Moyes – Down and Out
Any last lingering doubts that David Moyes would continue as manager of Manchester United were quashed in one fell swoop, as the news broke this morning that the Scotsman would be relieved of his duties, just 10 months into a 6 year contract.
United fans were quietly confident when Moyes replaced the seemingly untouchable Sir Alex Ferguson less than a year ago. Since then, pretty much everything that could go wrong, did go wrong; but to what extent can David Moyes be held directly responsible for what has been a catastrophic season?
There were several key factors that made this season the worst in Manchester United’s Premiership history, not least of all, the tired looking squad of players that David Moyes inherited. From back to front, the Manchester United squad of August 2013 was weak. Both De Gea and Lindegaard look unconvincing in big games, while the back 4 continued to rely on players like Evra, Vidic and Ferdinand, who are well past their peak. Their famous midfield, once boasting the likes of a youthful Giggs, Keane, Scholes and Beckham; fell from grace, turning to Cleverly, Young, Nani and an ageing Carrick. In the striking department, they now cling to a want-away Van Persie, a hot & cold Rooney, and a bang average Danny Welbeck.
To think that Sir Alex Ferguson guided that ailing squad to the Premiership title by a margin of 11 points isn’t so much impressive as it is miraculous. Had Fergie stayed on another season, would he be able to replicate this feat? I sincerely doubt it. United had been on the decline for several years, arguably since around 2009 when world-beaters like Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez opted for pastures new. Any big signings since then (such as Van Persie) seemed to come out of desperation rather than as part of any great master-plan.
David Moyes took the reins after around five years of chronic under-investment. His first summer transfer window needed to be a whirlwind of inbound activity. Perhaps around five or six world-class players on the right side of 30 were required to inject new life into United; but as we all know, it didn’t pan out that way. Leighton Baines, Cesc Fabregas, Mesut Ozil and Robert Lewandowski were all targeted, but Moyes’ United couldn’t table a bid enough close enough to wrestle these top players away from their respective clubs. Was this the fault of Moyes? Or did the Manchester United hierarchy believe that Moyes could continue to run Fergie’s threadbare squad on fumes?
On transfer deadline day, Moyes delved into the transfer market to panic buy Marouane Fellani. In what proved to be a sign of things to come, the transfer was an expensive disaster. Fellani had served Moyes well at Everton, but since his £27.5m switch to Old Trafford, he’s looked clumsy, cumbersome, and out of his depth. Moyes could argue that if he’d been allocated a proper war-chest to turn the club around, he could have secured some of his A-list targets; but I doubt there’s anything he could say to defend the procurement of his one-paced afro-headed Belgian midfielder.
With the first transfer window being written off as a failure in the eyes of the concerned fan-base, the next judge of Moyes’ credentials would be his choice in players to trust and invest in. Moyes came under fire throughout the first half of the season for not giving Shinji Kagawa a regular start, particularly when Van Persie picked up an injury. An ever-changing back four also seemed to lead to a lack of stability, so much so that the team’s form began to suffer. Perhaps the club’s main sellable asset, Wayne Rooney, was misfiring too. He struggled for fitness, made noises about leaving the club, and managed a haul of just 17 goals across the whole season (just 1 goal off his worst ever for United). Rooney could have been sold. It’d have been no surprise if he commanded a transfer fee of £30-40m, which could have been used to fund a bid to secure a striker on the way up.
Instead, Rooney was offered a new 5-year contract, on a reported wage of £300,000 per week. Rooney understandably signed the contract, but his form didn’t noticeably improve. Instead of a waning Rooney on £300,000 per week, would the club’s needs have been better served by securing three top players on around £100,000 per week? Was Moyes in control during the Rooney contract talks? It’s hard to tell.
One thing Moyes didn’t have (because let’s face it, only one man does), was the Fergie factor. Sir Alex’s uncanny ability to turn average players into world beaters, to upset the most astronomical of odds, and to make players fight for him with every fibre of their being is what makes him arguably the greatest football manager ever. Moyes was never going to live up to Ferguson’s legacy, but the manner in which he failed in terms of getting his players to fight for him verged on embarrassing.
For whatever reason, Manchester United’s big players didn’t fight for Moyes in the same manner as they fought for his predecessor. Anytime a United side under Sir Alex lost, they’d go down with a roar. Under Moyes, all too often this season, they’ve gone down with a whimper.
As the manager of such an illustrious club, Moyes must shoulder some of the blame for losing 11 times in the league, but Gary Neville poignantly defended him today when he referred back to his own playing days.
Neville said: “When I think back to any time we lost a match at United, never once did I come off and think (about Sir Alex) ‘You lost us that one boss’.”
True enough, matches are won and lost with players, not managers. United’s sluggish squad can have few complaints about finishing behind Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal; but they should be asking serious questions of themselves when it comes to some of the losses they suffered against ‘lesser’ clubs.
With all due respect to these clubs, should Everton (home and away), Stoke, Sunderland, Swansea, Spurs, Newcastle, and West Brom all be recording fairly straightforward wins over the Champions of England? Manchester United are stronger than all of these sides on paper, but they’ve all beaten United this year. Either the manager has been wildly inept with his tactics, the players in red shirts were failing to give 100% for the team, or a combination of both.
The romantic notion of Manchester United staying true to the legacy of their most successful manager by allowing him to select another fiery Scottish manager as his replacement hasn’t panned out as planned, but in retrospect, it’s possible that Moyes’ sacking could be a mistake.
The United hierarchy gained many a plaudit for choosing Moyes over a big name foreigner, and were also praised for repeatedly defending Moyes’ disastrous run of results by alluding to the fact the club were going through a reconstructive period. Where now for that patience from the board?
It was only a year or so ago that Brendan Rodgers was being touted for the sack, now look at the transformation in his Liverpool side. The older Red Devils fans will remember Sir Alex’s woeful first season. Fergie’s neck was saved by a late goal to win the F.A Cup, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Would it have taken something as frivolous as an F.A Cup win to save Moyes? Could he have gone on to rack up 20 years or so of glory? We’ll never know now.
During his farewell speech Sir Alex famously addressed the fans, saying: “Your job now is to back our new manager…”
10 months on, it turns out that the fans, the players, and the hierarchy have all disobeyed Fergie’s instructions.
Today not only signals the end of David Moyes’ woeful time in the Old Trafford dugout; but it also signals the end of Manchester United’s long reign as the shining light of football clubs in Europe. The end of Moyes’ tenure will forever be pinpointed as the landmark moment when United steered away from the moralistic crusade of legacy building; and conformed to the hollow pursuit of financial gain through unscrupulous performances in bloated competitions where the wishes of the fans ebb ever further away from the ethos of the club.