Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Might there be a Lazarus-style comeback at Man Utd?

WHERE once there was calm and chutzpah at Old Trafford, there is now chaos and caterwauling. The beast of Manchester United appears to be grievously wounded, and it may be only a matter of time before someone reaches for his elephant gun.
Put aside for a moment the paradoxical nature of the team’s impressive performances in Europe (the tie against Shakhtar Donetsk aside): concentrate instead on their standing in the Barclays Premier League, where United find themselves so far removed from leaders Arsenal that 20-20 vision becomes a prerequisite in establishing their present location.
Some internet pundits, then, are inviting mob rule back into our society by seeking the summary dismissal of David Moyes. The Chosen One has evidently careered down a couple of divisions of their esteem and morphed into the Tainted One. Any delay in his departure would be catastrophic, they say.
The zealotry is by no means contained to the anti-Moyes lobby: others recommend that if any blood is spilled in the Theatre of Dreams, it should belong to the strolling players rather than the leading man. So the names of Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Nani (even though he recently signed a five-year contract), Tom Cleverley, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Marouane Fellaini figure at the core of their indictment.
We’ll pause the bedlam button and return to Fellaini. Didn’t he cost £27.5 million only some months ago? Isn’t he the afro-haired monster who chastised, if not terrorised, the most able defenders when he wore Everton colours last season? Hasn’t he played 47 times for a Belgium team that promises to further Europe’s reputation in next year‘s World Cup? There again, does any footballer deserve unequivocal judgement after only six appearances for the club?
Returning to the bedlam, let‘s not forget the muck-throwing contest featuring Roy Keane and Sir Alex Ferguson - you’d be forgiven for feeling you’re at Knockhill on a wet, motocross day. There was a short suspension of hostilities followed the publication of Fergie’s book, but they’re at it again, with the former player claiming that his old boss, now a director and club ambassador, is currently on a power and ego trip. Hey, is the Irishman an implacable opponent, or what?
Who could have imagined Old Trafford to be surrounded by such hoopla and hysteria in this winter of 2013? I imagine even Nostradamus would have struggled with such prognostications.
But let’s briefly inspect the ground promising to subside underneath Moyes. These are still early days, but I remain confident that this son of Bearsden will find the bricks, the cement and the all-important plumb line to put the Old Trafford house back in the best of order. Surely, there is much work to do, starting with a major pruning of playing staff in next month‘s transfer window, but it is surely not beyond a man of his capabilities.
Now for the alternatives and hypotheses. This football life inevitably carries the napalm element of shock and awe: what if the man who was legitimised by Ferguson cannot find the apposite domestic recipe? What if it becomes apparent that his magic hasn’t travelled from Liverpool to Manchester, and that his former employers at Everton somehow confiscated his box of tricks during the removal? What if he’s just not the proper fit for a club with such immense expectations?
To whom would United turn? Oh, for that 20-20 vision of my youth. I can see no obvious candidates, without ripping the world’s managerial order apart and United spending mega millions in compensation.
There is, however, one solution that might please most, if not all, segments of the Manchester United society. The frugal Glazers could open a window of opportunity and ask Fergie to lay down his goblets of red wine, put his ambassadorial hat into storage and stop trotting around the globe (New York one day, McDiarmid Park the next) like some demented Ban-Ki Moon.
In shorter form, they could ask him to reconsider his retirement options and come back to the womb as a caretaker. There are, of course, a few powerful arguments against this happening, with Fergie perhaps leading some of them and his dear wife Cathy taking up the slack.
But would such protestations prevent a comeback for a man who, in a figurative sense has never left the building? Might the temptation of a Lazarus-style return not prove too great for someone who, according to Keane, is the supreme egoist?

TALKING of Keane, did you manage to catch the much-vaunted programme, The Best of Enemies, last night?
ITV 4 plundered archive history and presented the gladiatorial contest between the former Manchester United captain and his arch rival, PatrickVieira, down the Nineties and early Noughties, as United and Arsenal strove for supremacy.
The emphasis was concentrated as much on speech as on action. Keane was initially saturnine and slightly sinister, never more so when he refused to apologise for some of his more unforgivable excesses (think that brutal tackle on Alf-Inge Haaland).
But this was television and consequently the mood of oppression had to be captured. The film makers, mindful of the current appeal of the gangster genre, brought both parties to what looked like the (cold) vaults beneath one of London’s motorways.
In spite of his surroundings, Keane eventually managed to smile and bring warmth to a normally chilling persona. But as he demonstrated with Haaland, he appears to be a man motivated by revenge. None more so than when he left viewers with that short but highly revealing profile of Sir Alex in exile.
Martin Samuel, sports columnist of my old paper, the Daily Mail, seemed somehow offended by the disclosure. He felt Keane had diminished himself because of his insistence on reopening the wounds with Fergie. As if…
Has Martin, like myself a former tabloid Rottweiler, gone all poodle on us? Has he forgotten those red-top principles of impact? I mean, would he have actually stopped Keane in mid-rant to say: “Look, Roy, me old darlin’, we don’t want none of that controversy!” ?
I imagine not.

THERE are only a few people who might be deemed essential to society. Nelson Mandela was certainly one, leaving an indelible impression on all those he met.
Last weekend, after watching the myriad tributes to him dominate my television screen, I phoned two of my former Fleet Street colleagues who actually managed to get close to the great man. I wanted to know how he’d impacted on their lives.
Back in 1990, the first guy had been reporting England’s rebel tour in South Africa the day Mandela was released from his 27-year prison ordeal. The Daily Star asked him to suspend his cricket duties in order to report on something of far greater import.
This former news reporter, delighted to obliged, despatched his duties with aplomb. In fact, I still remember his intro in the front-page splash: “Nelson Mandela raised his right arm and shook his fist at history.”
So how did he feel all these years on? “I don’t often cry,” he told me, “but this was an occasion I couldn’t help myself. I broke down several times.”
My second acquaintance was alleged to have met Mandela in Atlanta. So, how did he remember him? “We were in the press room and suddenly these two South African girls, whom I knew, ran past, shouting that Mandela was in the building. I ran after them and suddenly found myself in a line-up.
“He was shaking people’s hands. When he reached me, I asked him, very properly, if he was enjoying himself. He looked right through me - and moved on. He totally blanked me!”