Desmond Kane

Fergusonesque masterstroke pulls Moyes back from the abyss

Desmond Kane

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David Moyes surveys the scene before Manchester United's breathless 3-0 win over Olympiacos in the Champions League last-16 second leg tie at Old Trafford.

When Bud Fox, Charlie Sheen’s ambitious junior stockbroker character in the Oliver Stone film Wall Street, is about to be carted off to prison for insider trading, he is approached by a father figure in the form of sober-suited, unimpeachable elder colleague Lou Mannheim (Hal Holbrook) who invokes the spirit of Friedrich Nietzsche by offering him some timely advice.

“Bud I like you, just remember something,” says Mannheim. “Man looks in the abyss, there's nothing staring back at him. At that time a man finds his character, and that is what keeps him out of the abyss..”

Sir Alex Ferguson was staring into the abyss as Manchester United manager around the time Wall Street was released in 1987. He would continue to stare into the abyss for another three years before United finally clasped the FA Cup in 1990 to mark the end of the manager's four-year wait for a domestic trophy.

There would not have been a fifth year for Fergie to try again. He would have been sacked before his landslide period in office of 38 trophies in 26 years began to take effect.

It is not melodramatic to suggest his fellow Scot David Moyes was staring into the abyss before United unearthed a vintage Old Trafford evening on Wednesday, brimming with character of yesteryear, to overthrow Greek champions Olympiacos 3-0 in the Champions League last-16. In this era when Wall Street is more important to United than Filbert Street was to Fergie, Moyes will not get four years to get it right.

In football, greed is good. If recent tabloid reports are to be believed, United’s share price has dropped by £150m in the seven months since Moyes replaced Fergie. Startling if you are a Glazer.

He has signed a six-year contract as United manager, but such details mean little if patience is in short supply. Despite Fergie's endorsement, United can afford to dispense with men like Moyes on a whim, putting it down to an experiment gone wrong.

Reports emerged yesterday that Roberto Di Matteo continues to collect £130,000 per week from Chelsea two years after he was sacked by Roman Abramovich. Moyes could soon be yesterday’s man with a burgeoning compensation package. According to some sources, a loss to Olympiacos may have sealed his departure.

Despite an industrious period moulding Everton into a redoubtable side over the past 11 years, Moyes has suddenly been written off as a coaching buffoon, a figure unsuited to his station in life. One scribe, the Daily Telegraph columnist Jim White, compared him to Alan Partridge on these very pages yesterday.

The 72 hours or so between the embarrassing 3-0 defeat by Liverpool in the Premier League on Sunday and facing Olympiacos in the Champions League must have been some of the most vexing of his career.

[Tom Adams: Forget continuity: Man Utd must consider ditching Moyes
]

But Moyes did not moan, blame others or sport a hangdog look. Besides, it is none of his business what other people think of him. Amid a barrage of criticism, he looked into the abyss. There he found Ryan Giggs - 40 years of age and apparently slightly rusty - staring back at him.

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Whatever else is made of Moyes, and there will be plenty who will continue to berate his prospects of succeeding Fergie over the longer distance, his decision to place his faith in Giggs for only his second start since late January took immense courage, self-belief and bloody single-mindedness.

Can you imagine the criticism Moyes would have encountered if United had tumbled out of the Champions League last 16 with Giggs creaking?

The calls for his head to be offered up alongside a single fish at Macari's outside the ground would have become deafening. We live in an era of 'what have you done for me lately?' The good people do is often interred with their bones. All some people can focus on is the bad. Like he has been doing for over two decades, Giggs bought his manager some goodwill with a performance of genuine substance.

He made his 140th Champions League appearance in cajoling United to a success that saw them progress 3-2 on aggregate. He is only two behind the record-holder in the form of the former Real Madrid forward Raul, who turned out 142 times.

Despite such staggering statistics that could yet see Giggs equal the record in the quarter-finals, this was only his first start in 11 games.

Rio Ferdinand had only started three of the past 19 games with Danny Welbeck failing to start the past eight games. To accuse Moyes of being staid would be wrong. This proved he is also a gambler in the 'Theatre of Dreams'.

A broad church of United supporters would have struggled to quell their discontent if United had departed the Champions League in the first knockout phase having seeing the club fade badly in the defence of the Premier League. They remain in seventh place, 18 points behind leaders Chelsea, a side they could face next month in the Champions League last eight.

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The win was delivered by the gilded hat-trick of Robin van Persie and aided by Wayne Rooney’s voracious work-rate. But the glue holding those two together was Giggs, a winger turned elegant midfielder.

United two’s opening goals were courtesy of the vision of Giggs while Rooney also hit the post with a header from his longish pass.

The brilliant young Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea should also be mentioned for excelling in goal with two delightful reaction saves in the first period.

On a breathless night, Giggs offered trademark calm. But he also offered a variety of deliveries from corners and free-kicks. And supreme fitness. He was still running around deep into stoppage time.

“I just felt after the result to Liverpool I needed him (Giggs) to play a particular role in the centre of midfield for me which he knows and understands and he carried it out perfectly,” said Moyes.

Time is in short supply in football, but United supporters should learn from the Ferguson years that a new manager needs faith.

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As Fergie and Moyes will tell you, the term 'Clydebuilt' harks back to the golden age of shipbuilding in the west of Scotland. It refers to some of the riveting vessels that were constructed on the River Clyde that runs through the city of Glasgow.

Some strapping ships, including the old Queen Mary, emerged from the Clyde in the pivotal period before and during World War II. Moyes is the son of a draughtsman who worked on such crafts. Like the boats his father helped to build, Moyes’s work contains a trademark stamp of quality.

The abyss suddenly does not look all bleak. Reaching the Champions League last eight was not a defining moment, but the spirit of the revival suggests Moyes has not lost the dressing room that he inherited from Fergie.

He has some way to go, but mighty oaks from little acorns grow. All is not lost here. To quote Lou Mannheim in Wall Street: “Stick to the fundamentals. That's how IBM and Hilton were built. Good things, sometimes, take time..”

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