There Is No Recovery From This Position

Once you are perceived to be a loser, there is no way back. Even Tim Sherwood would be a better Manchester United manager than David Moyes, says Johnny...

Last Updated: 10/02/14 at 10:07 Post Comment

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It took no special football insight to guess that David Moyes would be a poor manager for Manchester United. It was pretty obvious. One of the most important reasons was the fact that Moyes was taking over a team who were all multiple trophy winners and he hadn't ever won anything.

While other virtues might be important, being seen to be a winner is imperative for a club that always wins things because footballers are often disturbingly simple creatures. They look at a manager like Jose Mourinho and they see a bloke who has taken sides to silverware. So when things don't go perfectly, they can trust him to find a solution to it. But when their supposed leader has never done this, they will naturally doubt his ability to do so, especially when you've been a manager for over a decade and have a track record of non-success. Just claiming you've done okay in the past without much money doesn't help. It is irrelevant at Old Trafford.

In an era so dominated by statistical analysis, hot spots, percentages and scrutiny, it seems as if actually being inspired by your manager should be much less important than almost anything else. You can play or you can't. You can pass the ball accurately most of the time or you can't. Surely, if your manager has a face like a broken biscuit and wears an expression that suggests he has seen the bowels of hell, that shouldn't make an international footballer play a lot worse. But Moyes is proving this is very much the case.

In many ways we don't want this to be true. We'd rather that intellect, work ethic and football knowledge should be enough. We hate to think that just being inspiring by your history, words and even your body language can be enough to motivate a team of very good footballers but again, Moyes is showing that to some degree it must be.

There is no way the side that just won a league should drop so much in quality so quickly. The only major variable is the manager so it's safe to say quite objectively that whatever Moyes and his staff are doing, is wrong. And once this principle gets established it's very hard to break that perception for us watching, but even more so for the players.

Because of this he is now damned every which way. His furious goal celebrations look like those of a lower league manager scoring against United, yet when he tries to be more cool and removed, it looks like he doesn't care. In other words, once you're a loser, everything you do or don't do are the actions of a loser; the post-match interviews always exercises in post-traumatic stress disorder. There is no recovery from this position.

Those of us who dislike Harry Redknapp hate to think that actually, being a matey sort with the gift of the gab might be a huge asset, but watching Spurs under Redknapp-lite Tim Sherwood only encourages the view that it is. While Sherwood's short tenure has seen him deploy some different tactics to his more cerebral predecessor, it is a disturbing but inescapable thought that perhaps he is a better communicator. To us he may appear to look like a man who sleeps in a skip and sound like a blagger in an episode of The Sweeney, but to the players maybe he's a geezer they can believe in and this is enough at Spurs. Would Sherwood be a better manager of Manchester United just because of this? Almost certainly. We rightly laugh at the British managerial cliché of 'putting an arm around' a player being vaunted as some sort of talent, we don't want to think it might be in any way important, but maybe it actually is in establishing the manager as a man who is on your side, especially in lieu of a successful track record.

If you don't have the Mourinho-style laden trophy cabinet, you have to have something else. That is the essence of good management and it won't be the same thing for every side. Getting a small, unsuccessful club to play better may well be more about tactics, training and such, but to get a team of proven winners to maintain their form is quite another thing. So when you look at your manager and he looks physically withered by the pressure, it is rarely going to end well. When the man himself seems to ascribe their poor results to mere bad luck, he risks looking to us - and more importantly to the players - as a man who is at the mercy of events and not in control of them and you simply cannot lead any organisation from that position.

Inspiration and confidence are nebulous, constantly shifting things whereas tactics, players and fitness are actual, measurable things. Some managers seem good at one side of the job but less so at the other. However, in a unique storm of awfulness, it would seem Moyes is getting both the existential and the material aspects of managing United wrong and for those who think in time he will get it right, there is a fundamental paradox that cannot be overcome: The players will not believe in him until he is a winner but he will never be a winner because the players will not believe in him until he is a winner. That's why it's over. Or it should be.

You can follow Johnny on Twitter.

And check out his new series of crime novels about a football fan, set in Middlesbrough, here.

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