It is a truth universally acknowledged that out-of-work managers tend to rub their hands at the prospect of October arriving, since it normally brings with it a spate of managerial sackings.
Unless results take a drastic lurch over the next few weeks, David Moyes will of course be immune to this phenomenon.
However, it is apparent that the succession is not going smoothly at Manchester United. When people are evoking the words Ron and Atkinson, Moyes will know that he is verging on dangerous territory.
Saturday’s defeat by West Bromwich Albion was surprising only in that it wasn’t completely surprising. Manchester United appear to be denuded at the moment and Moyes is already looking like one of the loneliest men on the planet. Relief does at least come in the form of Manchester City, who have somehow managed to lose to both Cardiff City and Aston Villa already this season.
But they have also already demolished Manchester United 4-1. You have to expect bad results in football, Moyes rationalised after that particularly painful experience. But Manchester United fans are finding it hard to accept two defeats in their own city on successive weekends.
It wasn’t only the result that hurt on Saturday against West Bromwich Albion but also the manner of the 2-1 loss. With Robin van Persie sidelined by injury, soothing Wayne Rooney’s fretting brow – which has been nominated by some as the new manager’s only significant achievement since taking over – is beginning to look like an even more crucial feat of man management. Without Rooney, things may well have looked a lot worse.
Manchester City might have lost twice but United have been defeated on three occasions in the league already. They lost only five times during last season’s successful league campaign. In time-honoured fashioned, the bookmakers are already devising “specials”. Sir Alex Ferguson is 7/2 to return and replace Moyes this season (which ignores the reason why Ferguson stepped aside in the first place, because, he patiently explained, he felt he owed it to his wife, Cathy, to spend more time with her). Meanwhile, the odds on Moyes leaving before Christmas stand at 9/2.
You suspect it might get worse before it gets better for Moyes, whose team leave tomorrow for a tricky sounding Champions League appointment with Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine. There is also an away game at Sunderland to be negotiated this weekend, before United return to Old Trafford for four successive home matches, in the Champions League, Capital One Cup and league.
If things don’t pick up quickly, Moyes will also need to endure the publication of Ferguson’s new autobiography next month, and the blizzard of publicity it will encourage.
Ferguson is holding large question and answer sessions rather than several one-on-one interviews to promote the book. Among the questions those in attendance are likely to be itching to ask will be his views on the goings-on at Old Trafford, perhaps with particular emphasis placed on the recent transfer window frustrations.
Moyes was badly served by the change at chief executive level, when he and new CEO Ed Woodward were left floundering in the summer. They were frustrated in their hope to hit the road running by transfer collapses amid bizarre tales of bogus operators.
Of course, in his forthcoming roadshows Ferguson won’t be of a mind to make things any more difficult for Moyes. He has already issued a stern warning to the Manchester United fans, stressing that they must, above all else, support the new man. Still, perhaps not even Ferguson expected they would need to heed his words so early into Moyes’ tenure.
Perhaps most surprising of all have been the defeatist noises emanating from Moyes. The latest ones have been the comments made over the weekend about United not being Champions League contenders, because they do not have the requisite number of world-class players.
This was something that was initially noticeable during his first press conference on being unveiled as Ferguson’s successor, in July. Asked about the opening league programme, which scheduled United to play Chelsea and Liverpool in their opening three games after kicking off with an away fixture at Swansea, Moyes noted that he “was not convinced that is the way the balls have come out of the hat when that was getting done”.
It was, I remember noting at the time, a flash of his master’s paranoia; a rage against perceived injustice, the way Ferguson used to do. Except, coming as it did on Moyes’ first public assignment as manager, amid doubts about whether he had what was described as a “big club” mentality, it also provoked some measure of concern. Rather than welcome the challenge, Moyes appeared to give the impression of shrinking back from it slightly
In the event, United claimed a win, draw and defeat from these opening games, a moderate rather than dismaying return. Saturday’s defeat, however, was startling in its limpness, and it doesn’t help Moyes’ cause that it was so momentous as well. Not since the late 1970s, and the days of Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis, have West Bromwich Albion left Old Trafford with a league victory. Indeed, it was recently replayed on The Big Match Revisited. If it felt like watching pictures from another age, that is because it was from another age – 1978 to be exact.
Ferguson arrived eight years later and took time himself to settle. But, of course, he was not taking over a club expected to challenge for the European Cup. He took over at United at exactly the right time. When expectations were lower, certainly a great deal lower than they are now.
Still, Ferguson spoke of wanting, eventually, to knock Liverpool off their perch again. The fear among many Manchester United fans is that Moyes is currently in danger of knocking Liverpool off their perch once more. As fifth place contenders.