It was the moment so many Manchester United supporters craved. Late April 2014, after 10 months in charge, David Moyes finally gone to dancing, if not on the streets of Salford, then a surfeit of social media. Moyes’ dismissal ended an anarchic period at Old Trafford; the brutal deconstruction of an experienced manager. History will long remember Moyes for his ineptitude in a job that was always too much, and the club for a shocking lack of a post-Ferguson succession planning. With the Scot’s Sunderland at Old Trafford this Christmas, memories flood back of time many want to forget…
There was something apt in Moyes’ appallingly mishandled dismissal, which came after just 51 games in charge. Ed Woodward’s decision was leaked to the press some 24 hours ahead of the man being told in person. It said much about a club that proclaims commercial acumen rivaled by none, but has a times been chaotically mismanaged by a cohort of mad marketing men. Moyes retains credit for remaining at Carrington, wishing players and staff well, some two hours after his brutal dismissal.
Yet, Moyes was a wrecking ball at Old Trafford, one that in retrospect caused long-lasting damage. From ripping up well laid transfer plans, to smashing players’ confidence, and unravelling the coaching and scouting network, United has been forced to rebuild from the ground up over the past two and a half years.
"History will long remember David Moyes for his ineptitude in a job that was always too much. With his Sunderland team at Old Trafford this Christmas, memories flood back of time many want to forget."
Moyes’ destruction began early in the Scot’s short-lived spell in Manchester with a pre-season programme that focused strongly on marketing and less on shaping the team against high quality opponents. Not all his fault of course, although on the training field Moyes’ boot camp approach alienated players from the start. He moaned about the summer’s fixture list, but the Scot’s dedication to long-running aerobic drills and little ball work left United undercooked on the ball and over-baked without it.
It was in the market that Moyes was at his most indecisive, demonstrating a perplexing naïvety. Cesc Fabregas, Ander Herrera, Gareth Bale, Leighton Baines, Sami Khedira and Daniele De Rossi were pursued to little effect. Thiago Alcântara, lined-up for a £20 million transfer by Ferguson and David Gill, was inexplicably rejected. Perhaps Moyes genuinely believed other targets were available. They were not.
Marouane Fellaini’s eventual capture was a farce unworthy of far lesser clubs than United, but one in which the new manager fully complicit. United’s decision to pay £4 million over Fellaini’s buy-out clause was embarrassing and the direct result of Moyes’ dithering. It was all very good installing a “high tech scouting system” at Carrington, but the failure to deliver high-quality acquisitions made clear little improvement had occurred.
Moyes spent much of summer 2013 courting players he would later alienate – Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidić and Ryan Giggs to name three. In pandering to Wayne Rooney the Scot created a rod for his own back and a long-term problem for the club. One that is costing more than £300,000 a week for a reserve. The inevitability that Moyes’ push for Rooney’s new contract would become a failure is not amusing.
Moyes’ choice to place Rooney on a pedestal garnered a season of perspiration from the striker when inspiration was desperately required. Too often flattered by a manager desperate to please, Rooney’s treatment was symptomatic of Moyes failure to pick on form. There were, for example, times during United’s victory at West Bromwich Albion in March 2014 that Robin van Persie appeared disinterested to the point of disrespect. It was the nadir of the Dutchman’s season, yet Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernández spent the campaign on the sidelines.
Indeed, Moyes’ use of his squad was always a contradiction. In 51 games the Scot rotated each time, yet as the season began Moyes over-used veteran Ferdinand to such an extent that the 34-year-old was burnt out by October. Moyes had not a clue how to manage a large and diverse squad.
Summer 2013 also brought unnecessary and destructive turmoil in the back room, fatally undermining Moyes’ cause. There was much debate around the decision to sack Mike Phelan along with goalkeeping coach Eric Steele, while the Scot failed to retain Rene Meulensteen. The loss of knowledge, experience and link between management and players proved devastating. Moyes changed too much, not too little. It was a sign of weakness from the off.
As if to underline the chaos that reigned under the Scot, the team’s start could hardly have been more positive. The Reds began the 2013/14 campaign with a 4-1 victory at Michael Laudrup’s Swansea City. Over the following months the new man would prove himself far from the dynamic, proactive, coach that United missed out on when passing on José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.
The results were poor under Moyes, but United’s lack of style exacerbated supporters’ anger. The defense-minded strategy employed against Bayern Munich in a crushing Champions League quarter-final defeat no one-off – Moyes sought a safety-first approach throughout his time at United. To underline the point, United scored just 56 goals in the Premier League to Liverpool’s 96.
The approach was always one-dimensional in an era of tactical innovation. In defeat at Stoke City, for example, United launched 47 long balls into the swirling Potteries wind, with just 13 finding their target. Against Fulham Moyes’ team infamously delivered more than 81 crosses to laughably little effect.
More damning still, any football exceeding the lowest quality was discovered by accident. In victory at Newcastle United Adnan Januzaj, Juan Mata and Shinji Kagawa combined to provide a rare vibrant attacking performance. It was a fluke that the trio was deployed in tandem at all. Januzaj was overlooked for Ashley Young at the start, while Kagawa and Mata enjoyed more central roles only because Rooney and van Persie sat out the game. There was a similar pattern at Crystal Palace and West Ham United.
Moyes’ negativity as United manager became the punchline to a very poor joke. The manager’s bizarre decision to substitute Rooney for Chris Smalling on 88 minutes as United led Southampton at Old Trafford in October 2013 remains a good précis for a season of caution. Off the pitch there were too many mixed messages – misplaced positivity one moment, the words of a man out of his depth the next. Moyes blamed referees, the FA, injuries, poor luck, and Sir Alex. Anybody, it seems, bar himself.
The peripatetic use of the word “try” became a social media meme, while the Scot’s declaration that Manchester City were “at the sort of level we are aspiring to” brought anger that burns to this day. United would “try and make it hard” for Newcastle. The joke was on Moyes when his team really didn’t.
“I don’t know what we have to do to win,” Moyes confessed after United’s loss at Stoke City in February. United supporters concurred and so, in the end, did the players and the club’s executive management.
The political factions emerged with alacrity. Mainly because of Moyes’ weakness. In one camp the ‘Everton mob’ of Steve Round, Jimmy Lumsden, Chris Woods, Phil Neville and Fellaini. In the other a large group of disaffected players, player-coaches, and former greats. Round and Lumsden went with the manager, Woods soon followed. Not a tear was shed for any, but the stench took months to dissipate.
"The true need for rebuilding has come in the Scot’s wake, not before it. Not that supporters at Old Trafford will show Moyes anything other respect when he walks the line at Old Trafford on Boxing Day. It’s more than he deserves."
In the end results signalled the end for Moyes, as they did at Real Sociedad too. Dismissal is his probable outcome at Sunderland. For Moyes, the writing was on the wall as earlier as February 2014 after United’s shocking loss to Olympiakos. Six defeats in as many games against City, Liverpool and Everton, and just one win against the Premier League’s top six, underlined why Moyes’ dismissal came not a moment too soon. Not that the Scot has ever truly understood his failings.
“I don’t think whoever had taken over from Sir Alex would have had an easy ride,” said Moyes this week. “Whether it had been José then or Carlo Ancelotti or Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola, I think it would have been a difficult job.
“I was definitely unfairly treated. Over the piece, other managers have come and gone and it’s been difficult for them as well. I think it would have taken whoever it was time to change the squad around. My time was too short.”
Yet, the true legacy of United’s disastrous experiment with Moyes’ is more than two years of flux and many millions spent in the market. Moyes is certain in his belief that “it would have taken whoever it was time to change the squad around” and that it was “going to be a little bit of a rebuilding job.” The true need for rebuilding has come in the Scot’s wake, not before it.
Not that supporters at Old Trafford will show Moyes anything other respect when he walks the line at Old Trafford on Boxing Day. It’s more than he deserves.