It was one of those mad moments-in-time, illustrated by some gasp-inducing statistics. You sensed it wouldn’t be repeated so you instantly committed the detail to memory. “Poshos rule Hit Parade – 60 per cent of chart acts went to public school and think it jolly good idea to pollute radio-waves with bed-wetter balladry.”
What a corker that was back in 2010. Never forgotten it and, obviously, never want to see it repeated. But that’s not what I want to speak about today, rather this:
“Glaswegians storm English Premier League – seven of division’s managers survive bad diet, razor-gangs, Old Firm, urban motorways, passive smoking, aggressive smoking, aggressive hellos and Lex McLean jokes to vault Hadrian’s Wall and flourish. Total takeover feared. Call for posthumous Jock Stein knighthood expected to be least of their demands.”
This was 2011. The Magnificent – Mac-nificent – Seven were Alex Ferguson, Kenny Dalglish, Alex McLeish, Paul Lambert, Owen Coyle, Steve Kean and David Moyes. But the takeover never quite happened and one by one the Scots left the so-called best league in the world. Some quit of their own volition, others fell on their own razor. Last week the last of them, Moyes, exited as his team did the same.
You’re absolutely sure this won’t be repeated. Unless there are dramatic dugout manoeuvres in the summer – and I mean really dramatic, such as Arsene Wenger finally quitting Arsenal and the Gunners board requesting permission from Arbroath to speak to Dick Campbell – then 2017-18 will be the first season since anyone can remember that there hasn’t been a Scot in charge at a top-flight English club.
Maybe you thought this great era of the shouty Scottish boss began in the summer of 1985 with Dalglish taking over at Liverpool, to be followed a year later by George Graham’s appointment at Arsenal and Fergie’s arrival at Manchester United. Well, Don Mackay had been flying the flag at Coventry City prior to King Kenny and before then shoutiness could occasionally be heard coming from unglamorous outposts, such as Jimmy Sirrel’s Notts County. Keep digging and you’ll soon be back at Shanks.
More recently and less illustriously, a Scottish presence has been maintained. Fergie passed the baton to Moyesy. In 2014-15 Lambo was still holding up his end at Aston Villa, to be joined temporarily at West Bromwich Albion by Alan Irvine. The following season there was Alex Neil at Norwich City and another stand-in, Eric Black at Villa. Lately it’s all been down to Moyes.
If we were once a fashion we’re not anymore. Right now the English game drools over foreign managers. Seasoned observers and hard-bitten hacks behave like Shirley Valentines looking for love in the close season. The mere foreignness of these managers is sufficient. Tactics, accents, colognes and fine wool swirl around the low-ceilinged media rooms and the miasma becomes intoxicating.
One summer the observers and hacks fell for Louis van Gaal, but he wasn’t everything he promised to be. Undeterred, they swooned over Pep Guardiola who’s turned out to be a lot less charming than everyone thought, admitting that the results in his first English campaign would have got him sacked in Spain or Germany. And tell me, has every single telly pundit had a man-crush on Marco Silva, pictured above, despite him failing to save Hull City, or has it just seemed that way? In the face of such competition, the unsmiling, unexotic Moyes hardly stood a chance.
He didn’t have much to smile about at Sunderland. Two games into the season he mentioned the R-word – relegation. He was, he thought, simply being honest. The club weren’t exactly unused to basement battles and his transfer budget wasn’t going to be as big as he’d been led to believe. Nevertheless the remark was viewed by some as unnecessarily negative.
When he tried to crack a joke it was the crack of doom for a football manager amid the stringent inclusivity of 2017. By informing a female reporter that she might get a “slap”, Moyes suddenly became a character from a chauvinistic and altogether dodgy sitcom who’d missed his cue by the best part of 40 years. Bless This Sheepskin, perhaps, or Love Thy Jockstrap.
It’s been some plummet. The “chosen one” to a “dinosaur” in four short years. Of course, following Fergie into Old Trafford was just about the biggest challenge football could offer. The latter hadn’t started like a train either, but was afforded the time that simply isn’t on offer in the game now.
There was some sympathy for Moyes when he was sacked, and general agreement that Van Gaal would fare better because he wasn’t Fergie’s direct replacement and, hey, he was continental. Just watch the Dutchman fly, they said. Well, he threw himself onto the turf in imitation of a diving player. Kept hold of his trusty clipboard, though. Genius!
The sympathy for Moyes has ebbed. The Wearside job was still going to be a challenge, but different from Old Trafford which was too big for him and more like Everton where he did well, building sides which were tough with occasional dashes of flair, safely top ten, often higher. He could have replicated this at Sunderland, given a bit more time, a bit more money and, from him, a bit more of the sparky confidence which recently has deserted him.
What next? Our friends in the south have suggested, should it become available, the Scotland job, as if it was a rest and recuperation centre for guys who’ve tried and generally failed in England. Damn them, they may have a point there.
What next for the Scottish boss at large in the Premier League or is it all over? Trends in football go in cycles. The first time I heard the phrase, the great, unknighted Stein was trying to reassure us about the national team. I’m waiting patiently for their renaissance so can easily accommodate the tragically misunderstood shouty men from our side of the wall. Still it could be worse. Moyesy as far as I know was never in Mumford & Sons.