Why Manchester United's former manager David Moyes faced a nightmare in the theatre of dreams
Football is weird. It's one of the fiercest dog-eat-dog industries in the world. It is driven almost entirely by the ruthless ethos of the market, dictated by the unforgiving rules of competition, supply and demand, and the greed of shareholders. Most of its biggest stars are mercenaries willing to move from the second highest bidder to the highest in the blink of an eye.
And yet, despite having been priced out of the game by ticket hikes that would give the chairman of RBS pause for thought, the working classes insist on retaining a moist, romantic version of the sport in their leap-ready hearts, and still talk about their heroes with words like love, passion and forever. Words they stopped using with regards to their wives years ago.
I think this paradox is what did it for David Moyes. I don't usually recommend behaving like cold-blooded Mafioso, but making a decision as crucial as filling the boots of football's most feted gaffer is the one time it might have paid off to set aside sentiment. Instead, shaken by the sudden loss of the formidable head of the house, Manchester United behaved like a newly bereft widow determined to honour her beloved's last wish.
Bereavement is an understandable mind-mash for a spouse, but taking advice from a dying husband on who might be the best chap to succeed him is unlikely to bode well.
Knee-deep in grief and fear – and perhaps overly keen to maintain the fans' notion of the romance of the 'theatre of dreams' – United pawed at the ghost of its cherished absentee and vowed to be steered by his final request.
Rather than saying: 'What, that gingery bloke with the scared watery eyes and the cheap blue anorak? There's feck all chance of me ever fancying him!' One can understand the confusion. Alex – or to give him his more snuggly lovers' nickname, Fergie – had been around the place for a very long time. No one could remember when he started leaving his slippers under his desk, or the last time anyone had to ask how he took his tea – it was just 'always'.
A true working-class hero, an erudite ex-shipyard worker who often employed the language of the poetic revolutionary, Fergie inspired Manchester United and their fans to believe they were part of a noble tradition, above and beyond the cut 'n' thrust of the marketplace. It seemed only right that his appeal to choose his own heir should be respected.
Like most doomed relationships though, this one never felt right. The new man put his slippers in the wrong place. He didn't smell the same.
He spoke in a similar dialect, but his voice was thin, whiny and trebly, where his predecessor's, often lovingly described as having the effect of a hair-dryer, was bold, masculine and full of bass.
He invoked an early, loyal display of affection, but the more forced it became, the more it bore a belly-deep resentment.
Try as he might, this new fella just wasn't the same as the other one. He failed to complete basic tasks his forebear had effortlessly mastered. He begged for more time, more chances. But his maiden continued to pine for her lost soulmate. She began to hate him. Within months she was plotting his demise.
There are many lessons to be learned from this sad, salutary tale.
And here's the most obvious note of caution: if your man suggests another to replace him in your affections, will he really pick the kind of guy you might fall in love with?