to Chelsea in the FA Cup final that year, and partly natural modesty. He may be angry at the publication of this extract of the text – which may now never see the light of day. But so be it. Someone needs to speak up for a decent man who’s been indecently treated. He may have been paid shed-loads of money, but – to borrow from The Merchant of Venice this time – he’s a human being like the rest of us: if you prick him, he bleeds.
To the right, in his voice, is an extract from the book. It explains how he deals with defeat and difficulty. It may explain where he is emotionally just now. Moyes is in the Managers’ Graveyard. But be sure of one thing: he’ll be back.
Martin Baker’s new novel, ‘Version Thirteen’, published by Unbound, is available now in bookshops, and online at: unbound.co.uk/books/version-thirteen
The Managers’ Graveyard by David Moyes
“The graveyard I’m talking about isn’t a place. It’s a state of mind. It’s not a very pleasant one, either.
After a defeat, I don’t want company. I don’t want to be around other people. I don’t want to chit-chat and pretend everything’s all right. When we’ve lost, it’s not all right.
It does vary a wee bit. There are some defeats when you come off the pitch and you feel almost like a winner. For example, if you’ve played really well against a massive team and lost to an unlucky late goal. Again, there are times when you play really well and concede a late equaliser and it really hurts. We played Arsenal at Goodison in spring 2009. We dominated, but had the win snatched from us by a fantastic Van Persie strike just before the final whistle. In conversation with Arsène Wenger afterwards, he was generous to admit that we were unlucky not to win. But to me, it felt like a defeat.
Losing’s part of the game, I do understand that. You have to accept it and give credit to the opposition, even if you’ve not played well yourself. Then you have to pick yourself up and get on with it. You move on to the next game. That’s what happens. Every time.
But it’s much easier to talk about than it is to do. Knowing you have to recover isn’t the same as recovering. I have to show the players that there’s a way forward. The players have to see that I’m bullet-proof. I have to give them the lead and move them on. But before I can do that, I have to go through a whole process myself. I do that in what I call The Managers’ Graveyard.
The Managers’ Graveyard is a place that is difficult to describe if you’re not a manager yourself. There’s a place where elephants go to die. Football managers go to such a place. You brood there. You gnaw on your disappointment and your anger and this horrible feeling that something’s been taken away.
There are a lot of managers in that dark place, the Managers’ Graveyard, every Saturday night. Some will blame it on the referee. Some will blame their selection. Some will say that the team wasn’t good enough. But they’ll all be there for a while. Some can get out quite quickly. Others will stay for longer.
Most managers will tell you that the lows are more intense than the highs. When you win you feel good. When you lose, it’s terrible.
When things aren’t going well, I try not to listen to the radio too much or read too many newspapers, except for news. I certainly don’t read what goes on the internet.
To this day, I can remember driving in my car as a young Celtic player and hearing myself get absolutely slaughtered on the local radio phone-in programme. I was a young boy of maybe 18 or 19, and the criticism from the fans really hurt. So I limit my exposure to it, and try to keep a level head about it.
In 2008, many years later, I met prime minister Gordon Brown after he’d come up to Liverpool for a Cabinet meeting. We talked about football. He’s a mad Raith Rovers fan, and said he had watched me when I played for Dunfermline.
I wanted to ask him how he handles criticism. Just about everything a prime minister does is subject to unbelievable criticism. I’m often asked how I react to some of the stuff regarding my own performance. The answer’s simple: I don’t read it, good or bad. If you’re not going to pay too much heed when you’re losing, you shouldn’t when you’re winning. It’s a way of keeping my life in balance.
The only way I’ve discovered is dealing with the pain of defeat full-on. However hard it is, however long the process. Losing is a great big bruise, and you have to let it hurt. You try to learn from it, and to move forward when you’ve the strength. Sometimes that takes a long time. There are no short-cuts.”