Corporate life has known nothing as bemusingly quixotic since the Co-operative Bank chose to part company with the Rev Paul Flowers. Yesterday, as you may already have noticed despite the oddly restrained coverage, the board of Manchester United ignored the advice of the country’s leading expert on the art of hiring and firing. “He needs another season,” declared Alan Sugar, and within moments David Moyes was gone. How could this possibly be?
To those who remember the Little Lord Fauntleroy of football’s decade as chairman of Spurs, when the number of peremptorily sacked managerial failures rose in inverse proportion to the number of trophies added to the showcase, it makes not one whit of sense. Yet Sugar had become the last of Moyes’ public defenders, and so today we find the attention diverted away from such banalities as eastern Ukraine, and towards the brutal dismissal of a 50-year-old who, 12 months ago, bore a vague resemblance to the younger David Bowie, but who, in one picture published yesterday, looked more like Yoda. Good for youthful appearance, managing United was not. Had the board shown the humility to follow Sugar’s counsel, he would soon have been a ringer for David Tennant’s Doctor after the Master aged him by a millennium with a few blasts of his sonic screwdriver.
By this time next year, Nick Clegg will be a fortnight away from a general election cataclysm, in vote-share if not also in seats lost, and if anyone should empathise with Mr Moyes, it is the Liberal Democrat leader. Some job offers, for all the lustre of their veneer, come coated in weapons-grade plutonium. They cannot possibly be refused, but only a fool could accept them in ignorance of the inevitability that they will end in humiliation.
It was just such a case four years ago, when David Cameron offered Clegg the post of Deputy Prime Minister in a coalition. He could not conceivably have rejected it, and not only because of vanity, ambition and the constraints of the parliamentary mathematics. The punters would never have forgiven a party so dilettante that it chose protest over power. He must have had some insight into the fact that joining a government at a time of grave economic hardship, when he would be obliged to support policies which disgusted his core voters, would invite the ridicule and loathing of the home crowd. Nonetheless, when perched painfully on this Morton’s fork, he had no option.
David Moyes faced a similar dilemma when Alex Ferguson took the Alan Sugar role to ring him, a little less than a year ago, to tell him he was hired. This too was an offer that could not be refused. But not being a notably stupid man, Moyes must have realised that the chalice Sir Alex was proffering was overflowing with arsenic. The precedent of the last legendarily successful United gaffer could not have been a plainer guide to the events of recent months. After Sir Matt Busby’s retirement in 1969, the club rattled through hopeless and doomed appointees with almost Sugary abandon. It would be almost a quarter of a century before it fully recovered, and won another league title.
Unlike the magnificent wines Ferguson is auctioning off for some £3m, Moyes neither travelled well nor matured. Literally, the distance between his old berth at Everton FC and Old Trafford is 35 miles. Figuratively, the gulf in pressure and expectation between a medium-sized Premier League club and one of the three or four grandest on the planet might as well be 35 light years. When a fearsomely dominant force leaves any venture, as the Conservatives learned from their post-Thatcher travails, rancour, failure and often chaos ensue. Only a coaching Gulliver - Pep Guardiola, Guus Hiddink, the limitlessly repellent Jose Mourinho and a few others – would have had a prayer of sustaining United’s domestic supremacy without several intervening years of mediocrity. Moyes has confirmed himself as one of the Lilliputians.
If his strongest ambition was to seat United at the European top table with Champions League success, he leaves it facing the paltry ignominy of the Europa League, parked at the table by the loos alongside the Baltic contenders. Mr Clegg must know how that feels too. The one saving grace for him is that his party reacts a shade less ruthlessly to embarrassing failure than the Glazers, United’s American owners. In the absence of a decisive intervention, he seems certain to remain in situ come May 2015 when they’re handing out the electoral wooden spoons. Perhaps this is the moment for Lord Sugar to overcome his sincere and ferocious tribal loyalty to Labour, and come to the Lib Dems’ salvation by tweeting that Nick Clegg needs another season?
Count on Campbell to deny Christ
In the latest of Alastair Campbell’s feverishly awaited Light Brigade charges into the valley of public discourse, everyone’s favourite borderline psychotic dry-drunk has been considering David Cameron’s Eastertide reflections on the importance of his faith. Unconvinced by the PM’s conversion to talking up his Christian beliefs, Ali identified this on his blog as a cheap diversionary tactic to steer the political chatter away from Maria Miller.
Bless him, Alastair misses an inherent paradox. On the one hand, he writes that he memorably said “We don’t do God”, of Tony Blair, because “British people are suspicious of politicians who seek to tie their religion to their politics”. On the other, he accuses Cameron not of making a clumsy miscalculation, but of courting popularity by doing God. Richard Dawkins’ bullying atheism is not to all tastes, but credit the professor for being able to manage two consecutive paragraphs without a glaring self-contradiction.
However one chooses to judge the PM’s Easter message, Alastair Campbell’s glorificiation of his own fatwah against talk of religion brooks just the one interpretation. Forgive me for injecting an air of unseemly vulgarity into this spiritual debate, for I know not what I do, but the man who imperiously forbade any mention of Jesus is a braggart and a tool. Once again at Easter, as the Bible so nearly put it of Peter the first time around, Christ was denied by the crowing of a cock.