I met David Moyes once – I was working in a hotel as a ‘meeter and greeter’ (though a more accurate description of that job should’ve been, ‘a sounding board for abusive stag group bants and lols’), when inamongst the usual faces, indifferent to my breezy offers of assistance, I spied a very familiar one. In the hotel reception at the time there were a group of stags, all wearing football shirts, and there was David Moyes in the middle of them all, staring at a brochure of nothing in particular in order to give the illusion that it was something he was interested in, so as not to bring attention to himself (a bit like that thing you do when you see someone in the street you recognise, but aren’t really in the mood for). I asked him if I could be of assistance and, via an awkward sideways glance which avoided direct eye contact, he said yes, that he needed directions. I glanced at the stag group and then extended a friendly arm, half-directional, half-protective and led him to some relative sanctuary, at the periphery of the commotion. He appreciated the gesture and relaxed. At no point did I let on that I knew he was The David Moyes. We chatted briefly, I gave him directions and we said goodbye with a smile. There wasn’t anything specific about the encounter that led me to the conclusion that followed, but the warmth that permeated those few moments was palpable: ‘he’s a genuinely nice human being’, I thought, and those piercing eyes, that we’re all so familiar with, seemed less so than on the telly. ‘He’s one of the goodies’, I thought, and I fell deeply in like.
That was a good couple of years ago now and I remember thinking to myself at the time – because, of course, even back then David Moyes was being touted as Fergie’s replacement – that I wouldn’t mind that really nice human being, being the manager of my football club. It was a comforting feeling and one that was reinforced at various stages throughout his time at Everton. However, this was – although I didn’t really know it at the time – based on a deep-seated fallacy that Fergie was immortal and there would never be a time when he would not be United’s manager. When that stopped happening, the actualisation of David Moyes being the manager of my club wasn’t immediately comforting at all.
Maybe I’d also been a little seduced by the prospect of having a big personality managing us, crash-banging-and-walloping us along a different path, fully introducing us to all the afflictions and affectations of ‘modern football’, ‘cus that could be a lot of fun; and isn’t football going that way anyway, whether we go quietly or not? Why not embrace it? Or, perhaps, I was getting caught up in the eulogising of Fergie – I mean, how do you replace the irreplaceable? It’s also quite possible I was just in shock. Either way, at that moment, Moyes … just didn’t fit.
However, the thing with the ‘big personality’ managing us – and let’s not pretend we’re talking about anyone else here but Mourinho (though the same could be said for others) – is that in repeatedly punctuating the character that they themselves have crafted for us with the unpredictable, they make the unpredictable, predictable; which in turn becomes boring; and that’s not my idea of fun.
Then, the thing with replacing Fergie is that the idea of one person being able to replace another is a deeply flawed concept. No-one has the necessary experience to deal with any given situation until right after the point at which they needed it the most. In addition, no two situations are the same and no two people experience the same experience in the same way as the other. Things could have so easily have gone wrong for Fergie (and did) and could so easily go wrong for David Moyes (and will), or Jose Mourinho (and would have).
Finally, when I think of my “relationship” with Fergie and why I had so much affection for him, I think of him smiling. He exudes a genuine warmth (when he’s on form), which points to there being a very real human being in there, and this allowed me, in my mind, to draw a line back to David Moyes.
As I’ve written before, I want the players and managers I support to be susceptible to all facets of the human condition: paralysed by self-doubt, enraged and empowered by injustice, driven by their own narcissism, revelling in exacted revenge, foregoing their professionalism to embrace the inherent propensity in all of us to behave like a child – because it’s those things that make football brilliant and I want them to feel real. But I also want to like these people a lot – and even love them in some cases – and I can only do that after I’ve found a way of relating to them in some way. After the relatedness the relationship can evolve and develop through a series of events that allow me to trust and then build on that trust. I like to think of this as a truism for all relationships; real ones in the real world, or fantasy ones in the football one.
David Moyes is a real human being and I have remembered how I found comfort in that. He’s taking a risk and leaving himself vulnerable, which indicates to me that he’s ready to work really hard to prove himself. I trust that he will be trying his best to do this and that, as a starting point, is enough for me. No-one really knows what’s going to happen next, and that is my idea of fun.