Man United: Pressure's Getting To Moyes As He Teeters On The Brink
Manchester United fans have, over the years, become expert at spotting cracks in the armour of rival managers. While not necessarily able to pin-point the exact weakness ourselves, once our previous manager had exposed his prey's Achilles heel, we were able to sit back and revel in his downfall, ticking off the signs of madness as they appeared.
Sir Alex Ferguson was the doyen of the dark-arts, whilst being seemingly immune to them himself. Thus, one after another, he drove his foes into the abyss, leaving them twitching in his wake.
Kevin Keegan was the first notable victim of Ferguson's rare gift, and has arguably never quite recovered from the ordeal, his descent into the darkness now a part of football folklore. Seeing a generally likeable fellow ranting and raving like a lunatic on national television was, at first, hilarious, until we realised that the poor man was experiencing an actual breakdown before our very eyes.
Keegan's hair almost visibly greyed and his skin took on the pallid hue of a man deep in the throes of a life-sapping consumption, as the cameras rolled. Ferguson, for his part, simply shrugged his shoulders with the nonchalant air of a man brushing a speck of dust off his suit, and continued to overturn what had seemed an insurmountable twelve point deficit, to win yet another title.
Then there was Rafael Benitez, and his famous rant about facts, complete with hand-scrawled notes and barely repressed, eye-bulging fury. United fans rejoiced in the spectacle, having recognised the symptoms of an increasingly disturbed mind in the Spaniard for weeks, leading up to this magnificent crescendo. Once again, with Benitez still bouncing off the walls, Sir Alex was able to lead his team to victory in the title race.
Poor old Arsene Wenger has hardly been immune either, though he has suffered a slower undoing over many years, rather than a sudden disintegration. Indeed, Fergie seems to have got so deep under the Frenchman's skin that the fear of failure now haunts his every move and infects his teams with a famous fragility.
There have been others, including players, officials and members of the media, too great in number to list exhaustively here, each and every one of their downfalls a victory for United fans to savour, despite the sympathy occasionally felt at the hapless victim's discomfort.
So we are as well placed as anyone to spot a man teetering on the brink of collapse, which is why David Moyes' press conference, yesterday, made for such uncomfortable viewing. Now, the likes of Mourinho and Wenger are expressing sympathy and support for the United manager, which is a deeply unpleasant experience, given our preference for seeing others squirming under the spotlight.
Many of us have been voicing our concerns for weeks about our new manager's mental state. Indeed, I have written in these pages of my sympathy for the Scot. He has looked increasingly wretched; the lines on his face resembling the contours on a map; his eyes taking on the expression of a gazelle seeing, too late, with a mixture of horrified resignation and mortal fear, a lion poised to pounce a few paces away. His skin is drawn and his mouth is set in a constant grimace, as he has flitted between prowling the touchline like a man possessed and slumping disconsolately in his dugout with his head in his hands.
Moyes' utterances, while remaining outwardly defiant, have appeared increasingly desperate since the turn of the year, when an already difficult season began to unravel with frightening speed. If anything, the pure, unfettered joy that the Scot clearly felt upon signing Juan Mata has made the situation even worse, as his, and our, expectations, having been raised, now lie in tatters once again.
Perhaps it is all a cunning ruse. Perhaps Moyes is trying out a new demeanour, to see how it fits; the glassy stares, prickly silences and abrupt departure of yesterday's press-conference the new face of a man inwardly seething at his current predicament and determined to show his displeasure to the watching world.
Perhaps Moyes has been studying some of his predecessor's more terse dealings with the press, and has decided to try his hand at similar. Perhaps. Yet Sir Alex Ferguson was a master of manipulation, who always appeared to be in complete control. Moyes, unfortunately, looks more like a man doing battle with the type of inner demons that can be desperately difficult to destroy.