London – David Moyes has taken off the gloves ahead of his big showdown with Jose Mourinho on Monday night after a torrid start to his career at Manchester United.
Succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford was never going to be easy, but having come under fire from so many quarters – unfairly, he believes – the Glaswegian is ready to hit back.
He is fed up with the easy rides being given to Mourinho at Chelsea on his second coming and Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City compared to his own arrival at United.
He is aware that with Ferguson out of the way, others are taking liberties. It is hard to imagine Mourinho publicly courting Wayne Rooney or Everton boss Roberto Martinez criticising United’s transfer policy had the previous manager been in charge.
But people would be unwise to consider Moyes a walkover. Alan Stubbs, who played for Moyes twice at Everton and was given his first coaching job by the Scot, believes the early experience of dealing with big dressing-room personalities Duncan Ferguson, David Ginola, David Weir and a young Wayne Rooney will help Moyes in the star-studded environment at United.
Stubbs reveals that Moyes was a tough coach who was forced to change his management style after a dressing-room revolt at Goodison Park stopped him introducing breathalyser tests at training.
“He walked into Everton at 38 and had the unenviable task of dealing with strong players who weren’t afraid to speak their minds and stand up for what they believed,” said Stubbs. “If we didn’t agree with the manager, we’d tell him.
“He wanted to bring in breath-testing on Monday mornings because he knew the lads would go out at the weekend. We were really against it, adamant that it wasn’t right and more or less said to him, ‘You have to be able to trust us’. The testing was something he wanted to do.
“After that, he tried to involve the players in what he did. He’d have a discussion to explain his thinking. It worked better for him. If you set down guidelines and don’t care about the players, you can create a problem before you’re in the door.”
Stubbs added: “The experience will help him at United, where he’s also got Phil Neville and Ryan Giggs who will know the dressing room. David will be strong on doing things his way, not an imitation of Sir Alex Ferguson.”
Moyes has been criticised for failing to sign a major player, the insinuation being that he cannot attract the big names to Old Trafford in the way that Ferguson did.
He has also been criticised over Rooney’s sulky pre-season attitude and the agitations from his representatives that were designed to get him to Chelsea – a tactic that has failed. But Moyes remains confident and positive about the future.
“I keep hearing that David Moyes is under pressure, yet none of the other managers who have taken new jobs are under pressure,” said the defiant United manager.
“In a way that’s good. It suits my kind of personality as well. I’ll fight back and get on with my job. It’s important that we (United) realise we are getting written off and this club tends to respond by saying ‘Come on then, we’ll show you’. I think that’s in my nature as well.”
Moyes has made it clear that he may start with Rooney against Chelsea after his cameo at Swansea last weekend, a clear signal to Mourinho who has been keen on the England striker all summer.
The United boss is also keen to highlight that even without new signings, he already has the squad that won the League by 11 points last season plus £15million England winger Wilfried Zaha.
“Looking around the dressing room before games gives you confidence,” added Moyes.
“The boys I put out last week – Ryan Giggs, Rio (Ferdinand), Danny Welbeck – all-round whoever we put out are always going to be a match for anyone in the Premier League. We might not be seen as favourites by many people but we will be a good match for everyone when we play them and, in truth, Manchester United were the team who won the League quite easily last season.”
Striker talk has dominated the summer transfer window – Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Radamel Falcao, Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema and Rooney himself – but none of them is a worthy swap on current form for United’s Robin van Persie, who has followed his 30 goals last season by scoring twice against Wigan in the Community Shield at Wembley and again at Swansea.
Moyes also feels he and the Holland star are kindred spirits because of the relative lack of silverware they have won in the careers – and the desire to put that right.
“I was quite worried when I came in because I had lost Rene (Meulensteen, a former United coach), who I knew was quite close to Robin,” said Moyes. “But I’ve got to say ever since he joined up in pre-season in Sydney he has been terrific.
“The biggest thing for me is how much he has bought into everything we’re doing and his work ethic.
“There was a moment in the game last weekend, probably around 75 minutes, when he worked back and did a job for the team. It shows how much a team player he is at the moment. I asked him the other day how many medals he has won and he said one. I saw the glint in his eyes to say ‘I need more than one’ – and so do I.
“His movement in the box is sensational, it really is top notch. There are some things that I don’t think are even coached, they are nearly instinctive, which you pick up if you’re a top player.
“I used to wonder how Ruud van Nistelrooy scored so many. I used to think he was an unbelievable goal scorer.
“Robin has a little bit of that, something different. He has an array of types of goals. He scores from outside the box, inside, he scored an unbelievable header in the Community Shield, he scored another on Saturday when he got his foot up near seven foot (high). I can only say he has been brilliant to work with.”
For a long time, Mourinho, not Moyes, was the favourite to succeed Ferguson at Old Trafford.
Moyes himself can understand the appeal of the Special One, who has won seven league championships and three European trophies around the continent.
But at Ferguson’s personal request, it was Moyes who was ultimately given the Old Trafford hot-seat. And he’s not going to let anyone push him around.
The Chosen One is thriving on pressure as he fires up United to face the Special One. – Mail on Sunday