Thank you, David Moyes. It’s not something most Manchester United fans ever thought they would say, given the horrendous season the Scot oversaw at our club. Still, I’ll say it again. Thank you, David Moyes.
There were points, last season, when it felt like United were in danger of spiralling into irrevocable decline. So many turgid performances; so many bleak humiliations; so much ridicule from our rivals, who even, at times, appeared to actually feel sorry for us, which is the greatest humiliation of all.
Players who had been much loved just a year before, in whom we had previously had so much faith, were turned into pale imitations of their former selves before our eyes. We watched as the confidence drained from them, week after dispiriting week. Worse still, it reached the point where they appeared to stop caring, epitomised in the captain, Nemanja Vidic’s, decision to abandon our sinking ship rather than stay and fight against the ferocious waves crashing onto the deck.
Moyes has gone down in history as perhaps one of the worst footballing appointments of all time, yet, as United fans continue to bask in the glorious sensation of a 4-0 win over Queens Park Rangers, complete with the kind of performance we had grown wearily accustomed to being on the receiving end of since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, it feels like the club’s miserable, year-long malaise may finally be abating.
Of course, it is too soon to say with certainty whether this is the case. Nevertheless, what a wonderful feeling it is to actually look forward to United’s next fixture with real excitement, confidence and anticipation, rather than the impending sense of doom that became a hallmark of Louis van Gaal’s predecessor’s dismal reign. It is this new-found feeling of optimism from which my gratitude towards David Moyes mainly stems.
If you are old enough to remember United’s first title win under Ferguson, in 1993, you will recall the sheer elation with which it was received. I was fortunate to be there, at Old Trafford, for the rapturous celebrations that greeted that title win; the first in twenty-six years. I may have only been a boy but I understood perfectly what it meant. The fans had been starved of this feeling for nigh on three decades. Old men shed tears of joy. The mixture of ecstasy and relief took the breath away and made the pulse race.
We may never experience anything like that again. Indeed, it is to be hoped that United will never go so long without being crowned champions as to make a repeat of that day a reality. Still, even though it has only been one season of failure, thus far, this time around, the abject nature of that failure, the almost total absence of quality, on and off the pitch, the embarrassment of the manager’s dealings with the press and the impotence and hopelessness we, the fans, experienced, will all make each victory over the coming months taste that much sweeter. Should there be a trophy or two in the near future, we will celebrate with greater gusto than we have for years. For this, we can thank David Moyes.
There are other reasons to be grateful to our former manager, too. For years, we gorged ourselves on success and, thus, the club became bloated. A sense of entitlement began to pervade our fan-base and, while this still exists, it is not as acute as in the pre-Moyes era. Last season, despite everything, the United faithful remained just that; united and faithful. Yes, there was the ludicrous plane-banner but, such gimmicks aside, there was a sense of togetherness amongst the club’s support.
Away games have long been a source of pride for this club, the travelling reds, whatever is happening on the pitch, regularly out-singing the home crowd, despite their inferior numbers. Yet even the Old Trafford atmosphere has improved in recent times. Perhaps the zenith of this phenomenon was during last season’s sickening home defeat to Liverpool. The performance on the pitch was one of the most degrading, crushingly abysmal many of us could remember, and yet Old Trafford burst into a rousing, heartfelt rendition of ‘Twenty Times’ that went on, constantly, for the final, harrowing twenty minutes. It was an awe-inspiring, irrepressible outpouring of despairing defiance; a deep, guttural cry from the inner recesses of tens of thousands of wounded souls. Wounded, but not defeated.
Some chose to leave early, that day, rather than stay and support the club. For those of us who remained and continued to chant in solidarity, the love for our club rising to form a lump in our throats and tears in our eyes, we bid those people good riddance. If some of them have chosen not to return, preferring to latch, parasite-like, onto the latest big thing, then we can thank David Moyes for the part he played in making such a purge possible.
We are now embarking on a new chapter in United’s rich story. Louis van Gaal has torn up the squad that he inherited. Some of the departures have been greeted with sadness and regret, while others have been welcomed with open arms. New faces have brought a freshness to a team that had passed its sell-by date. There is no telling, at this stage, whether success will stem from these changes but, what is beyond doubt is that such a cull was, not just necessary, but vital. It took Moyes’ failure to shake the club from its torpor and realise that investment was crucial.
Sometimes, a period of illness can almost seem worth it as you begin to recover. You step back out into the world with fresh eyes and a greater appreciation for the beauty that surrounds you. It has always been there, but you had stopped noticing it; taken it for granted. Suddenly the future looks bright and you know that, even when things take a turn for the worse, you can draw strength from the memory of dark times in your past that you have negotiated.
Manchester United fans had been spoiled for years. Indeed, a whole generation had known nothing but success. Perhaps it took David Moyes, who tried his best but simply was not up to the task, to give us the reality-check we needed; to remind us to appreciate what we have had; to make us realise that we are not invincible, we are not infallible, we can be beaten and we do not have a divine right to win. What is more, we now know that we can come together at such times and face the bad times as well as the good.
For that, thank you, David Moyes.