The sense of man being close to breaking point has been there all along and it has been very unpleasant to behold at times. In a back corridor of The Hawthorns six weeks ago, David Moyes gave full force to his temper when expressing his displeasure at the characterisation of one of his regular written communiques to fans as an 'open letter.' Venom has always been one of his components.
There have been attempts to rein in his ire and his sometimes bare contempt for those who question him: the Easter eggs on offer before his last pre-match press conference on Good Friday felt like a choreographed softening. But beyond that, Moyes has not felt the need to alter his formula. He has agonised over the results of the last 348 days - defeats have always affected him deeply - but his broad message has been that "I have the experience" - as he put it after the eviscerating home defeat to Manchester City which foretold what this season had in store.
Unfortunately for him, it was the wrong kind of experience. Building a team to defy the best, as his Everton were for so long, would never be enough. There was a rare admission that a journalist was right, when he admitted in late March that a lack of pace in the team was a problem - "I'll try to improve that," he said - but it was a forlorn hope . Gary Neville boiled it all down as United's ponderous midfield entered the the last half of Sunday's unravelling at Everton and Martin Tyler said they might as well through everything at it. They (ital)are(close) throwing everything at it, Neville replied.
It has been Moyes' misfortune that 2013/14 was the season when bold, tactically ambitious managers like Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers flourished. Rodgers' recasting of Steven Gerrard as a regista has been admiringly noticed by the Old Trafford board at a time when Moyes seemed unable to discern how and where his players might work best.
Danny Welbeck and Adnan Januzaj have played a mere 13 Premier League games in a season when Anfield and Goodison have radiated to the sights of young managers investing faith in young players like Daniel Sturridge, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson, Seamus Coleman.
Whilst hyper-analysing how to re-capture this season's longest winning run (six games, in December) Moyes flip-flopped between two contradictory messages: that his inheritance was not all it was cracked up to be and - lest that offend the kingmaker Sir Alex Ferguson - that these players knew what winning looked like. The lengths to which United went to preserve Wayne Rooney at the club from which Ferguson had virtually expunged him - showing him the transfer targets as well as the record salary - were almost unhealthy.
But when evidence of the rapprochement between striker and club materialised in early February, just as Juan Mata was signed, it felt like the sun might be about to come out. United promptly lost - dismally so - at Stoke.
A season out of the Champions League is manageable for United and the sales pitch to players and supporters is already well honed. It is that 2014/15 was a 'once in a lifetime' season for a club who will be back with a venom in 2015/16: the 'comeback season.' The talk at board level in recent months has been along the lines of it not being so much 'if' but 'when' United will re-claim the Premier League title next season. With Moyes that became a very forlorn prospect, though the club's problem now is the acute lack of certainty that comes attached to any of the candidates.
Louis van Gaal's arrival would involve acclimatisation to a difficult force of nature. There is no certainty that Jurgen Klopp can replicate his Borussia Dortmund achievements at a club three or four times the size and with proportionately greater expectations. Roberto Martinez would constitute less of a risk but Bill Kenwright would be lynched if he let him go.
It is the scenario United dreaded all through the years that they half-imagined a landscape beyond Sir Alex Ferguson and, intoxicated by the taste of success, did so little to prepare for it.
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