By Liam Twomey
When Ryan Giggs arrived at Carrington as a 40-year-old for the first time on Friday, his every move brought light-hearted reminders of the milestone.
Vintage modelling shots and product-wielding posters of the winger in his fleet-footed and fresh-faced youth lined almost every wall, while sniggering team-mates sporting Giggs masks each presented him with an individual gift – including, as a smiling David Moyes revealed in a subsequent press conference, a coach’s watch.
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Ever since his arrival, Moyes has made a conscious effort to bring a lighter touch to the Manchester United manager’s job. Although the intensity of training sessions has increased under the direct observation of the Scot – with a greater focus on the running and endurance which characterised his Everton teams and has irked star striker Robin van Persie – the general atmosphere is more relaxed.
Many of the players no longer feel as if they are participating in the silent auditions formerly run by Mike Phelan and Rene Meulensteen while Sir Alex Ferguson watched, inscrutable, from a distance. Moyes will pause sessions to provide regular feedback, both positive and negative. He even encourages the occasional laugh and joke by including himself in some of the drills.
The new boss is already popular and respected, even if he cannot match the peerless authority and prestige of Ferguson, while some of his coaching additions have also been well-received. David De Gea in particular has let it be known he appreciates the fresh ideas brought in by Chris Woods, Eric Steele’s summer replacement, and has been impressively consistent this season, while former Everton No.2 Steve Round continues to provide the quiet counsel in the manager’s ear.
In general though, Moyes has allowed himself to be guided on the historic traditions and systems of the institution he has joined. There have been no Di Canio-esque attempts at revolution. United still travel to away matches in club suits and eat the same food in the canteen. Nor have there been any thrown teacups or ‘hairdryers’ – even after September’s derby humiliation to Manchester City the players were left to stew in silence – with Moyes perhaps mindful of the need to preserve tentative alliances.
Meanwhile, the Scot’s deft and conciliatory handling of the Wayne Rooney saga has turned a potential crisis into a masterstroke. The revitalised 28-year-old has notched 10 goals and 15 assists in 18 matches for United this season and, while his precarious contract situation has yet to be resolved, he is once again justifying his mammoth wages and marquee status by carrying the team.
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The departure of Fellaini, combined with Moyes’ misguided comments suggesting new boss Roberto Martinez should “do what was right for the players” and sell to United, have stirred up hostility comparable to that felt in the Blue half of Merseyside in the aftermath of Joleon Lescott’s acrimonious move to City in August 2009.
Everton have won six of their nine meetings with City since that transfer, often triumphing by virtue of greater intensity and aggression, and the presence of Moyes in the Old Trafford dugout and Fellaini on the pitch on Wednesday evening will arm them with a similar kind of motivation.
Martinez has also transformed the Toffees’ style of play almost beyond recognition, while the presence of loanees Romelu Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu affords him two exciting young weapons Moyes would have prized in his own time at Goodison Park. He knows it would be folly to prepare a tactical plan to face the Everton he built, for that team no longer exists.
But Moyes will back himself and his team regardless. He is a product of Everton – tireless, good-natured and self-deprecating – but when the masks are removed he is Manchester United manager, and all that entails.
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