Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Liverpool v Manchester United: Why David Moyes needs to win at Anfield

David Moyes
David Moyes

When on that Wednesday morning in May the realisation dawned that Sir Alex Ferguson would finally be leaving Manchester United, his players were asked for their opinion of David Moyes. Rio Ferdinand's response was typical. Moyes would fit seamlessly into the fabric of Old Trafford, the defender said, "because he is a winner".

That is the one thing that Moyes has, until now, never been. At Everton he did not manage a single victory at Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea or, most painfully and strangely of all, at Liverpool.

When Moyes last walked into Anfield in May, he was nursing a deep and powerful secret. Three days before he had been in a jewellers in Altrincham when Ferguson had rung and told him to come to his home. There, in a scene worthy of The Godfather, came the laying on of hands, the capo di tutti capi anointing his successor. Marlon Brando himself could not have done it better.

The game that followed, his 11th and final Merseyside derby at Anfield, summed up Moyes at Everton. They played well in a 0-0 draw. They should have won – Sylvain Distin had what appeared a perfectly legitimate goal disallowed. Just as when overseeing his first grand occasion as Manchester United manager, the goalless draw against Jose Mourinho's Chelsea on Monday night, Moyes had only the moral victory of being the better side.

At Everton, a club with a turnover three, sometimes four, times smaller than the Premier League's big beasts, that was often enough. At the biggest brand in world football it will never be.

Winning silverware is not always a sign of a great manager. Outside the Stadium of Light there is a statue of Bob Stokoe, the man who improbably delivered the 1973 FA Cup to Sunderland, sprinting towards his players wearing a trilby and a gabardine mac over his tracksuit. Stokoe is revered on Wearside and the victory over Leeds is the archetypal story of Cup romance and yet, if you ask one of his key players, Dennis Tueart, to sum Stokoe up, he will say he was a lucky manager "in the right place at the right time" inheriting a highly capable side that had been assembled and drilled by his predecessor, Alan Brown.

When, in 1976, Sunderland finally won promotion, they did not win a single First Division match under the man who had won them the FA Cup. Stokoe, worn down by stress, resigned.

Both Sir Bobby Robson and Terry Venables, after Sir Alf Ramsey the two finest managers of England, were rarely winners in their own country.

Robson could joke that a crisis at Ipswich, the club he took to several high-octane second-place finishes, was when they "ran out of white wine in the boardroom". At Sporting Lisbon, he was fired despite being top of the Portuguese League.

When Venables, forever feted as the bright young thing of English management without having delivered anything much, found himself in charge of Barcelona, he was told: "The fans will either build a statue to you or they will set fire to your car."

The Chevrolet provided by one of Manchester United's sponsors is not at risk and, judging from the banner on the Stretford End on Monday night that proclaimed him "The Chosen One", support for Moyes is solid and will be only enhanced by his intelligent handling of Wayne Rooney.

However, tomorrow's encounter with Liverpool is perhaps more important in cementing his relationship with United's fans than his debut at Old Trafford. Ferguson beat Mourinho only once in a competitive fixture. By his own admission, his greatest achievement was "knocking Liverpool off their perch".

Tomorrow's match programme will feature on its front a photograph of Bill Shankly. The only recorded time Shankly and Ferguson met was in the directors' box at Anfield, while Ferguson attempted to assess Liverpool before they faced his Aberdeen side in the 1980 European Cup. "Trying to discover the secret of our great team?" said Shankly. "They all try that."

Ferguson admitted to "behaving like a groupie" in front of Shankly but Aberdeen lost 4-0, which was said to mark the beginnings of his great dislike of Liverpool. On the way back he threatened to fine any player who laughed £10.

To Ferguson, Liverpool always remained the season's pivotal fixture even when Manchester City, Arsenal, Newcastle and Blackburn had, at one time or the other, eclipsed them as United's principal rivals.

Ferdinand made the same point before they played Chelsea on Monday. In many ways the enmity suited Liverpool. It reminded them that they still mattered. It showed them respect.

The charge levelled against Moyes is that during his time at Everton he showed Liverpool too much respect. And he has never managed to eclipse them.

Before last year's FA Cup semi-final, on form and league position Everton were clear favourites. At Wembley, they took the lead against Liverpool, sat on it and lost 2-1.

When in 2005 Everton qualified for the Champions League above them, Liverpool won the European Cup. Seven years later, Everton would do so again but Kenny Dalglish won the League Cup and took Liverpool to an FA Cup final that should have been Moyes's.

There have been enough moral victories. Tomorrow afternoon, in a stadium where he has never won, it will be time for the real thing.

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