“Fight and you may die. Run and you will live…at least a while. And dying in your bed many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance, to come back here as young men and tell our enemies that they may take our lives but they will never take our freedom!”
William Wallace. The Battle of Stirling Bridge, 1297.
797 years later, Manchester United lose 2-0 to Olympiacos in a game berated by pundits as the club’s ‘worst Champions League performance ever’. After the match, midfielder Michael Carrick was interviewed by ITV, in a display mirroring the 90 minutes before.
“It’s hugely disappointing but we feel like we’re still in with a chance going back to Old Trafford,” he muttered.
“Obviously it’s not going to be easy. We’ve lost a game we came here hoping to win and haven’t done that. We’re not out of tie by all means, but it’s not ideal… You take the good times and the bad times. We have to keep trying.”
Former Manchester United midfielder and ITV pundit Roy Keane was less than impressed with Carrick’s speech.
“That interview was just like the performance: flat,” he said with a straight face.
“He should say a bit more, have a bit more urgency even in his interview,” Keane said. “That just reflected United’s performance tonight: Flat, with no urgency.”
As a Manchester United fan, what you really wanted was for David Moyes to push Michael Carrick aside and completely blow his top. Y’know, tear off his shirt buttons, and go full Keegan. To rave about how Olympiacos ‘will face a wounded beast’ and ‘won’t know what hit them’. You wanted David Moyes to grab the ITV interviewer and glower down the camera lens with steely blue intensity. “Threat? That’s a promise”. Maybe unleash a frantic air punch, stopping millimetres short of a panicked Gabriel Clarke, while stamping on some olives.
It’d be a ludicrous over reaction – but at this juncture, an absurd departure from character has never felt so desirable. Shouting and waving your arms can accelerate panic, but as the season has lurched from humiliation to fresh low, the Manchester United manager has displayed the eerie calm of a man anaesthetized by his inability to shape fate. Shouting and waving your arms can accelerate panic but while the house is on fire, Moyes is calmly rolling the artisan bread and rearranging the table mats with a spirit level.
Bluntly, another beleaguered Scotsman needs a Braveheart moment.
To this point, all we’ve heard is the deferring platitudes of a civil service middle manager, devoid of conviction or controversy. We can no longer abide the defeatist’s lexicon of ‘try’ and ‘hopefully’ and ‘when the time is right’, or reference to a distant, fictional Manchester United and not ‘his team’ – or in Mourinho’s colloquial armoury, his ‘boys’.
If Moyes can’t believe in himself, or more importantly, in the players’ ability to turn things around – how are the players going to believe in themselves? He needs to make timid characters like Young feel bigger than they are, to elevate limited talents like Cleverley and inspire misfiring stars like Robin van Persie.
William Wallace painted his face blue to inspire red-blooded passion, is it too much to ask for a former blue to shout himself the same colour to inspire the reds?
As The Guardian’s political commentator Jonathan Freedland notes, Moyes might be simply suffering in his predecessor’s shadow. The John Major to Sir Alex Ferguson’s Margaret Thatcher.
Both are otherwise decent men, with good ideas, who just lack that magnetism, or aura, of leadership. Football journalist Raphael Honegstein suggested the same only yesterday on Twitter.
From what I've been told, Moyes' biggest problem is not tactics, but lacking necessary people skills."Can't lift anybody", "indecisive".
— Raphael Honigstein (@honigstein) March 17, 2014
Yesterday’s press conference was better, with Moyes exhibiting glimpses of steely resolve in face of excruciating pressure, but Patrice Evra’s words were the most inspiring.
“Everyone wants to fight for this club,” he said.
“Everyone loves this club. We know we had a bad game in the first leg. I think even a three-year-old Man United fan has been hurting by all the problems. But in life you always have a second chance. I’m not telling you we are going to qualify but I can promise we are all going to fight and respect the shirt.”
Moyes might not know what we need to do to win, as he has repeated on occasion, but he has to at least try to reawaken that belief in those who do, the humbled champions of England.
It might be unnatural, it could be embarrassing, but an out-of-character reaction is necessary – because the words that preceded the first leg of Manchester United’s Battle of Stirling simply weren’t enough from Moyes.
“Everybody wants to win it and we’ll try to do it. I never said we would or we can but we’ll be in there. I hope we can play well enough to get through this round and see what happens next.”