If you cast your mind back to December, I’m sure you’ll remember the hatchet job that the press did on ex-Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas. The Daily Mail, in particular, seemed to make it their own personal crusade to ensure that the Portuguese was as discredited as possible.
One can, of course, understand why Villas-Boas was under pressure. The results weren’t coming, and to be frank, neither were the performances. However, in light of recent media coverage of a separate but very similar set of circumstances, I think we can see quite clearly that the media had a personal agenda against Villas-Boas.
The ‘very similar set of circumstances’ I am referring to is none other than the awful job that David Moyes is currently doing at Manchester United. Under Moyes’s leadership, United have endured their worst start to a Premier League season for around a quarter of a century. Under Moyes, United have lost to Everton at home for the first time in 21 years, lost to Newcastle at home for the first time in 41 years and lost to Swansea at home for the first time ever.
Their loss to Chelsea on Sunday was their seventh loss in the league this season. The last time they lost that amount in an entire season was four years ago, and there are still 16 games to go. Of their last 15 seasons, only three times have they lost seven or more games out of the 38 played. Of his 22 league games as Manchester United manager, Moyes has lost nearly a third.
Despite all of this, the English media has been going decidedly easy on David Moyes. No clear agendas to try and depose him from his job, no suggestions that perhaps he isn’t good enough. Instead, there has been excuse after excuse offered for his diabolical tenure so far. And, quite frankly, they’re all rubbish excuses. Let’s take a look at some of the most common and analyse their validity (here’s a clue, they don’t really have any):
1) “He inherited a flawed team.”
It may be true that United won the title last season on the back of other teams not performing as well as they should have. Nevertheless, United still won 28 out of 38 games whilst amassing a point tally of 89, a mere six shy of the record. A bad team simply would not be capable of such feats.
I am not suggesting that Moyes should be able to replicate last season’s performance – there are clear deficiencies in the squad after all – but those deficiencies cannot account for the spectacular fall from grace. Good players do not become borderline bad players over night, but this seems to have happened at United.
When we consider that the team Moyes has at his disposal is virtually the same team as last season’s, we must think about what else might have changed in order to result in this level of performance. Unfortunately, the answer is “almost everything else”, and aside from the chief executive officer (who has little impact on day-to-day footballing matters), all of those changes are Moyes’s doing.
Moyes made the decision to dispense with much of the coaching set up that had just helped United to comfortably win the league, replacing them with his own coaches from Everton. It seems obvious to me that this action has had a profound impact on the players. This is his fault, and his alone.
2) “He needs time to build a squad.”
If indeed Moyes believes that his current crop of players is not good enough (despite the fact that they won the league last year, blah blah blah), then why did he not make more of an effort to buy players to improve his squad last summer?
His first transfer window as United boss was an unmitigated disaster, with the Scot spending much of the summer chasing players around Europe who appeared to have zero intention of joining the club. In the end Moyes seemed to panic and bought Marouane Fellaini (for £3m more than he was available for earlier in the summer).
Moyes’ defence of his summer transfer policy goes something along the lines of, “I needed to get to know the players before deciding whether I needed to buy new ones”. Let’s be blunt: come off it Davey. Manchester United are one of the biggest clubs in the world, and I for one refuse to believe that Moyes has not watched those players week in week out. If he wasn’t able to ascertain whether they were good enough in the seasons before he joined United, then perhaps football management isn’t the right career for him.
So in summary, perhaps Moyes does need to build a new squad. But his failure to do so in the summer was his fault in the first place. This cannot be used as an excuse now that things have not gone to plan.
3) “He was following a great manager, he needs time.”
Yes, he was following a great manager in Alex Ferguson. But if United are a great club then surely they need a great manager, not a manager who could maybe be a great manager one day in the future?
The excuse that Moyes is following Ferguson and should therefore somehow be given a bye until he becomes a better manager is frankly absurd. Sure, Ferguson was one of the best managers ever, but so is Mourinho. So is Guardiola. So is Wenger. It’s not like there were no other managers available so they were forced to choose someone who was not that good. If you take the United job, you are expected to be good: that’s the long and short of it.
4) “All the clubs around United have improved.”
This is another truism that really can’t be used as an excuse for United’s poor performances. Yes, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City have improved. So what? Why does that mean that Moyes should be given more time? Why haven’t United improved?
The previously mentioned clubs have improved because a combination of people – managers, owners and players – have all done better at their jobs than they did before. United haven’t improved because their combination of people have performed worse than they did before. It’s not rocket science. Who is responsible for two thirds of that combination of people and how well they perform? Hand up, David Moyes.
5) “He needs time to learn the job.”
This is probably the excuse that bugs me the most, and when it’s paired with “Alex Ferguson nearly got sacked and they gave him time”, it makes my blood boil.
The ‘needs time’ excuse is erroneous for two reasons. Firstly, if he’s a manager who is good enough to manage Manchester United he shouldn’t need time. Imagine Mourinho taking over the champions and saying “I need time” – wouldn’t happen. Secondly, the ‘needs time’ excuse suggests that there is a reason to believe that Moyes will improve over time. History doesn’t provide us with any indication that that will be the case. He did well at Everton, but he hit a glass ceiling when he finished fourth two seasons after his arrival at Goodison, and never improved on that position in his following eight seasons. There are no indications that Moyes can vastly improve where United are at the moment.
Let’s also briefly touch on the comparisons with Fergie’s United tenure. It is true that Ferguson was under pressure after an underwhelming start at Old Trafford, but let’s be clear, the situations are not alike. When Ferguson took over United, they had not won the league for over ten years. When Moyes took over United, they had won the league five times in the last ten years. Ferguson had a much more difficult job than Moyes, which may account for his slightly difficult first few years in the job.
Furthermore, let’s not forget that Ferguson was already a winner when he joined Manchester United. He had won three Scottish Premier Division titles at a time when the league was a lot more competitive than it is now, as well as the Cup Winners Cup and the Super Cup. The only trophy David Moyes can boast is a Second Division title with Preston North End. I put it to you that aside from both being Scottish and both being football managers, there are precious few legitimate comparisons that can be made between David Moyes and Alex Ferguson.
6) “He’s had Rooney and van Persie injured.”
It is true that Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie have missed more games than Moyes would have liked, and also true that most teams in the world would miss players of their ability. However, it’s not an excuse for the mediocre football and miserable results currently coming out of Old Trafford.
Before his injury in November, Daniel Sturridge was one of the principal reasons why Liverpool were performing so well. When the English striker was sidelined did this give Liverpool a cast iron excuse to play badly? No. Did they play badly? No. Their other players stepped up to the plate and filled the void left by Sturridge. That’s what good players do, and that’s what good managers can facilitate. The fact that Moyes hasn’t been able to coax improved performances out of his uninjured players only serves to condemn him further.
In a way it’s rather sad to see people defending Moyes with this level of fervour. I have no ill feelings towards the guy, but it’s patently obvious that he currently isn’t good enough to be Manchester United manager. From the moment his tenure began, his decisions have been naïve, negative and, at times, frankly baffling. He has been poor in the transfer market, poor in the media and his side have been poor on the pitch. He had no credentials for a job of this magnitude in the first place, and so far, it doesn’t look like he has acquired any during his seven months in the job.
Perhaps the most damning way of defining Moyes’s reign so far would be to ask fans of opposition clubs whether or not they would like Moyes to keep his job at Old Trafford. I put it you that a staggeringly high percentage would say yes. Why? Because United under Moyes are a threat to nobody, and after over 20 years of dominance, it’s nice to see the giant fall.