We sometimes find ourselves saying things like: ‘If only RVP had been available for the derby.’ Or, ‘if only Fellaini was any one of a whole rake of other players who you care to mention.’ Or, ‘if only Ashley Young had legs that fit right, and were on the right way round.’ Or, ‘if only Wayne “I weally, weally, weally, want to pway in MY pwosition” Rooney loved us more than any one of a list of teams who play in blue.’ Or, ‘if only Shinji was free.’ Or, ‘if only when Moyes opened his mouth, the right shaped words would come out.’ Or, ‘if only Eric was still here. And Scholesy. And Roy. And JOS … whoops, how did that get in there?’ These, and miriad examples like them, are all what I consider examples of, ‘present absence’.
Though none of those examples represent an absence of any one particular thing, what they all do represent in essence is an absence of trust. We miss RVP for the bigger games because we don’t trust anyone else to score the goals necessary to come away with a result. We don’t trust that Fellaini was who the club really wanted, and in turn, trust he’s good enough. We don’t trust Ashley Young has the ability to improve the team (and not to mention the fact that he’s potentially stolen someone else’s legs). We don’t trust Wayne “a wittle bit selfish weally” Rooney, full stop (still never sure if you have to put a full stop after writing that). We don’t trust Moyes’ apparent shotgun assessment of the ability of Kags above our own, well informed one, because he’s wrong, obvs. We don’t trust Moyes to say something good, because he appears to prefer not to. We miss players like Eric and Scholesy and Roy Keane because we had developed a relationship with them over time, and so we kind of knew where we were with them, what they were about; they were familiar – so we trusted in them and/or what they represented. Trust happens to be quite important – who knew?! It’s implicit in all relationships, at least if we want them to work out relatively well for both parties.
Modern football is naughtier than we ever even knew. It plays tricks on us, and when it’s taking a break from playing tricks on us, it’s playing even worse ones. One of these tricks is periodically presenting itself as the Ballardian playground, full of one-dimensional cowards, cheats and hustlers sleepwalking their way to extinction. When, in fact, it’s mostly about real relationships between real human beings, built on trust – a microcosm of the real stuff that happens to all of us outside of Saturday afternoons, only more fickle, on account of the inherent detachment from reality. Within football, one week we can really not like Anderson because he plays like the version of Anderson we don’t like, and then the next we can really love Anderson because he plays like the one we do. However, outside of football we don’t throw our scalding hot boiled egg and soldiers in our mum’s face and tell her, ‘I didn’t ask to be born!’ simply because she didn’t spread the margarine to the edges of those toasted slithers, like we like, like she did the week before (I hope).
Without doubt, the present absence prevalent at United right now is – understandably – the Fergie shaped hole right at the centre. It stands to reason that different people have different ways of addressing it. Some people say, ‘In Moyes We Trust!’ (and words to that effect), one of football’s one-liners; some people don’t. I’m one of the ones who don’t. For me, these things jar with what’s actually happening. I think that unless a trusting relationship has had time to develop then arrangements of words into affected sound bites like these are nothing but vacuous platitudes – expressions of misguided hope. That’s not to say I think hope is a bad thing, misguided or otherwise, but neither do I think you should use your hope as a stick to beat others with.
If you choose to trust in Moyes based on the evidence of his first few months at the club, maybe coupled with what you already knew about him – his experience and that – and maybe because you interpreted what Fergie said at the end of last season – about getting behind the new manager – as an unequivical call to invest unwavering trust in him (because perhaps you were also one of those people who said, ‘In Saf We Trust’), then that’s cool. The opposite is cool too. I think most people would probably subscribe to the idea that how much trust you invest in someone, or something, within this footballing microcosm is personal to you: it’s a reflection of the ethos by which you live your life outside of it, in the real world.
We are all different, therefore the same. Trust me.