Can David Moyes ever rebuild that Manchester United ‘aura’ of old?

Precedent offers no real clue about his prospects of matching Ferguson’s Old Trafford glories

We are privileged to be witnessing one of most absorbing football dramas of modern times, wondering if one man can take the place that another made his own for 27 years.

Only those eaten by the bitterest tribalism would not want David Moyes to succeed – so affirming the quality of a British manager who believes in British players. But the contemporary desire for tidy, instantaneous answers about whether he has what it takes will not be satisfied for months yet. If your bottle’s half full you’ll say Manchester United haven’t lost in five games. If it’s half empty you’ll say that for most of Saturday afternoon they played like a team who will be relegated.

“Storms expected on Monday” the signs on the Old Trafford approach roads declared at lunchtime. Darkness had set in before United’s players determined that they would not allow one to rage 48 hours too soon.

We all reach for simple precedents in our relentless attempts to organise ideas about how this unprecedented situation will play out. Both Moyes and the Stoke City manager Mark Hughes, who once had cause to dream of being Sir Alex Ferguson’s chosen one, were asked whether the two goals in two minutes which earned United’s 3-2 win, might  be the “Mark Robins moment” from which Ferguson moved on to greatness in January 1990, following four dark years  of struggle. “No,” replied Hughes, who laid on  Robins’s goal at Nottingham Forest that day. “Come on! What’s he had? Eight games? That’s ridiculous …” 

Hughes’s own recollections of United’s desperate 1989-90 season amplified just how over-simplistic the notion actually is. He recalled United going to Millwall a full month after the “Robins moment” and falling 1-0 behind, when defeat would have left Ferguson marooned in the relegation zone. They emerged with a 2-1 win but it was another wretched day. Ferguson tried everything to find the winning touch that season. It was around the time the clocks went back that he took the players to Dunblane for some golf and relaxation. The net effect: a friendly fixture to inaugurate St Johnstone’s new stadium which was “a monstrous embarrassment, a really stinking performance by us” as he later described it, leaving him more morose and desolate than ever.

The stakes are higher for Moyes. Failure to make a top four finish – which Hughes observed late on Saturday will be “difficult” for him – would see United stand to lose around £15m in revenue, by the club’s estimate, but more significantly be plunged into the struggle to sign elite stars that Liverpool have come to know. Will they turn this corner?

The continuing effervescence of Adnan Januzaj – “of all the young players I’ve seen over the years he is right up there in the top one or two,” Robin van Persie said on Saturday evening – is at the top of the list of reasons to believe so. The negativists’ ammunition includes the visible physical pain Van Persie is displaying, which threatens United’s single world-class partnership. The striker is taking injections in both of his small toes and there is an associated groin problem. “I’ve felt better,” he said. “The last couple of weeks it’s been quite tough for me. I’ve been sore in a couple of places and I want to play through that.”

Saturday’s central defensive muddle, with Nemanja Vidic’s calf problem prolonging his injury troubles, served only to underline Ferguson’s recent observation that “if Vida stays fit we have a fantastic chance, you know that”. Vida currently isn’t staying fit.

Other aspects of the malaise reached right back into the Ferguson era. Hughes first targeted Patrice Evra’s aerial weakness at Ewood Park, five years ago, when, as Blackburn manager, he billeted Roque Santa Cruz against him. This time Peter Crouch was selected for the same purpose, to the same effect. To see Chris Smalling so overwhelmed by Marko Arnautovic – Stoke’s stand-out player – was less expected.

These are all small details against the broader picture of how – as the football world keeps saying – the “aura” has gone the same way as Ferguson. Yes, Moyes will probably never ask his players to “run up that hill, then come back and cut down that tree” and hear them reply “Right boss, where’s the chainsaw?” as Ferguson memorably defines Phil Neville’s work ethic in his new autobiography. But is the absence of “aura” a permanent, immutable state of affairs? Can Moyes only succeed by being what his predecessor was? No and no.

Moyes is hard, analytical, scrupulous, tireless. His side are eighth. He shows no sign of being damaged by the firestorm around him. He has a fighting chance.

Shawcross and Van Persie have a bit of afters

Manchester United’s Robin van Persie and Stoke City’s Ryan Shawcross were involved in a tunnel altercation after the teams clashed on Saturday.

Van Persie seemed to mutter something under his breath to the Stoke defender, who was giving an interview. Shawcross, who was booked by referee Lee Mason in the dressing room at half-time after clashing with Van Persie as they left the field, turned and responded.

Van Persie, who has scored in his last seven games against Stoke, was part of the Arsenal team who have had an issue in the past with the Potters’ physicality. He was sent off for following through on goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen after coming on as a substitute at the Britannia Stadium in 2008. Sorenson later admitted helping to wind up the striker.

News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
News
scienceScientists try to explain the moon's funny shape
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
As Loki in The Avengers (2012)
filmRead Tom Hiddleston's email to Joss Whedon on prospect of playing Loki
Voices
voices In defence of the charcoal-furred feline, by Felicity Morse
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
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

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star