No, David Moyes had not read it. No, he had not been warned what would be in it. No, Wayne Rooney would not be affected by anything in Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography. The sixth and presumably final book Ferguson has written about himself will cast a shadow in tonight’s Champions League fixture but only from the piles that will be available in the Old Trafford megastore.
It is perhaps just as well for Moyes that there is only one target of Ferguson’s autobiography who is still at Manchester United, and the criticisms of Rooney – that he has been unfit, that he handed in a transfer request, that he dislikes operating as a midfielder – are already well known.
The man Ferguson hand-picked to succeed him had no concerns that Rooney would lack focus for tonight’s Champions League encounter with Real Sociedad. “He has been focused since the first day of pre-season,” said Moyes. “He is in good form, looking after himself and playing well.
“Alex Ferguson can write what he wishes. He is his own man. Everyone at Old Trafford will love to hear what he has to say, certainly the supporters will. I am sure everyone will enjoy reading it.”
The definition of “everyone” might not include Roy Keane, the Beckhams or Rooney, although the last has unquestionably prospered under the direction of Moyes, the man who as manager of Everton once sued him for libel.
One of the first significant things Moyes said on becoming manager of United was that he regarded Rooney as a centre-forward rather than the all-purpose gap-plugging playground footballer that he became in Ferguson’s final two seasons that finished with him on the bench.
Rooney’s response has come in goals – five in seven games. However, it should be noted that Rooney’s two best seasons in Manchester have been those in which United did not win the title.
If that is a pattern that may well be repeated domestically, then the Champions League, the competition in which Moyes might have been expected to struggle, has begun as well as can be hoped. Four points from Bayer Leverkusen and Shakhtar Donetsk is a more than reasonable return and they should earn three more against Sociedad tonight. Adnan Januzaj has been added to United’s Champions League squad since he has now spent the requisite time in England to be classified as a youth player for the competition.
The last time a club from the Basque Country came to Old Trafford was an illustration of how far United were falling in Europe in Ferguson’s final two seasons. Having failed to even qualify from their group, United found themselves in the cheap seats of the Europa League in 2012, not just beaten but outplayed by an Athletic Bilbao side brilliantly orchestrated by Marcelo Bielsa.
It would be hard to imagine a repetition. United are not the only club coming to terms with a new manager. Philippe Montanier, who took Sociedad to fourth in La Liga last season has returned to France to manage Rennes, while the holding midfielder Asier Illarramendi, one of the jewels of their youth policy, was sold to Real Madrid for £27m. The statistics suggest both have been missed.
Since qualifying by knocking out Lyons, Sociedad have played nine games and won only the last, 2-1 at Valencia. Having lost to Leverkusen and Shakhtar their only means of surviving in this group or even grasping a place in the Europa League is to win either at Old Trafford or the Anoeta.