London - When Manchester United fans welcomed David Moyes to Old Trafford and volubly expressed the hope that he might one day emulate a club legend, it was Sir Alex Ferguson’s trophy-gathering expertise they were thinking of, not Eric Cantona’s rush of blood at Selhurst Park.
But it was Cantona, lashing out in response to the taunts of Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons, back in 1995, that came inexorably to mind on Friday, as reports emerged of Moyes attacking a man on Wednesday evening.
The drama was played out against the backdrop of the Emporium wine bar in Clitheroe, housed in an old Methodist chapel and styled on a Parisian cafe, but it could be seen as the culmination of 29 days of rancour.
Twenty-nine days of pent-up anger as a proud man mulled over the details of what he sees as an unjust end to his reign at the biggest club in the country.
The wine bar’s website boasts of a relaxed, informal atmosphere, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth at 10pm on Wednesday night. Moyes came from a meal with friends at a local restaurant and walked into boorish chanting and abuse.
Moyes was goaded by one drinker who accused him of “being sh*t and never winning anything”. Others had their say, and the verbals soon gave way to crashing glass and flying tables.
The former United manager is alleged to have hit 23-year-old joiner Josh Gillibrand on the side of his head with a bottle. The police were called. An investigation is ongoing.
Gillibrand was treated for concussion and a bloody nose after the fracas, but there will be plenty whose sympathies lie with the aggressor, not the victim. It is hard to imagine what it felt like to be sacked as publicly as Moyes was, his perceived failure leading TV news bulletins as far away as Australia. That the United board questioned his abilities and found them wanting was humiliation enough, without well-oiled strangers — Gillibrand was “quite drunk”, according to a friend — now weighing in.
And surely a decent man can expect to go out for a drink with his wife without running the gauntlet of boorish drink-fuelled barracking.
But that’s the world we live in and Moyes must be aware that he has set a dangerous precedent. The wine bar barrackers are hardly likely to retreat now that they know his boiling point. Indeed, the abuse will probably increase.
It’s a sad situation for this proud and capable Glaswegian to find himself in, the more so as he reacted to his sacking last month - which must have felt like a personal cataclysm after being anointed as Ferguson’s successor by the great man himself - with dignity and restraint.
He once told me, while he was Everton manager, that his response to any defeat was to go home and draw the curtains. They will almost certainly be drawn now as he returns to the safety of his home.
But even there, the man who thought he had a six-year contract at Old Trafford to build his own team may struggle to come to terms with what has happened to him - both at United and on the streets of the North West.
Like many football managers, Moyes has always worn his emotions on his sleeve. Much less publicly, he is also a committed Christian and it must be hurting him that he so dramatically failed to turn the other cheek.
Belting someone with a bottle, if that’s really what happened, is a dreadfully unseemly way for any grown man to react to taunts, especially, it has to be said, a man whose downfall was cushioned by a multi-million-pound pay-off.
Nonetheless, however out of character this episode was, it was always likely to be only a matter of time before Moyes saw red.
After all, he must be seeing red everywhere. He couldn’t escape even when he took a much-needed holiday in Florida in the immediate aftermath of his dismissal. Even on the other side of the Atlantic, he cut a forlorn figure. Moyes was photographed running on a Florida beach, but even there he would stop to look at his mobile phone, apparently keeping up with events as they unfolded back in Britain.
He will not have been able to escape the disgruntled in the Preston area, where he has lived since playing for and managing Preston North End.
It is unknown whether his self-belief has suffered to any great extent. He is still the man who - the metaphor seems suddenly unfortunate - punched above his weight at Everton for so long.
At 51, he has plenty of time to bounce back.
Yet by the same token, Moyes would hardly be human if he hadn’t also questioned, at some level, whether maybe the naysayers were right, and United was just too much of a behemoth for him.
A year ago, nobody, including him, knew whether the job would turn out to be a pot of gold or the deadliest of poisoned chalices. It wasn’t entirely his fault that it turned out to be the latter. Maybe it wasn’t even largely his fault. There is certainly evidence to suggest that he was more sinned against than sinning, and Paul Scholes, who knows a thing or two about the inner workings of the club, has ventured this week that executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward should carry more responsibility for the disastrous season just gone.
Moyes would doubtless echo that. It must surely irk him, and more likely infuriate him, to think that there are people still in place at Old Trafford who were at least as much to blame as he was for the catastrophic failure even to qualify for the Europa League.
He is a likeable, decent, honest man, but intense even when everything is going his way.
So even before he fatefully went out for dinner and then on to a wine bar with his wife and a few friends on Wednesday, he must have been a seething mass of frustration, resentment and enormous disappointment that, for whatever reason, he had not managed to live up either to Ferguson’s expectations of him, or his own expectations of himself.
It was this powder keg of emotions to which young Josh Gillibrand, in effect, set light.
Moreover, it is probably no oincidence that he should have erupted just two days after Louis van Gaal was confirmed as the next United boss.
Moyes can hardly have missed the media coverage, and with it the conclusion, from the most seasoned pundit to the most naive fan, that in football terms, United now have a man big enough for the job. Every list of Van Gaal’s achievements, every analysis of the Dutchman’s supposedly huge personality, every assessment of his warm relationship with Robin van Persie, must have seemed to Moyes like a personal rebuke.