To be an effective football manager, one must at all times and in all circumstances be capable of opening one's mouth and knowing that the right words will fall out of it. And to be an effective football manager, one must come to terms with the fact that the right words are, sometimes, wrong.
Jose Mourinho did not think that Eidur Gudjohnsen was a blond Maradona. Alex Ferguson, though correct in the abstract, knew that Juan Sebastian Veron had not been playing "f*cking good" let alone "f*cking great". And Brendan Rodgers, as he admires both Jordan Henderson and his own handling of Jordan Henderson, does so in the knowledge that he spent a fair part of the summer trying to flog the funny-gaited revelation to Fulham.
Bullsh*t. Nonsense and cant, drivel and bullsh*t. Lies, if you like. But good lies; lies with a purpose, lies with a point. Lies that serve to let everybody hearing them know that this person, saying the silly things, is entirely convinced in their own mind that they are the greatest manager in the world. So great a manager are they, in fact, that reality and the fundamental way of things must bend to their will, to their utterances, and not the other (more traditional) way around. Truth is petty, and is for losers.
So, Liverpool do not come to Old Trafford as favourites. They may, of course, come to Old Trafford as a team in form, come to Old Trafford playing excellent football, come to Old Trafford with a team of twelve-foot robots with laser eyes and tungsten shinpads and shiny sharp teeth, to face a midfield staffed by a rabbit, a scarecrow and a pass completion percentage. But they do not come to Old Trafford as favourites. To assert otherwise is to misunderstand everything important.
And Manchester United do not aspire to be like Manchester City. Even when City are doing all the things that United should be doing: playing slick, incisive, alluring football; scoring goals for fun; sweeping inferior sides out of their path with insulting ease. United may aspire to haughtily ignore City as being entirely unworthy of their attention. They may aspire to crush them beneath their boots. They may aspire to lay waste to their works, raze their stadium to the ground, salt the earth and raise a blood-red flag above every building in Manchester. But United do not aspire to be like City. To assert otherwise is to misunderstand everything important.
There is, of course, more to being a world-class manager than sounding like one. Empty promises score no goals. Players are not motivated solely through post- and pre-game press conferences, and tactics and training are best done with facts rather than fibs. Teams frequently fail to live up to their manager's boldness, after all. But it's rare to find a team whose performances regularly exceed their manager's crippling modesty.
Looking at the nil-threes at the feet of them and them, perhaps the saddest aspect isn't the scorelines, much as they were miserable. Perhaps it's the performances, and the still-unusual-though-getting-more-usual-by-the-week manner in which United contrived to lose. They did not collapse, they did not fall to pieces, they did not vanish in a shower of inexplicable and miserable regrets. Instead they turned up, were held at arms length by palpably superior opponents, and spent a long 90 minutes swinging their arms around like a tired toddler trying to land one on an amused adult. And then they got spanked, and throughout that spanking, looked exactly like a team who knew that they weren't good enough.
There are two ways of coping with a job that exceeds your capacities: raise your game, or lower expectations. Make yourself bigger, or make it smaller. Maybe the former's nothing more than a confidence trick, but if it works then it works, and it makes everything else easier. Certainly, it's got to be more productive than persistent meekness, than self-diagnosed (and so perhaps self-inflicted) inferiority. At the moment, every time David Moyes opens his mouth he sounds like a man who doesn't know how to be a Manchester United manager, who doesn't think of himself as a Manchester United manager, who doesn't even know what being a Manchester United manager means, and so is trying to make the job smaller until he can see it all. Perhaps it's just as well for him that he didn't have to go through anything like an interview before being awarded the job.
"How would you approach significant home games against Liverpool and Manchester City?"
"Well, I'd probably welcome the former to Old Trafford as favourites, and ensure I told the nation how much I aspired to create a team in the image of the latter."
"... we'll let you know."
This may not be the most important flaw in Moyes. The whispers coming out of Old Trafford speak of plenty more: dissatisfaction with training; contempt for coaches; all the usual creaks and moans of a collection of footballers that aren't having any fun. But it is by some distance both the most obvious and irritating, it is perhaps the most unnecessary, and it may even be the most telling. For all it would take to correct it would be the knowledge — even if it's wrong knowledge, which may be bad philosophy but good psychology — that United is the biggest and baddest and bestest club in the world, and so United's manager must also be the biggest and baddest and bestest. Moyes, condemned by his own mouth, does not believe the latter. And while it's doubtless not just him, he's certainly doing all he can to make the former a nonsense as well.