Mata-Marouane: The Moyesian Odd Couple Nearing a United Redemption

ia for the old east. Seized with ostalgie, citizens of the new world found themselves tiring of the glories of capitalism, with its treacly soft drinks, unfettered access to soft-rock music and a natureless ecstasy of identical consumer products; and yearning instead for the old certainties of communism, the gulag and mass-produced cardboard trousers.


As recently as last year a majority of Romanians said they missed the murderous despot Nicolae Ceausescu. Presumably, again, because you knew where you stood and the statues were nice.

It goes to show you can miss anything if you really want to. With exceptions of course. For example there are to date no documented examples of what social scientists might call “Moyestalgia”, which is defined as nostalgia for the events and personnel of David Moyes’s time in charge of Manchester United over 10 grippingly doomed months between July 2013 and April 2014.

I think I know why this is. I think it’s because it was a terrible time when nothing good happened.

But for the neutral there is still something grippingly cinematic about the basic category-mistake of Moyes at United, a man not so much out of his depth as tossed and tumbled head over heels in a vast tide of industrial-scale confusion. Squint and you can still just about see his pale, frazzled ghost wandering about on the touchline, still looking like a doomed wedding cake figurine in his sad blue suit, shouting at shadows, pointing at things that never happened, feeling the ground beneath his shiny little shoes shift and fall away.

At the end of which there is a still a chance to take a different memory from this. On the face of it José Mourinho’s current title contenders have almost nothing in common with the brown-paper-and-string stylings of the Moyes succession. From De Gea to Lukaku, through Bailly-Jones-Pogba-Matic and the controlled creativity of Rashford-Martial this second-season team has a classic Mourinho spine in place, those powerful interlocking units that have marked his most successful moments.

Almost nothing, but not quite. In the last few weeks it has been fascinating to see a couple of Moyesian hangovers integrated into the machine. Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata were the only players signed under Moyes. Even at the time they seemed oddly mismatched, evidence in their silhouettes alone of a certain confusion. On the one hand an awkward, angular midfield wardrobe. On the other a technician whose entire career has been a triumph of vision and skill over his own slight physique.

In the years since both players have been a little bruised and marginalized. Mata and Fellaini are both 29 now and in the last year of their contracts. No other player has come to United for that much money and stayed for this long without winning a league title (even Juan Sebastián Verón got one of those). For all the good moments, they are still on some level, a part of the unforgiven.

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