Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

When you get an offer you can't refuse, run away

Corporate life has known nothing as bemusingly quixotic since the Co-operative Bank chose to part company with the Rev Paul Flowers. This week, as you may already have noticed despite the oddly restrained coverage, the board of Manchester United ignored the advice of the country's leading expert on the art of hiring and firing.

"He needs another season," declared Alan Sugar. And, within moments, David Moyes was gone. How could this possibly be?

To those who remember the Little Lord Fauntleroy of football's decade as chairman of Spurs, when the number of peremptorily sacked managerial failures rose in inverse proportion to the number of trophies, it makes not one whit of sense.

Yet Sugar had become the last of Moyes' public defenders and, so, we find attention diverted away from such banalities as eastern Ukraine and towards the brutal dismissal of a 50-year-old who, 12 months ago, bore a vague resemblance to the younger David Bowie, but who, in one picture published yesterday, looked more like Yoda.

By this time next year, Nick Clegg will be a fortnight away from a general election cataclysm, in vote-share if not also in seats lost, and if anyone should empathise with Mr Moyes, it is the Liberal Democrat leader.

Some job offers, for all the lustre of their veneer, come coated in weapons-grade plutonium. They cannot possibly be refused, but only a fool could accept them in ignorance of the inevitability that they will end in humiliation.

It was just such a case four years ago, when David Cameron offered Clegg the post of deputy prime minister in a coalition. He could not conceivably have rejected it and not only because of vanity, ambition and the constraints of the parliamentary mathematics. The punters would never have forgiven a party so dilettante that it chose protest over power.

He must have had some insight into the fact that joining a government at a time of grave economic hardship, when he would be obliged to support policies which disgusted his core voters, would invite the ridicule and loathing of the home crowd. Nonetheless, when perched painfully on this Morton's fork, he had no option.

David Moyes (above) faced a similar dilemma when Alex Ferguson took the Alan Sugar role to ring him, a little less than a year ago, to tell him he was hired. This, too, was an offer that could not be refused.

But not being a notably stupid man, Moyes must have realised that the chalice Sir Alex was proffering was overflowing with arsenic. The precedent of the last legendarily successful United gaffer could not have been a plainer guide to the events of recent months.

After Sir Matt Busby's retirement in 1969, the club rattled through hopeless and doomed appointees with almost Sugary abandon. It would be almost a quarter of a century before it fully recovered and won another league title.

Unlike the magnificent wines Ferguson is auctioning off for some £3m, Moyes neither travelled well, nor matured. Literally, the distance between his old berth at Everton FC and Old Trafford is 35 miles.

Figuratively, the gulf in pressure and expectation between a medium-sized Premier League club and one of the three or four grandest on the planet might as well be 35 light years.

Only a coaching Gulliver – Pep Guardiola, Guus Hiddink, the limitlessly repellent Jose Mourinho and a few others – would have had a prayer of sustaining United's domestic supremacy without several intervening years of mediocrity. Moyes has confirmed himself as one of the Lilliputians.

If his strongest ambition was to seat United at the European top table with Champions League success, he leaves it facing the paltry ignominy of the Europa League, parked at the table by the loos alongside the Baltic contenders. Mr Clegg must know how that feels, too.

In the absence of a decisive intervention, he seems certain to remain in situ come May 2015, when they're handing out the electoral wooden spoons.

Perhaps this is the moment for Lord Sugar to overcome his sincere and ferocious tribal loyalty to Labour and come to the Lib Dems' salvation by tweeting that Nick Clegg needs another season.

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