David Moyes can put Wayne Rooney back on track at Manchester United
You don't need to look terribly hard for evidence of how Wayne Rooney has viewed David Moyes in an altogether different way to Sir Alex Ferguson.
There is the obsequious way he talks about his current Manchester United manager – always "The Boss" – in his autobiography My Story So Far, while the new man at Old Trafford is just "Moyesy". And then there's the "Rooney Report" at the back of that early stab at a life story. Can you guess which manager he says he most admires? Sir Alex is simply the best, he says.
The words and anecdotes of that volume need to be set in context. Even then, in 2006, Rooney acknowledged that the many disagreements he had had with Moyes were the product of his own youthful inexperience. To that series of vignettes which were explored yesterday – Moyes screaming "You've been eating too many f****** McDonald's" at Rooney and accusing him of breaking the CD player in his club Mercedes – can be added the indignation the teenager felt for Moyes' attempts to prevent Duncan Ferguson, his own old idol, exerting a malign influence on him.
According to the book, Moyes pulled Rooney into his office and told him to stay away from Ferguson, a message promptly passed straight on to the player concerned, in front of their Everton team-mates, to widespread mirth. Moyes' last-minute switch from plane to car, to take Rooney for the medical assessment designed to prove that he should not answer an England call-up in 2004, was seen by the then wunderkind as a way of giving the player's agent, Paul Stretford, the slip. Rooney boasted that on the way down from Merseyside he did not say a word. The subsequent diagnosis that the then 17-year-old was unfit to play, proved to be accurate. Rooney said he found the whole episode annoying and trivial.
The food issue, the club v country rows, the desire to keep the agents out of things: all of those issues come straight from the story of Sir Alex Ferguson's own relationship with Rooney. And if the symmetries between the philosophies of the player's former and present managers seem uncanny then they should not be, because they merely reflect the common philosophies which bind Ferguson and his successor. These two men are both products of the Drumchapel Amateurs, the legendary club from near Clydebank, which has sent 30 graduates to Scottish senior football, and where the Protestant work ethic engrained in both men is captured in one of the many slogans in the dressing room: "Hard work can beat talent when talent doesn't work very hard."
Moyes might have seemed like an embarrassing parent when Rooney left for the bright lights of Manchester nine years ago but over time, as Old Trafford has come to feel like a place with walls rather than one with endless horizons, Ferguson's approach has seemed no different to the player. From despatching him to Nike HQ in 2011 to fining him heavily for the Boxing Day night out which Ferguson felt left Rooney unfit to train, it has been a similar strategy, just different solutions.
That Ferguson's successor should be one who shares the same ethic and philosophy about organic development of talent is something that makes the confirmation of Moyes' six-year contract seem such an impressive and intelligent decision. But more significant to Rooney's United future is that in Moyes he will find himself under the management of perhaps the only other individual, after Ferguson, who is capable of guiding him back on to the footballing track from which he deviated in this poor season.
A Jose Mourinho would maybe have needed to size him up, try to understand him, and would probably have failed. An English manager would perhaps have sought to flatter him into a last shot at restored greatness. Moyes will just bring the stick and the carrot, like Ferguson always did.
The notion of Moyes somehow resenting Rooney's climb to greatness, which My Story So Far implicitly conveys, has always been a deeply misguided one. Rather, Moyes carried the same burden of pastoral responsibility for Rooney that Ferguson has done. Those who know him best speak of qualities which include an ability to sustain relationships under difficult circumstances. Moyes behaves correctly, respects other people, and when he surveyed a 16-year-old Rooney, he recognised that this was an individual who, because of his physical maturity and sublime footballing judgement, was not being allowed a childhood.
A significant part of the task was to keep him out of the scrapes which are always magnified for an individual like Rooney. One source who has watched Moyes at close quarters recalls the day that a 16-year-old Rooney found himself in trouble for kicking out at the girls who pinched his backside while he played table tennis. In another world it would have been a teenage squabble.
In Wayne's world, it brought the father of a bruised girl to the club's door. Moyes saw the father, offered tickets for the next home game – a 2-1 win over Southampton in February 2003 – and left the player under no illusions about his idiocy. Nothing more said.
Such are the reasons why, before Rooney began to outgrow Goodison, there was a distinct impression he actually liked Moyes. And it is why the two have patched things up since that deeply ill-advised and journalistically inept decision to suggest in My Story So Far that Moyes had leaked one of their private conversations to the Liverpool Echo – something the paper denied, leaving Moyes to mount a successful libel suit.
Rooney telephoned Moyes in 2009 to make an apology for those events, which Moyes accepted. "I think we weren't ready for Wayne when he came on the scene," Moyes said a year or so later. "I can understand his feelings at the time but we probably weren't ready to keep him.
"The court case had been won anyway so it was over as far as I was concerned but I just said to him: 'No problem, that's fine. It just shows your maturity.' Now, he is the one who's sorting out the young players at Manchester United. Anyone who's stepping out of line, not doing it right, he is the one looking after them."
That last suggestion, accompanied by a declaration that Rooney would be welcome back at Goodison Park "any time" was an oversimplification of the place the striker occupies. His struggle to assert himself as a player worth anything like £250,000 a week leaves him at a crossroads which Moyes might just be able to help him over. He will offer the same sense of understanding that Ferguson always has, but the same uncompromising requirement that Rooney repays that on the pitch.
New players don't always understand Moyes' "way of playing," Leon Osman said a few years ago. That being "to give everything you've got". Some players come in "and think, if I score a goal, do a good turn or put a few tackles in, that's enough," Osman said. "But you have to come off the pitch having done everything, with nothing left in the tank." There will be no surprises for Rooney.
Belfast Telegraph Digital