Manchester is burning, but the flames can however be tamed
Posted Saturday, October 5 2013 at 01:00
Manchester and North London are on both fire, but the far-flung footballing contrast between the two places right now is as plain as hot and cold.
In Manchester the red and blue sides are the victims forcefully thrust deep into the belly of an inferno, while by contrast in North London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal are the arsonists, particularly the delightfully combustible Gunners.
Like I have insisted from day one, the current predicament the two Manchesters face is not permanent; either manager is well capable of dousing the fire, the only worry is whether the onlookers possess the patience to allow the fire brigade to arrive.
Where City are concerned the sirens can at least be heard in the distance, yet in the case of United at the moment the only hope lies in previously long forgotten but now inevitably rekindled history. They have risen from the ashes before you know …
There is none other feeling the heat more than David Moyes, yet the noises emanating from the smoke-filled kitchen are not those of the experienced chef confident in the knowledge of the location of the switches and extinguishers, but of a bewildered intruder whose hands are stuck in the oven.
If the assertion - after United had been charred by City in the derby - that there would be many more blows of that nature to come was unfortunate, Moyes’ more recent declaration that his squad did not have enough world class players to win the Champions League was even more regrettable.
That United don’t have enough world beating quality is obvious, but it is not for the manager to utter out loud, certainly not Moyes.
After decades of success Alex Ferguson had earned the right to subject his players to that kind of public humiliation, but his hairdryer moments were restricted to the privacy of the dressing room, reports of the old dragon spitting fire only leaked by witnesses.
When things get really ugly for a manager, the allies he most desperately needs are the players because they are the only ones capable of turning it around where it matters, on the pitch.
The hallmark of Ferguson’s teams was that they were better than the sum of their parts and always over-achieved, that he convinced the ordinary of their superiority and coerced more out of them than they were ideally capable of.
While Moyes has managed that with Danny Welbeck who he is said to have told that he was the best centre forward in England, with that Champions League disclaimer he hasn’t done as much for the self esteem of the rest. And yet for all his endeavour, Welbeck doesn’t have the firefighting skills to drug his boss from the burning house that is United.
Because of their history, pride, contracts etc the United players are not likely to react by deliberately underperforming to get the manager the boot as we’ve seen elsewhere in the past, but none of Moyes’ utterances has been the confidence booster of an expert motivator.
His insistence that players are fighting for their futures might be counterproductive too, as seen with the hurried and error-strewn displays from the eager-to-impress Shinji Kagawa, a man who if given the time would bring the calming influence of an experienced fireman.
Moyes’ man-management acumen is also being stretched by Maroune Fellaini, the towering figure who has been the easy scapegoat.
Signed on deadline day and thrown straight in, Fellaini has had a baptism of fire. Yet, scratch beneath the surface and you will see that it is no coincidence that United only looked like getting the equaliser against West Brom after he had stepped off the bench, and that despite his boo-boos in possession United did not concede against Shaktar until after he had been replaced by Ryan Giggs.
Like Arsene Wenger has done with Aaron Ramsey despite all the stick, Moyes has to stick with his ‘marquee’ signing until he settles in, and surround him with the right people in a formation more suited to today’s challenges.
The smoldering Wayne Rooney aside, the only bright light so far is the glowing kid Adnan Januzaj. United are badly burnt and are blindly staggering around like zombies; but those wounds are superficial.
As with Moyes, Manuel Pellegrini has carried with him the tortured expression of a man treading on hot coals.