HE’S a funny cat Moyesy. It’s fashionable to dismiss him as just another incarnation of the British manager morph. There is no value left in the stock of UK-born managers. The nadir that the Gareth Southgate-for-England campaign represents has assured that much. It is hard to envisage a time when this will change. Our ex, Brendan Rodgers, may come to be seen as the last from our isles ever to hold a top job in English football.
Moyesy wanted to have a crack at being the last of the Mohicans. He got the Manchester United job. He lost the Manchester United job. By the time it became inevitable that he would lose it, it seemed as though it had always been inevitable that he would. The truth is, it hadn’t always been. On the first day of the the 2013/14 season when he took his new Manchester United team to respectable Swansea and thrashed them 4-0 it looked like the legacy of his mentor Alex Ferguson would be relatively safe. No one foresaw the long spiralling, hurtling, train crash to come.
It’s quite a thing — the gravitas that Scottish, particularly Glaswegian-born, managers have brought to football management. When the histories are written, they’ll tell of the era of French, Portuguese, Spanish and German coaches dominating the English game in the early 21st Century. Those Europeans ended the era of the British manager, the annals will say. What they should stress, and perhaps have never stressed sufficiently, is just what a comprehensive take over of the English game that the prior ‘Scottish invasion’ represented.
If Scots Bill Shankly and Matt Busby all but controlled the major competitions in the decade that spanned the mid ‘60s to the mid ‘70s, the English were to return to some kind of ascendancy for the decade that followed, but it was only at the behest of honorary Scot, and Shankly prodigy, Bob Paisley, whose seven League titles in 10 seasons were largely secured with a core of legendary Scottish players (Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Alan Hansen and Steve Nicol).
The English resistance, for what it was worth, represents a blip in the Scottish domination of our league. For the three decades that followed the mid ‘80s, it was re-asserted. Liverpool and Glasgow’s Dalglish (and latterly also title-winning Blackburn’s Dalglish) was succeeded and surpassed by United’s and Glasgow’s Alex Ferguson.
Twenty-two league titles between four Scottish men in 49 years of English football. No wonder David Moyes fancied his chances when he got Ferguson’s billet in the summer of 2013. It was in the DNA. He couldn’t fail.
Half a century of not full spectrum dominance exactly, but a title every other year, is some going for the sons of Scotland. What was it about these Caledonian lads? They were all obviously football men from the time they were football boys, and they weren’t born with silver spoons in their mouths. Educated comprehensively at schools of hard knocks and raised in near Dickensian environments, there was a hardness and steel to the four that seems now to belong to manhood of another age.
Think of Mourinho. Then think of Kenny. Think of Ferguson, then think of Arsene Wenger. Think of Pep Guardiola, then think of Shankly. Of course, there are shared genes – they wouldn’t all be great football managers if they weren’t – but the Scottish lads had a natural old-world authority that their modern counterparts would kill for.
We can imagine Mourinho practised in front of a mirror for hours to get his ‘I’ve just walked in the dressing room’ face just right. Guardiola will have consulted sports scientists and shrinks and been on courses. Kenny Dalglish? He just walked in the room, narrowed his eyes, exhaled, and dropped the mic. His lads knew what to do next. Shankly the same. Ferguson the same. They could manage groups of working class men with their eyebrows and their teeth. Of course they were clever too. Obviously they were deep thinkers and masters of their subjects, but they commanded the instant respect that they did via so much unspoken, non verbal, communication. Their bodies. Their faces. Their physicalities. All told their stories. And by god, that accent. Not all the same accent, but close enough to Sassenach ears. The Scottish accent, particularly the Glaswegian accent, is as hard and frightening as a regional accent can be. Think of a Birmingham accent. Now hear the Glaswegian voice. Think of a West Country accent. Then harken to the Glaswegian again. Who are you walking to the ends of the earth for? Jasper Carrott or Sean Connery?
And then there was Moyesy.
He’s a modern Scot. He’s not hewn from granite quite like my cliched legends. He’s taller, nimbler, lither. He prances a bit more. He’s a coaching course guy. A student of the game. Still a Scot, though. Still a Glaswegian. Like Kenny. Like Alex. He fixed young Evertonians with a stare that would frighten sea monsters and – looking back – kept a falling giant just about upright. Blues may argue, and poke fingers into each others chests until the wee hours debating Moyesy’s merits, but the more objective can rightly wonder just where that great club might now be without him. What price Everton having done an Aston Villa, a Newcastle or a Leeds without David Moyes?
Yes, he won them no silverware. Yes, he had a desperate record against Liverpool. He did keep Everton respectable, though. Twice finishers ahead of the Reds, once in the top four, usually a top six or seven side. And with no cash to splash. Everton were a church mouse of a club. The Arteta and Rooney money being swallowed up by debt and the backing the manager enjoyed from the boardroom was only in the form of platitudes. The hard readies were never proffered.
Alex Ferguson saw this, and called Moyes forward to be his heir at Manchester United. He wouldn’t have made that recommendation lightly. So Moyesy came, he saw, he fucked it up. Really fucked it up, in an almost perversely useless kind of a way. He’d lost the United job to Ryan Giggs within nine months. It was a low from which he has never looked like recovering.
Football is a prick of a game. Just when you think you’ve got it, it throws you and you throw yourself. Three weeks ago, David ‘Moyesy’ Moyes’s Sunderland were the worst team to grace the top flight in living memory. They were terrible. A team moulded in their mouldy new (but increasingly old) manager’s image. They couldn’t buy a draw.
Then, they won two matches. Just the two. But, they’re the most recent two. And that’s what counts. You are nothing in football, but your last two games. I don’t care how good you are, if you’ve lost your last two games, you’re vulnerable. Your opponents have real hope. I don’t care how bad you are, if you’ve won your last two, you have confidence. You have a chance. Your opponents – I don’t care how good they are – are thinking about you. You are in their heads.
Moyesy has won his last two games. Moyesy is in Liverpool heads. Moyesy is back.
Except Jürgen Klopp doesn’t give a fuck. Jürgen Klopp’s Reds are ever-ready. What has been remarkable about them this season has been the consistency. In just one game has the level dropped (and that was now three months ago, at Burnley). Yes, the odd point has been dropped, but Liverpool have never been less than masterful. There have been periods of frustration, but Liverpool have not walked off a pitch this season anything but clearly the better team.
This is all the manager will seek to remind his men of. They need fear no-one. Most of all, they no longer need to fear themselves. ‘Which Liverpool will turn up?’, we’ve always fretted. That’s no longer a question. We know which Liverpool will show up. The right one. The brilliant one. The one with Phil Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Joel Matip and Jordan Henderson in it. The one that can afford to keep Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi on the bench. The one that can lose a player like Adam Lallana and bring in a player like Georginio Wijnaldum. That Liverpool will turn up.
Are you ready Moyesy?
The red 11 to put Sunderland back in the bin:
Karius; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Can; Coutinho, Mane, Firmino.