From first to nowhere in less than a year

March 26, 2014 Tags: , Opinion 34 comments
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One bad season does not equal a trend. It is an observation worth remembering as Manchester United’s campaign inevitably unravels over the next fortnight. Yet, it was not so much the Reds’ 10th defeat of an embarrassing Premier League campaign that hurt on Tuesday night, but the way United capitulated to Manchester City at Old Trafford. It is as if all dignity has been lost amid chaotic tactics and an identity now totally absent.

The blame for United’s disintegration this year is myriad, and hotly debated by supporters, but while David Moyes says he is at the club for the long-term, contingency plans must now be in place for the Scot’s dismissal. It would be so remiss of United’s board not to plan for Moyes’ exit that it is impossible for serious consideration not to be given.

This is true despite Sir Bobby Charlton’s claims this week that he is “absolutely certain” Moyes is the right man for the United job. “It doesn’t mean we are going to change everything,” said the club ambassador.

Yet, in Florida the Glazer family is reportedly waiting on supporter reaction before making a call on Moyes’ future. The Scot may blame himself for United’s decline, but an increasingly large section of United’s supporter base does too.

“I take responsibility for the team, I always will do,” said Moyes, with United having taken just seven points from 13 games against the Premier League’s top nine.

“I thought it would be a tough year for us, but I hoped it would be much more competitive and closer to the top of the league than we are.”

Moyes’ potential dismissal is reality not because United’s decline is already terminal, despite some of the nation’s more hyperbolic media analysis, but that the board cannot afford it to become so. While Sir Alex Ferguson left a squad in decline, and the Glazer family has failed to suitably invest in the team over the past nine years, Moyes’ ability to manage the scenario is patently absent.

In fact Moyes has failed in each area of his remit from strategic transfer planning, to staff and player management, through to tactics; increasingly the former Everton manager appears out of his depth and seeking only to buy time.

“Most people understand that this is something that’s going to take a bit of time to alter,” claimed Moyes. “It’s not going to change dramatically in the short time between now and the end of the season.”

It is a strategy built on a hope alone, one that does not guarantee better performances.

Indeed, United’s comprehensive defeat at home to City concluded four reverses in fixtures against the club’s biggest rivals this season. The Blues also won at the Etihad in September, while Liverpool has secured two victories over the Reds in the Premier League. Tuesday’s reverse was the season in microcosm – ineffective players labouring in a tactical mess entirely of Moyes’ own making.

In this it is easy to ask for time; time for Moyes to build his own team and to recreate United in his own image. It is effortless to blame United’s players for unforgivably poor performances levels. There is merit in both arguments.

Yet, with each new humiliating defeat the former is less attuned to logic, and more to nostalgic hope, while the latter – and the reported £150 million transfer fund – is questionable in Moyes’ hands. Dangerous even given what the Scot has done with more than £75 million spent on Marouanne Fellaini and Juan Mata to date.

Each was prominent in derby day defeat, although not in the manner supporters might hope. Fellaini’s inadequacies were highlighted once again – a player too sluggish and lacking in basic technique to ever reach the class expected at a club of United’s stature.

Not that Moyes has a plan for Fellaini’s improvement. After all, while the Belgian has disappointed from a deep-lying central midfield role at United this season, the only genuine alternative is to deploy the 25-year-old in an advanced position, and resort to the kind of percentage football Moyes knows best.

“He’s not been great, has he? You have to admit that,” was Paul Scholes’ damning indictment of United’s recruit from Everton.

“He did have problems with his wrist and I know he missed a lot of games but, for the money they paid for him, I’d be expecting a lot more, to be honest with you. For a central midfielder at Manchester United for £27 million, I’m expecting a few goals.”

Meanwhile, Mata is a shadow of the player who scored 19 times for Chelsea last season. Largely deployed from wide areas since his arrival in January, the Spaniard’s confidence already appears shot.

Moreover, Mata is increasingly ineffective; an observation that says more about how the £37 million playmaker is deployed than the player’s essential quality. After all, while Mata completed 57 passes against City, less than a third were in attacking areas of the pitch. The Spaniard, who is yet to score for United, took just two shots on goal.

The player’s role on the right wing against City was just part of the tactical mess foisted on United by Moyes. The Scot’s bizarre decision to use three central midfielders was born of an essential truth that City’s quality in midfield is superior.

Yet, the rejig served only to undermined United’s defensive shape, while reducing the team to a strategy of counter-attack. That Yaya Touré and Fernandinho dominated United’s trio anyway is the sad irony in Moyes’ cautious approach.

Of course, the Scot can take some credit for a reworking United’s shape in the second half, where Shinji Kagawa offered greater balance than the much maligned Tom Cleverley. Yet, even this served only to underline the error United’s coach made in the first place.

It was ever thus this season, where United has so often been reduced to a reactive strategy built on neither nuance, nor sophistication. It is a team without an identity.

Nor did the half-time change bring United back into the game as an attacking force, even if the defensive balance improved. United simply avoided a beating even more humiliating than the one handed down by Manuel Pellegrini’s title challengers.

In this there is a wider commentary on Moyes’ ambition. In the aftermath the Scot confirmed he is yet to truly understand the club – a misunderstanding of United’s leading role in the football community. One underlined by the club’s 11 point margin of victory in last season’s Premier League.

“I think we’ve played a very good side and it’s the sort of standard and level we need to try and aspire to get ourselves to,” said the 50-year-old.

“I think we need to play better. We’re needing to come up a couple of levels at the moment and we’re not quite there.”

It is an aspiration – to be more like City – that few United fans can stomach. This coming from a manager who has seemingly run last season’s champion club into the ground.

One bad season does not equal a trend, but it can quickly become so. After all, it has taken Moyes less than a year to preside over significant decline. The worst season in 25 years.


Deepak - March 26, 2014 Reply

Is there any technical way to find out how much Round/Neville are responsible for the fuck ups United have been churning out?

Hashim Mustafa - March 26, 2014 Reply

spot on. You can see JM/MP/Martinez all implement their philosophy on their team. DM has implemented his too. Negativity

Hashim Mustafa - March 26, 2014 Reply

saying he needs more time is a farcical statement. All season we have played poorly and in fact getting worse

Hashim Mustafa - March 26, 2014 Reply

and things will only change once the fans start voicing their disapproval. Saturday would be a good start

Alistair - March 26, 2014 Reply

Great post.. completely agree with you about the tactical mess Moyes has created this season. I counted at least 4 different suffles of the midfield last night (hardly likely to instill confidence in players)
i also dont understand his reluctance to play the same midfield for more than one game.. what was wrong with the midfield that won us the game against Oympiakos last week? Fletcher is a far better player than Fellaini but only plays every 3rd game…. WTF?
Moyes – His tactics are bobbins and he hasn’t got a Scooby DOOO

Gaurav - March 26, 2014 Reply

to say SAF left a squad in decline is a stretch. 7-8 players < 25. Very few players in the 25-30 bracket might be the issue

steven milliken - March 26, 2014 Reply

at what stage do the board realise that Moyes has lost the major support and act ,the Moyes in camp are very few now #rantcast

steven milliken - March 26, 2014 Reply

over 2 games against city this season we have lost 7-1 let that sink in for a minute

Richard Hadfield - March 26, 2014 Reply

Did you have to make him look so glorious? 🙁

United1961 - March 26, 2014 Reply

When are the fans going to show some balls and send out a message to the Glazers. The only thing these people understand is money. Boycott season ticket renewals and sponsors goods. Most importantly SHOUT. IT FROM THE ROOFTOPS!!!
Media will love it

David - March 26, 2014 Reply

100% in agreement with you mate, ever since the Glazers took control of our club we have been screwed left right and centre.I blame Fergie for much of this situation, he should have demanded more transfer monies from the Florida scumbags and in this respect he has a lot to answer for. Our overall net transfer spend over the last few years is a disgrace, we have been overtaken in the transfer market by our ‘allegedly’ main rivals and we are now paying the price for this lack of QUALITY in vestment in the squad. Equally the fans are paying the price for their meekness when the Glazers took over, we have been like lambs to the slaughter and look where we are now. I will tell you this, it will take f……years for us to get back to where we were as a club, the wonderful irony is the Glazers will be sweating on the team’s form and faced with having to pay over the odds for any new signings, dont forget lads other clubs can smell blood and they will take great pleasure in screwing our current owners for every last penny . Not quite finished, all the commercial deals which have been secured over the last few years can start to look a bit thin with a team who failing so miserably on the pitch.

mongoletsti - March 26, 2014 Reply

You know what? I actually feel sorry for Moyes.

He’s come into the club and decided to make his own mark, do things his way.

But a sensible man wouldn’t have simply installed a new system in place of one that actually worked.

Subterranean Steve - March 26, 2014 Reply

Moyes has got us into a great big hole and his only solution is to keep on digging.

Ichiro - March 26, 2014 Reply

Moyes had two full transfer windows already. Why does he deserve another one?

Lucas_mutd - March 27, 2014 Reply

Roy Keane hit the nail on the head when he said that the Glazers’ cutting corners had caught up with United. Fergie was able to achieve much just by the force of his personality, and frankly any other top manager would struggle to replace him. But to expect a mediocre manager like Moyes win titles at United is showing too much optimism.

Moyes has shown time and again this season that he is tactically naive. Forget winning, a manager who can’t even draw against the best of teams is not going to improve his game suddenly if he is given $100M to buy new players.

A world-class player like Mata is being mismanaged by Moyes and our performance and results continue to prove that. We are in for a severe hiding at the hands of Bayern Munich. Perhaps then, the Glazers will wake up and sack Moyes.

united1961 - March 27, 2014 Reply

I admit that I have been one of the worst culprits in assuming the lineup Moyes picks is directly related to the result. The lineup Moyes picks is actually immaterial to the result.
The results under Moyes are directly related to the quality of the opposition. We lose against good teams and win against bad, hence the lack of draws.
Second point the Moyes apologists keep on harping on about the importance of time and continuity.The most succesful teams in Europe over the last 15 years, apart from United, have been Barca, AC, Juventus, Bayern, Chelsea and Real Madrid. How many of these teams in that era have had a manager that has lasted more than 3 seasons? Renewal of ideas is the key to success. As Moyes has no ideas I don’t know where he fits in. If you want another example of continuity running its course look at Wenger
Just to get revenge on the shambles Ferguson has left I suggest we hire Benitez with Roy Keane as his assistant. I would like to see the look on his face then!

Ed - March 27, 2014 Reply

It’s a very good point on continuity. Managers remain in the job if they achieve success; success is not correlated to time in the role. If there’s data to prove the opposite I’ve never seen it.

Damian Garside - March 27, 2014 Reply

Just love the idea of ‘united1961″ that we employ people just to irritate Ferguson (Lord Hairdryer). he has a stand named after him, so why does he need an office at OT? Surely he could do with a locker, a pigeon hole or a cardboard box. Oh, and as for Bobby Charlton being absolutely convinced that Moyes is the right man for the job — how long was it that he was absolutely convinced that he needed to play football with that absurd comb-over? city smashed us at home… my big question to those calling the shots at OT is … why are you still talking? (Oh, by “shots” I don’t mean shots at goal — apparently there were hardly any of those against the noisy neighbours whose supreme achievements we now must emulate.

Mongoletsi - March 27, 2014 Reply

Bravo sir, bravo

Mark Smith - March 27, 2014 Reply

No pace. No power. Little quality. Pedestrian and predictable – disgrace to wear the shirts – tactically inept manager.

Julian - March 27, 2014 Reply

Just what did DM have in his CV that made him remotely suitable for this job? If you look on the internet about what Everton fans were saying shortly after his appointment, whilst they were grateful for what he did in terms of saving them from relegation or whatever, they weren’t exactly praiseworthy of the style of play he instilled at Everton nor the tactics he employed. Now since Martinez has taken over more criticism has come to the fore, not only from fans but from one or two players – notably Barkley. Former youth coach Kevin Sheedy has gone on record saying that DM had no real interest in the youth side. A bit harsh perhaps that last one, but collectively it indicates how unsuited Moyes is for the United job. He’s a decent guy but he simply does not have the winning personality nor the experience and tactical nous to firstly maintain and now to restore United’s greatness. There’s therefore little chance of things coming right and the notion that he needs more time and in Keane’s words “deserves it” what’s more, is a lot of nonsense. Quite clearly a mistake has been made and the quicker it is rectified, the better.

Todd - March 27, 2014 Reply

Perhaps Moyes’ appointment by SAF is due to some long held grudge he had against him. He must have known how Moyes tactics would not fit in at United and that the fans (followed eventually by the board) would react. Since SAF always does what is right for the club then it would make sense that hiring Moyes would lead to a horribly pathetic season meaning that the board would realize how much the squad needed to be changed and result in a massive transfer allotment.
Of course, it could just be that SAF knows nothing about appointing other managers and should have left it up to someone else.

Mongoletsi - March 27, 2014 Reply

SAF didn’t want anybody to come in straight away and succeed 😉

Ashwin Rajaram - March 27, 2014 Reply

nothing changes Unless the match-going fans start to revolt openly

The Red Devil - March 27, 2014 Reply

The whole appointment of Moyes was baffling at the beginning at this season has only confirmed every fear we had about him.

If you were to compile a list of ten boxes you’d want ticking in a Man Utd manager, Moyes ticks perhaps one or two (he’s managed a Premier League side and he’s a stable sort who won’t head off to pastures new after a couple of seasons).

He needs to be sacked. He was given his chance by the board, us fans gave him a chance but he continues to blow it week after week and some of the crap that comes out of his mouth these days is simply indigestible.

Fintan Keane - March 27, 2014 Reply

excellent and fair. No room for cognitive dissonance anymore!

Horace Cooper - March 27, 2014 Reply

I can’t believe the negativity of the posts here… I myself still think that United have a chance of winning the league this season… they just need to go on a run… I’ve also put a large bet on United winning the FA cup in may… The bookmaker thought it was funny, but the fucker wont be laughing if United win it, as I stand to win a shitload of money.

Mongoletsi - March 28, 2014 Reply


The Ginger Warrior - April 17, 2014 Reply

How’d that go…

Denton Davey - March 28, 2014 Reply

I’m no fan of DitheringDave, but consider this:

“This was Sevilla’s sixth league win in a row: not even the Juande Ramos side, the most successful in the club’s history, boasted a run that good. Their president Pepe Castro admits that after a complete overhaul in the summer – fourteen players in, eighteen players out, “barbaric” in Castro’s words – they are ahead of schedule. European football was the target but perhaps not just yet. Now they’re fifth, just six points off a Champions League place. This year Sevilla are in Europe only because, having finished ninth, Rayo and Málaga were not allowed to take up their European places on financial grounds.”

Mongoletsi - March 28, 2014 Reply

Davey! You’re back! Missed you man 🙂

Denton Davey - March 28, 2014 Reply

Mongoletsi – cheers, M8.

I’ve been in Mexico – so I could read the blathering disgust with TheMoyessiah but couldn’t log-in which is, I suppose, quite fortunate for you/Alf and my other fans.

My overall assessment of the rolling disaster will have to wait a few days for me to un-wind and get used to Toronto’s appalling late winter horror-show – it’s not exactly like being by the sea-side in 30 degree weather.

The Ginger Warrior - April 17, 2014 Reply

For me I think Fergie had picked Moyes a long time ago when he was a good up and comer at Preston then Everton. At that time he was a standout young manager with different tactical ideas, unfortunately he stayed too long at Everton and became too set in his negative “we can’t compete ways” and now he can’t shake them. Look at what Martinez has done at Everton, all he has done is encourage footballers to play a short passing game and instilled belief in himself.

Unfortunately for us instead of the Moyes Fergie envisioned when he was young, we got the 2013 Moyes, taken too many punches and has forgotten why he was such a hot property when he was young.

The horrible performances, the press conference mistakes, the sheer lack of tactical flexibility all say that he is way out of his depth at Manchester United.

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