Following Wednesday night’s defeat at home to Everton, Manchester United fans should now be under no illusions – their side has gone backwards since the appointment of David Moyes.
Moyes’s side were simply outplayed at home to the Toffees, and to add salt to the wound for the Scot, this was Everton’s first win away at a traditional ‘Big Four’ club for 12 years. Whilst Moyes was applauded for the work he did at Everton, this was a feat he failed to accomplish during his entire tenure at Goodison Park, and yet his successor Roberto Martinez has succeeded at only the second time of asking.
Now, surely, alarm bells must be ringing at Manchester United. There has been plenty of talk about the necessity of giving Moyes time, and understandably so; but one must wonder how long the United board will be prepared to accept such a low standard of performance from the Premier League champions. It is one thing to accept that the Ferguson to Moyes transition may well result in failing to win the title for a couple of years; but to accept that the most successful club in English football history may not qualify for the Champions League is another proposition entirely. Because – make no mistake – that’s where they seem to be headed.
The Red Devils now lie in ninth; 12 points adrift of league leaders Arsenal and five points shy of the top four. Whilst five points is not necessarily an insurmountable gap, every poor performance lessens the chances of David Moyes’ side competing in Europe’s premier cup competition next season.
For Manchester United, that simply is not good enough. For a start, a club like Manchester United should be in the Champions League. They are one of Europe’s biggest clubs and for them not to be doing battle with Europe’s elite would represent a significant step backwards. The pride that has been such a fundamental characteristic of Old Trafford would diminish; and Moyes would be responsible for United well and truly losing their mojo.
However, it’s not just the notion of pride and the immeasurable ‘they should be there’ feeling that necessitates United qualifying for the Champions League, but rather the fact that failure to qualify for the competition could have unalterable effects on the future of the club. United rely on Champions League money as a significant revenue stream, and would no longer have the same financial muscle if they weren’t in the competition. In turn, this would weaken their ability to buy the best players; thus propagating their non-involvement in the competition.
Furthermore, if United were not in the Champions League, players would be far less inclined to sign for them; and given that Moyes had difficulty convincing any players that they should come and play for him last summer (apart from one from his old club, who so far is putting in a compelling case for worst signing of the season), one has to think that signing the crème de la crème of footballers would be even more difficult for him if he could not offer them Champions League football.
The trouble for United is that it’s not like they can point to one thing and say, “that’s where we’re going wrong; fix that and we’re sorted”. There is a lot wrong with this Manchester United side, and unfortunately, given the ease with which they romped to the title under Ferguson, the blame (or at least a significant part of it) for this has to be attached to David Moyes.
Rather than there being one identifiable reason for United’s poor performances this season, there are many, and ultimately that’s the problem. Moyes has simply made too many mistakes so far, and unfortunately they haven’t been easily rectifiable. Perhaps one of the most glaring of these errors was to dispose of a number of coaches who had just won the title and bring in his own who had won…nothing. This was not a decision that should have been made lightly, and one would have thought that Moyes would have the sense to listen to the advice of his predecessor, who urged him to change very little.
Nevertheless, if this had been the only mistake Moyes had made, then United would most likely be in a better position than they are now. What followed the decision to bring in his own coaches was an embarrassingly poor transfer policy, failure to get players through the door, paranoid comments about the Premier League draw, the signing of Marouane Fellaini for way more than he was worth and publicly stating that he saw Wayne Rooney as backup to Robin van Persie (he’s kind of got away with that one).
These were the mistakes made by Moyes before his team even really got going on the pitch. Once on the pitch, United have been largely insipid, uninspiring and cautious to the point of being boring. Their revival in recent weeks has been more down to the incredible form of Wayne Rooney than the performance of the team as a whole, and as was seen on Wednesday, it was something of a false dawn.
At present, David Moyes is not good enough to be Manchester United manager for the simple reason that the Manchester United manager cannot afford to make the amount of mistakes that Moyes has been allowed to make. The way he has transformed a team that won the league by 11 points into an average mid-table outfit is nothing short of remarkable. Some of those who have defended Moyes have made the point that the fact that United won the title so easily last season is a testament to the brilliance of Sir Alex Ferguson, and they’re right. But what that theory doesn’t mention is that built into that statement is an admittance that David Moyes is nowhere near the managerial calibre of Ferguson.
You may not expect him to be as good as Ferguson, but you’d at least expect him to be close. Why else would United appoint him? Saying “It’s not Moyes’ fault, he’s just not as good as Ferguson” misses the point really – why has he been appointed if he isn’t in the same league as Ferguson? It’s not like Moyes was the only option available to United; almost any manager in the game would jump at the chance to manage Manchester United, so theoretically they had the pick of the bunch.
Of course we all know why David Moyes was given the job at Old Trafford – he was selected for the job by none other than Sir Alex himself. Ferguson clearly saw something of himself in his fellow Scot; but whatever it is, we haven’t seen it yet. Although there is a sense in which the sentimentality of letting a retiring manager pick the new one is appealing, ultimately it’s a very risky recruitment policy, and based on the Old Trafford case study, it’s not necessarily a good idea.
What Ferguson clearly failed to take into account when recommending Moyes to the United board is that football is fundamentally different from when he started out at the club. Whilst Ferguson was afforded a couple of seasons to put his stamp on Manchester United, it seems unlikely that Moyes will be given the same luxury. It may be the club’s intention to stick with him through thick and thin, but ultimately, the money at stake in the game means that a dearth of trophies and Champions League football lasting anymore than a year or so is unthinkable.
Plenty of people were skeptical of Moyes’ appointment from day one. He had done a decent job with Everton, with very little money, but he simply didn’t have the gravitas that one would expect from a candidate for the United job. Given that David Gill suggested that European experience was a prerequisite for Ferguson’s replacement, it seems that Moyes was appointed against the better judgement of the United board. They trusted Ferguson, and understandably, given the success he has delivered them over the years. However, it seems likely that members of the United board may well now be ruing that decision and contemplating whether or not Alex Ferguson’s last decision at Manchester United could turn out to be his worst.