Another day, another demoralising, depressing and thoroughly expected loss for Manchester United under David Moyes.
The champions’ loss at home to Liverpool was their ninth of the season and has all but condemned them to the harsh reality of a season outside of the Champions League next year. It will be the first time that United have failed to qualify for Europe’s premier cup competition since 1995 and the days when only the first-placed team was granted qualification.
It goes without saying that this is simply not good enough. More or less the same squad won the league at a canter last season, and whilst it is generally recognised that the squad needed some overhauling, there is simply no accounting for such woeful deterioration.
One of Moyes’ chief excuses for United’s ineptitude in the first half of the season was that he did not have his first choice side available to him. With Juan Mata, Adnan Janujaz and Wayne Rooney behind Robin van Persie, Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini in midfield and Patrice Evra, Rafael, Nemanja Vidic and Phil Jones in defence, this was United’s first choice side. This was the side that has cost £182 million in transfer fees alone. This was the side who were a distant second best to Liverpool.
What Sunday’s game proves beyond any doubt is that without the correct tactical approach, motivation and psychological self-belief, it doesn’t matter if you have some of the very best players in the world, you’re not going to win. It could easily be argued that on paper, Liverpool’s front three are no better than United’s, but on the pitch they were poles apart. With only one shot on target in the whole 90 minutes, United were as toothless as they have been all season.
Despite this latest embarrassment, there are still vast swathes of the British media trying to make excuses for David Moyes. I’m afraid that the time for excuses drifted away a long time ago. If you were still making excuses for Moyes at Christmas time, then how do you feel now that he has spent nearly £40m on Juan Mata and played him out of position in nearly every game? How do you feel now that the club captain has been photographed joyously signing for another club? How do you feel now that Champions League qualification is beyond the club, despite them having swept to the Premier League crown with an 11-point cushion last term?
Dress it up however you want: this has been a dire, dire season for Manchester United. Why has it been so dire? David Moyes’ apologists would have you believe one (or a combination) of the following:
1) United weren’t actually a good side last year and only won because Chelsea and City were awful
2) Ed Woodward’s ‘work’ in the transfer market meant that Moyes couldn’t get the reinforcements he wanted
3) It is the players who are to blame
Whilst there is probably truth in all of those statements, the fact of the matter is that David Moyes is the man in charge. This is his fault. He may have inherited a squad that he didn’t think was that good, but the fact that he has already spent £64 million in two windows indicates that significant funds have been made available for him to strengthen his side. Woodward’s work may not have been perfect, but last summer, Moyes was clearly the man identifying players who would never have gone to Old Trafford. It is undoubtedly true that the players aren’t playing well on the pitch, but again, it is Moyes who is in charge of training, coaching and briefing those players.
The truth of the matter is that whilst United are underachieving, David Moyes isn’t. The reason I say this is that Moyes doesn’t belong at a club like Manchester United. At Everton, Moyes had found his level. At United, he is woefully out of his depth, and whilst it is embarrassing to watch, the Scot is merely doing what he is capable of doing. His years at Everton should have given no one the impression that he was ready (or would ever be ready) for a job of this magnitude, and it is entirely unsurprising that the appointment has been an abject failure.
The question now is whether or not United are prepared to accept that they got the wrong man. With Champions League qualification all but gone, the club will find it much harder to attract the players they need to get back to the top table. They will need to offer massive transfer fees and wages in lieu of the lure of the Champions League. In short, United will now need to undergo a rebuilding operation, and the question is whether they trust Moyes to be the man at the helm of that operation. On the evidence of his tenure so far, there is absolutely no reason why they should.
On Wednesday, David Moyes faces the biggest game of his United career. The Red Devils welcome Olympiakos to Old Trafford seeking to overcome a two-goal deficit and reach the Champions League quarterfinals. With the hope of qualifying for next year’s competition through league position all but gone, United’s only chance is to win the competition. This is almost certain too tall an order for Moyes and his men, but it represents their only hope.
If they fail to progress on Wednesday night, the sensible thing for United to do would be to admit that Moyes was the wrong appointment, cut their losses and begin the recruitment process. The question will be whether United – having so vehemently stood by their man – will be able to accept that the appointment was a failure or not. If they don’t, this relatively minor blip under David Moyes could well prove to be just the beginning of an undignified and embarrassing slide.
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