Moyes must adapt or go

March 29, 2014 Tags: Opinion 17 comments
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In 1975 Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to found Microsoft, although in later years the billionaire would frequently return to the institution. Realizing that he needed to learn business to nurture his new enterprise, Gates went so far as to butt into faculty poker games and bet himself into the professors’ brain trust. In a similar vein, Manchester United’s league position would be much improved had David Moyes also prepared so eagerly for his new role.

Having exhausted the leaves, Gates left Harvard just one semester prior to completing his degree; the Microsoft co-founder did so certain that three months’ head start would be crucial in the fledging firm’s future.

Such is his extreme conservatism that one suspects Moyes would have been picking out a diploma frame. Indeed, United’s worsening fate suggests that Moyes may not have the character to succeed at the very top.

The Scot’s tactical acumen has been under question for a very long time. The demoralizing 3-0 loss to Manchester City on Tuesday saw United start in a 4-3-3 formation, with Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley and Maroune Fellaini in midfield.

Edin Dzeko and David Silva ran riot, forcing Moyes to shift his team into a more familiar 4-4-1-1, with Cleverley filling in on the right wing. The under-fire manager brought in Shinji Kagawa at half time to fix the affairs, but the rearrangement did little to stop the City side intent on securing the Premiership.

Moyes likes players to be in space, but then so did Sir Alex Ferguson. The retired Scot, though, demands that his players exploit space and does not try and force his team to utilize it. In the 4-4-2 dominated landscape of the 1990s, the 72-year-old deployed Eric Cantona in a deeper role, paving the way for the modern 4-2-3-1 system. Like the fellow Scot, Ferguson was reactive in his approach, but did so in positive ways.

Ferguson had another evolution in mind before his sudden retirement last summer’s. Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund forces the opposition into conceding space. Robert Lewandowski is an adroit target man, while Marco Reus provides running from midfield, and Shinji Kagawa – when in Germany – brilliantly exploited the space created.

Kagawa was Ferguson’s penultimate signing. Dzeko, a classic target man, was considered and then rejected, and Lewandowski was close to joining United last summer. Yet, it is no coincidence that Wayne Rooney, who cannot play with his back to goal, became increasingly ostracized under Ferguson. The retired United manager clearly had an eye on a tactical future, revolving around Kagawa.

By distinct contrast, United under Moyes is more likely to deploy Alexander Buttner on the left flank against Bayern Munich on April Fool’s Day, than to unveil a tactical innovation.

Back to Tuesday match, and United’s 4-3-3 was evidently not working against City. Even the best managers have off-days of course, although they are by definition required to fix any tactical problems as they arise. Moyes has failed to do so on a consistent basis during his short stay at United. Antonio Valencia, for example, began warming up 10 minutes into the game against City – Jose Mourinho would not have waited until half-time to make the substitution.

In fact there was a variety of ways to organise the abject 4-3-3 into a 4-4-1-1 system. Cleverley could have played at number 10 – where he did for Great Britain at the 2012 Olympic – but Moyes needed a goalscorer in the hole.

Meanwhile, Marouanne Fellaini played behind the main striker at Everton, although the Toffees’ template required energy in the engine room, which neither Carrick nor Cleverley can provide. Cleverley often played on the left during his loan spell at Wigan Athletic, and it would have been more natural to shift Danny Welbeck into an attacking midfield role. The Scot wanted pace on the left flank and stuck to his default setting.

In part Moyes reticence is a factor of his history. When Ferguson moved to Old Trafford, for example, the Scot had managed more clubs and won more trophies than Moyes. The former Aberdeen manager was younger too. And Ferguson, despite a shaky start in Manchester, was making palpable progress in revitalising the youth system while Moyes has taken Manchester United backwards.

Worse still, Moyes has shown little sign of improving as a manager. The stars point to the situation becoming even more serious for the all but dethroned champions of England. Fans are rebelling against the “Chosen One” and the sponsors required to fund progress will surely be driven away by a lack of success and division within the fan base.

Yet, the Glazers continue to create a shadow over Old Trafford, and despite widespread media predictions to the contrary, United cannot compete at the top of the transfer market indefinitely and pay down more than £300 million in debt. It is a scenario in which the manager’s importance is heightened since the Reds have to make the very best of a budget meager compared to that of rivals’.

United’s board is clearly hoping that Moyes develops, but there is an alternative: recruiting a more capable manager. Mourinho, for example, had achieved great success before leading a big project at Chelsea, while Brendon Rodgers took Swansea City into Europe, and Manuel Pelligrini has won several titles in South America.

Even in areas of supposed strength Moyes is behind. The Scot has a “war room” filled with scouting reports and white boards, but it was Klopp that plucked Kagawa from Japan’s second division for just €350,000. Unfortunately, the expensive acquisition of Juan Mata and Fellaini has not yet justified the investment.

Moyes will have the money to impose his style upon the Reds this summer, but it is a philosophical transformation that is also unwise. For his system to work the Scot needs a target man and, given the rarity of top class players in that role, there is a nightmare scenario in which United boasts Andy Carroll wearing number nine next season!

Elsewhere there will be change if Moyes stays. The future of Mata is at stake, and Kagawa will be welcomed back heartily at Dortmund if Moyes pushes through a sale. Robin Van Persie does not readily fit into the current system, but will not be in demand given his wage, age and injury record that continues to burgeon. Rooney will be Moyes’ number 10 whatever happens – Adnan Januzaj and Mata face a permanent future shunted out wide.

There is a simple equation: either Moyes persists with the current approach, and risks alienating a plethora of talent, or he chooses to adapt. Should Moyes choose the latter the Scot will be changing his style for the first time a 15-year managerial career – in which case Moyes’ experience is irrelevant anyway. Either way, bringing in a new man becomes the prudent option.


ali - March 29, 2014 Reply

#moyesmustgo ASAP

Evans - March 29, 2014 Reply

There is nothing to adapt about Moyes. SAF should come out and apologise to United fans world over that he made a blunder for appointing Moyes as his successor. He is a waste. Got nothing to offer United. Look at Everton season, that speaks volume of Moyes incompetence.

Subterranean Steve - March 31, 2014 Reply


zac lazari - March 29, 2014 Reply

Couldn’t agree with you more. The time is here and now…he has to go and before the end of the season

Amnon Zohar - March 29, 2014 Reply

Stop the rationalizations it’s too obvious Moyes must go! There is not a bone of adapting or Innovating in Moyes. Just do it!

ForeverRed - March 29, 2014 Reply

Moyes keeps telling us he has a plan and will implement it when the time his right. If he seriously thinks he has 6 years to put ‘it’ in place as he so resolutely implies, he’s clearly deluded. Minimally right now he could do a lot worse than clearly articulating his vision of the future – what system he wants to evolve to and what kinds of players he thinks he needs. It’s very hard for even the most patient supporters to get behind him when he can’t/doesn’t describe what he’s trying to build. Hence all we have to judge are the passionless performances week in and week out and his defeatist press conferences. Unfortunately for him, it’s looking increasingly likely that these will be his sole legacy at the club.

Raphael C - March 29, 2014 Reply

I cannot believe what I just read attributed to Moyes on soccernet – that even Sir Alex would struggle with this lot.

Absolutely disgraceful comments. Literally the only change from the last 2 seasons is Moyes and his coaches. He needs to stop pretending the problem isn’t himself, and stop dissing the squad you depend on, ffs.

All this ‘This lot isn’t good enough’ remarks and you expect the same folks to fight tooth and nail for you?!

Subterranean Steve - March 31, 2014 Reply

Moyes has a stronger squad than last season’s because he has Mata, Januzaj and Fellaini as well.

Makes his comments even more ludicrous.

red1961 - March 29, 2014 Reply

How is this clown in charge of a multi-million pound business?
His lack of man management is astounding

Start of Season
‘ If we don’t manage to sign anybody I am more than happy with the squad I have.
I have made a complete and utter balls of the transfer window

End of March 2014
“I actually think if Sir Alex was here this year it would be difficult for Sir Alex as well, and I’m sure he’d be aware of it. I think people are aware there’s a squad that is a bit more ageing, so I think it would have been a tough season for probably whoever was in charge of Manchester United this year.”


I have made a complete and utter balls of the season. I have run out of excuses for my complete and utter incompetence and I must place the blame on other people

Is this man so stupid not to see the obvious reaction to his comment which is ‘SAF didn’t struggle with this squad last year and the squad is the same plus £64m of additions.’

Can you imagine what the mature players thought when they read that!
Wow!! I bet they are really motivated and are going to sweat blood for him!

What a complete and utter dickhead.


I find it incredible that there are numpties out there still who believe he must be given time.
As a side
If Fellaini is found guilty of spitting on a player who he has just elbowed and is lying on the floor he should also be sacked and sued by the club.
It is a sad day when a United player does that, especially one whose contribution since being at OT is less than zero.

Mongoletsi - March 31, 2014 Reply

Awesome post 🙂

everwonthetreble - March 29, 2014 Reply

Let’s play a game…

Who comes in and why will they work? Any reference to inspiring the supporters and you’re out. Ten points for suggesting a feasible replacement and an extra 20 points if you’ve seen their team play more than 5 matches. You automatically win if you point out 7 players that should leave with Moyes.

Time to move away from the complaints and start thinking about who can actually come in and manage Manchester United. Remember, you don’t wan to make the same mistake that was made with Moyes. So the manager should at the very least have winning experience, be able to handle big wage budgets, big transfer funds, has dealt with big personalities, and has the ability to come into any team and get the best out of the players who are currently there.

There are only three managers on the planet who have shown the ability to do that for me. I’m curious to see what you come up with.

MJ - March 30, 2014 Reply

José, Carlo, Pep obviously. Won’t be getting any of those of course. My choice would be Van Gaal anyway, it’s the foundations he laid, mainly in playing style, that made Bayern what they are today.

Geronimo - March 30, 2014 Reply

@TheMancRedDevil Moyes MUST go….

Man United Red Army - March 30, 2014 Reply

at last someone that can explain the current situation great piece

nik boyle - March 30, 2014 Reply

on the money again pal. – the glazier situation is interesting – I’m hoping rumours of boredom and a sale are true

Subterranean Steve - March 31, 2014 Reply

From Everton to United is a massive step in class, so where does Moyes go to help make that great leap forward?

Why, back to Everton for coaches, players and his mentality.

Robbie - March 31, 2014 Reply

Rodgers never took Swansea into Europe.

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