David Moyes has been sacked as manager of Manchester United less than 12 months into his six-year contract, and it’s hard to disagree with the decision.
Sometimes, it can be far more difficult taking over a successful team that it is a struggling one. How, for instance, can anyone expect to fill the shoes of Sir Alex Ferguson? This is a man who ran the show at Old Trafford for the best part of 27 years, during which time he led the club to a period of almost relentless success, including a staggering 13 league titles, two European Cups, five FA Cups, four League Cups and a Cup-Winners’ Cup.
How can anyone follow that?
Put simply, you can’t. What Ferguson achieved during his time at Old Trafford in terms of longevity and success will never be repeated. Fortunately for those charged with even attempting to reproduce a fraction of this glory, not even the most ardent of United fans expects this kind of trophy collection to continue, let alone be replicated.
There are some expectations, though.
An attacking, entertaining style of football, for starters. A presence when addressing the media prior to matches, not the resemblance of a man unable to believe his luck at being placed at the head of the most successful club side in English football. The honesty to admit when something hasn’t worked, knowing full well that any blatant cover up will not go down well with the fans who pay to watch the football you instruct your team to play.
In one way or more, Moyes has failed with all of the above: all too often he has set his team up to deny the opposition, rather than taking the battle to them, and his media skills have left a lot to be desired, with many supporters quickly latching on to his way of letting everyone know his plans to ‘try and hopefully make life difficult’ for teams, even those visiting Old Trafford, the home of the champions. And when it hasn’t gone to plan, which has been on several occasions, he has tried to tell all those who witnessed it that his side impressed when, like at Anfield and Goodison Park, they clearly hadn’t.
But he may have gotten away with the above, been given more time to address these issues, had the results not been quite so dismal. Instead, United will finish the season with at least 11 defeats, and their lowest points tally of the Premier League era. The prospect of Champions League football being on the Old Trafford agenda has long gone, whilst they will miss out on European football altogether if, as seems likely, they finish seventh.
It gets worse.
This is the first time their big North West rivals Liverpool, Manchester City and Everton have all completed domestic doubles over the Reds, whilst Newcastle United have won at Old Trafford for the first time since 1972 and West Bromwich Albion for the first time since 1978, and Swansea City recorded their first ever win in the red half of Manchester when they dumped United out of the FA Cup at the third round stage.
As for the League Cup, an almost comical penalty shootout saw Sunderland progress to the final, although this at least saved Moyes from a possible defeat to City, which would have done him no favours with the support who, by this time, had begin to show signs of unrest. And in the Champions League, the dismal 2-0 defeat to Olympiakos was overturned at home, but this was a false dawn as Bayern Munich won over two legs in the last eight.
In defence of Moyes, he had little joy in the summer with his transfer targets, particularly as chief executive Ed Woodward was also getting to grips with his new role. Yet even so, the United boss wasted far too much time in pursuit of unrealistic targets, most notably Cesc Fabregas who was never going to leave Barcelona after spending so much of his latter time at Arsenal trying to engineer a return to his boyhood club.
He did manage to sign Marouane Fellaini, but even this was mismanaged. Knowing the Belgian had a release clause of a reported £22million, Moyes let this expire before paying £6million more to take the midfielder from his former club. His reason that he wanted to include Leighton Baines in the deal, and his belief he had a better chance of doing so with a double deal, left many an onlooker scratching their heads in bemusement.
As it turns out, Fellaini has had a hugely disappointing season in Manchester. Yet considering many of his team-mates have been equally poor, he deserves another chance to prove his worth. It can’t have been easy for the midfielder to come into a team clearly in transition, and maybe the absence of Moyes and the ‘teachers pet’ tag he has been associated with in regards to his former boss may yet turn out a blessing in disguise for him.
So, anything else?
Rumours of rifts with a number of players have been present throughout the season. Rio Ferdinand chooses the outlet of social media to leave cryptic messages of his displeasure, whilst his defensive colleague Nemanja Vidic was allowed to be photographed signing a pre-contract with Internazionale midway through the campaign. Despite his insistence that he is happy at Old Trafford, Robin van Persie – who Moyes admitted to ‘overtraining’ in pre-season – has clearly not been right for some time, Ryan Giggs has become increasingly marginalised both on and off the pitch, and reports on Sunday claimed that even Danny Welbeck, a boyhood fan of the club, wants a transfer during the summer.
Whilst Moyes can hardly be blamed for what is happening at the other end of the East Lancs, it doesn’t help that Liverpool are on the verge of winning a first league title since 1990. Ferguson once famously boasted that his finest moment was knocking the Anfield club off their perch, and it is quite unbelievable that within a year of his departure they are set to wrestle the title from Old Trafford without a hint of opposition from the champions.
Look hard enough, and there have been some plus points of the Moyes era. The emergence of Adnan Januzaj as one of the most promising talents in European football, for example. Or the continued improvement of David De Gea as a goalkeeper of genuine world class ability. The club record signing of Juan Mata, a player who is destined to play a key role for the club for years to come, is another. But can Moyes, genuinely, take any serious credit for any of this? Is his presence at the club solely responsible for Januzaj being given a first team opportunity he was due in any case? Will De Gea dedicate a chapter in his autobiography to the debt he owes Moyes and Chris Woods? Was Mata persuaded to leave Chelsea purely to play for Moyes, or was it instead the simple lure of Manchester United?
All things considered, Moyes cannot be blamed for accepting the United job. It is one of the most coveted jobs in world football, and will continue to be so despite a lack of elite European football. And he’s a decent, hard-working man, who undoubtedly tried his best to succeed the great Sir Alex Ferguson. Unfortunately for him, his best was nowhere near good enough, and the club had little option but to relieve him of his duties.