If David Moyes is destined to pull out of this hideous nosedive, if he is to stabilise Manchester United and restock the Old Trafford trophy cabinet, he will not owe his survival to the players, or the directors or even to himself. He will owe it to the supporters.
On Tuesday night, despite back-to-back home defeats and the kind of plodding, pedestrian football that would have even the most patient Arsenal supporter frothing down the phone at a terrified Talksport presenter, Old Trafford vibrated to a selection of staunchly, defiantly pro-Moyes songs.
The United supporters did not do this because plodding, pedestrian football is exactly what they’ve been crying out for after all these years of tiresome success. They did it to send a message. After all the bond issues, debt repayments, megastores and replica shirts, they wanted to remind people that there’s still a football club there.
Old Trafford is an odd place on a match day. Legions of locals mix uncomfortably with visitors from all over the world, staring at them in disdain as they take pictures of themselves in the stairwells on iPads, carrier bags of expensive merchandise stuffed awkwardly between their legs. Sometimes, it feels less like a football stadium and more like a shopping mall that just happens to have a sports field in the middle of it. Away from home, United’s supporters are among the noisiest in the league. But sometimes Old Trafford is less a bubbling cauldron of noise and more a bowl of luke warm sigh.
Western motivational speakers often claim that the Chinese word for crisis is the same as opportunity, which is the sort of thing that Chinese people find hilarious, but will make a lot of sense to Manchester United supporters. A spell of unconvincing football might be just what they need to clean out the pipes.
For over two decades, supporters of this football club, both those born within walking distance of Old Trafford and those from around the world who lost their hearts long ago to Best, Robson or Keane, have been in a cold war with the newcomers. Now that war is heating up.
Out of the crisis of Moyes’ league form comes the opportunity to reclaim Old Trafford, to reassert identity and to purge themselves of the hysterical, day-tripping arrivestes who slipped in relatively recently to bask in vicarious glory. The old guard could put up with the basking. They could put up with kids from Reading, Truro and Maidstone gliding in without the faintest whiff of legitimacy. They could accept the need to ‘engage foreign markets’. That was just part of modern football. It’s the whining they can’t stand.
There was a football club there before Sir Alex Ferguson started winning everything in sight and it wasn’t always very successful. No-one is claiming that Moyes is doing well. This is an unpolishable turd of a season. But there are people at Old Trafford who watched their club in the second division and those kind of harrowing memories do tend to put a couple of home defeats into perspective.
When fans whine and moan it gives the media their story. It allows sports editors to crack a badge over the back page and speak of lost dressing rooms, discontent in the stands and diminishing patience in the boardroom. But when the fans stand behind the manager as they did on Tuesday, it creates stability.
United have been wretched this season. It’s not all Moyes’ fault, but it is his responsibility and he hasn’t exactly done much to turn it around. But as long as the supporters stand behind him, he’ll be given a chance to turn it around. And, by thunder, will he owe them.
Manchester United are 1.70 to win at Aston Villa this weekend.
Read more from Unibet columnist Iain Macintosh.