Tag David Moyes

Tag David Moyes

Chicho relieves pressure as Moyes warns of trouble ahead

September 25, 2013 Tags: , Opinion 11 comments
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There was, Old Trafford would surely agree, an essential truth on Wednesday night as Manchester United hosted Liverpool in the League Cup. There have been few occasions in recent years on which the nation’s secondary cup has taken on such importance. No, David Moyes’ priorities have not shifted at all this season. After all the Premier League, Europe and then domestic cups follow in that order of importance. But a third defeat of the season, to a major rival at that, was beyond countenance.

Liverpool’s visit to Old Trafford, so soon after United’s devastating loss to Manchester City last Sunday, could not have come at a more critical time. Or opportune, depending on the perspective. While the League Cup might ordinarily provide fodder for United’s youth manager David Moyes could hardly afford another crushing defeat.

It was understandable, if unfortunate timing, that Moyes should change eight men for Liverpool’s visit, although it was to the squad rather than kids that the Scot turned. Three of United’s old-guard in the back-four simply had to be offered a rest, while Shinji Kagawa, Nani, Jonny Evans and Rafael da Silva were all short of minutes in recent weeks. Sound logic at play then.

But it is not always the science of reason that pervades in football; a sport of wildly contrasting emotions and a tendency towards the hyperbolic that is utterly deep-seated. In that it proved a decidedly brave decision by Moyes to swap around his entrenched first choice players, if ultimately successful, even if so many conspicuously failed at the Etihad.

On the pitch United barely edged Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Brendan Rogers’ traveling outfit – a match in which the hosts defended resiliently for periods when Liverpool hogged possession. Little wonder, with the Merseysiders’ at full-strength for the 30 mile journey east.

Yet, just as United had secured a narrow victory in the Premier League following City’s 6-1 win at Old Trafford two year’s ago, so the Reds dug in to knock Liverpool out of the League Cup. United will meet Norwich City in the fourth round as part of a decidedly winnable run of games during October.

Beyond Wednesday’s victory United’s mixed start to the new campaign has proffered a conclusion: that the Reds are a little short of previous vintages, and quite some way adrift of the continent’s very best. Indeed, Moyes chose the eve of victory against the Merseysiders to remind all that he had sought at least two further reinforcements in the summer past.

As it happens United’s over-priced acquisition of Marouanne Fellaini is all the manager has to show for a summer of not inconsiderable frustration. Quite probably incompetence. It was a period in which United’s executive let the new man down when he needed the greatest support.

Moyes remains defiant in the face of early criticism of his new regime; a finicky assessment that is, of course, far too premature. More to the point Wednesday’s narrow win suggests Moyes is accurate in his assessment that while the Scot’s first choice side is short, United’s squad is replete with decent quality. Just enough.

“Where we’ve got work to do is bring players in to go right into the team – that’s the slightly different equation,” said the 50-year-old on Tuesday.

“We needed one or two who might have just gone in, but that will happen. We always said it was going to be a tough one and it was going to take a little bit more time.

“Not for a minute did I think this job was going to be easy. There will be days like we had on Sunday and there might be more of them because we are in a period where there will be transition. If people thought this was going to be easy and smooth after Sir Alex, I don’t think that was ever going to be the case.”

Admirable honesty one might say, although not entirely a mea culpa of course. Ed Woodward’s ability to navigate the January transfer market might be tested once again. And might define a campaign more than the new manager would ever have liked.

It is the nature of transition fascinates, with the principle change in the opening months of Moyes’ regime appearing to be an odd conservative bent. One demonstrated again on Wednesday, with Moyes swapping goalscorer Javier Hernández for midfielder Michael Carrick with 15 minutes to go. It could so easily have backfired.

Yet, with United’s “toughest start for 20 years” now out of the way the real work starts. Moyes’ ability to use his squad is key. Indeed, the fatigue demonstrated by Messrs. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidić and Patrice Evra on Sunday ensures more time for Chris Smalling and Phil Jones in the weeks to come.

Whether Moyes can integrate creative players, including Kagawa and Nani, will be tested as the Champions League bites into United’s schedule. The short-term futures of Wilfried Zaha and the prodigiously talented Adnan Januzaj will beguile many. The Belgian featured as a late substitute at Old Trafford on Wednesday. Zaha didn’t leave the bench.

The suggestion that the Scot does not always trust creative players will persist until the more inventive among his squad are used in more challenging games.

Still, there can be no doubt of the relief ringing around Old Trafford by the end – a bouyant crowd pushing the home side over the line. More excitement for a League Cup third round tie than for many a year. And much of it had little to do with the competition or even opponents at play.

It is, perhaps, a realisation that after 25 years, United’s face is human again. Moyes seemingly knows it, although the brass undercarriage demonstrated on Wednesday night augurs well for future moments of pressure at least. There are likely to be many.

Moyes hung out to dry in shambolic transfer show

September 3, 2013 Tags: , , Opinion 38 comments
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There have been many words written about Manchester United’s strategy in the transfer market in summer; few of them  positive. It is little wonder given the club’s propensity for generating farce since the window opened on 20 May. In between there have been 106 days of such amateurish tomfoolery that by the end many supporters’ overwhelming emotion is one of relief. No, not that David Moyes finally captured the Belgian international Marouanne Fellaini, but that vice chairman Ed Woodward can cause embarrassment no longer.

Embarrassed by Thiago Alcântara’s inevitable decision to join Bayern Munch, and humiliated by Cesc Fabregas’ manipulation of United’s interest, Woodward’s dash home from Australia in mid-July has brought little but shame, especially on transfer deadline day. Six weeks of such maladroit bumbling at which it is best to laugh for the tears will otherwise flow.

Summer did not begin well, with United making little secret of the club’s interest in bringing the former Barcelona midfielder Thiago to Old Trafford. But United’s preoccupation with the 22-year-old did little but strengthen the player’s negotiating hand – an entourage including, laughably, Pep Guardiola’s brother securing a €20 million transfer that the player had always sought.

Thiago’s choice brought little need to panic. After all, United has missed out on players before, from Ronaldinho, to Eden Hazard and Michael Ballack. While United’s pull is strong, so is that of Europe’s institutional giants and the nouveau riche now inhabiting the continent.

Yet, United submitted a barely credible bid for Fabregas just 24 hours after his under-study’s arrival in southern Germany. The timing was horrible, although it was a transfer always unlikely following Barcelona’s multi-year pursuit of the midfielder. That United’s offer amounted to barely €26 million brought little but public derision.

Still, the club ploughed on failing to mentally segregate a lock out from the start of transfer negotiations. Barça had no interest in the latter and neither, as it turns out, did the player. Follow-up bids of €30 million and €35 million presumably lie dormant on the spike marked ‘no reply necessary’.

United followed a similar strategy in its pursuit of Leighton Baines, with Everton rejecting first a £12 million offer in June, a follow-up bid of the same figure a month later and two £15 million offers as the window drew in. Woodward’s assumptive close too presumptive, and never closed.

Yet, mid summer took a curious turn of what now seems like inactivity. That final offer for Fabregas came as July drew to a close – a full month before Monday’s Shakespearean farce took place. More than four weeks in which Woodward and United’s army of lawyers, agents and middlemen could activate buy-out clauses in the contracts of midfielders Ander Herrera and Everton’s Fellaini, whatever the legal complexities.

Planning, there has been none of it.

Still, nothing preceding Monday’s virtual dash around Europe prepared supporters for the tsunami of legitimate ridicule generated by United’s efforts to secure Fellaini, together with Herrera, Leighton Baines, Daniele De Rossi, Fábio Coentrão and, as the player revealed, Sami Khedira on deadline day.

Indeed, United’s story that the club tried, and failed, to negotiate Herrera’s €36 million release clause down to the €30 million on offer drowned in the comedy that followed.

Herrera, seemingly convinced the deal was on, told Athletic Bilbao  of his intention to leave, while three initially unnamed suits attempted to deposit the fee and papers at Liga de Fútbol Profesional (LFP) headquarters. The men left little more than an hour later citing “bureaucratic difficulties”.

‘Impostors’ briefed United’s communication department as the deal broke down late on Monday night – a claim now believed to be false, the men acting squarely on the Reds’ behalf.

In the fallout it is hard to discern which story is more embarrassing: that United refused to increase an initial bid by just €6 million for one of Europe’s more talented youngsters; or that an institution with annual revenues approaching £350 million is unable to obtain appropriate legal advice in timely fashion.

Either way the stench of rank ineptitude permeates through offices once occupied by David Gill and Sir Alex Ferguson.

Further, as United dallied on securing Fellaini, with other targets clearly a greater priority, the club was suckered into paying £4 million over the Belgian’s release fee. Coincidentally, it seems, this is a figure not far from the additional sum required to capture Herrera this summer.

United would end deadline day, fax machine on overdrive, seeking to acquire Coentrão on loan, Baines at the £15 million sum already rejected, De Rossi also on loan, and Khedira, as the window’s embers died out, for an astonishing €34 million. None succeeded – it has become the pattern of the summer.

But Moyes did secure one major deal in the final hour, Fellaini acquired for a fee totaling more than £11 million in excess of United’s opening bid. Far more, it should be noted, than the market valued the midfielder during two months in which Fellaini’s release clause remained active.

Yet, with Fellaini’s transfer United has secured a central midfielder of international standing for the first time in six years, although the Belgian divides opinion among both fans and pundits.

Strong in the tackle, but far too loose in possession, and frequently ill-disciplined, Fellaini will add muscle to United’s midfield at the expense of subtlety. It may prove to be a frustrating trade-off for those supporters seeking an attacking side in the United tradition – the Belgian is perhaps everything that Arsenal’s £42 million capture Mesut Özil is not, and the contrary.

But in that Moyes remains short – both of stellar quality in a key area and of the numbers he had sought at the summer’s dawn. More to the point, perhaps, is that Fellaini, Fabregas, Alcântara, De Rossi, Herrera and Khedira hold such diverse profiles that there appears no clear understanding of United’s requirements anyway.

Worryingly for the new man, Moyes remains a manager unable, for the time being at least, to stamp his own mark on the team; a man failed by his board and perhaps ultimately by the owners. That others have strengthened considerably can only increase the pressure to deliver in Sir Alex’ wake.

After all, while Woodward’s inexperience in a brutally competitive market has been repeatedly exposed, money nearly always walks the talk. Certainly more than the 40-year-old’s bravado in proclaiming United’s excessive spending power earlier this summer. Bids repeatedly rejected, and competitors roundly irked, paint a picture of a club seeking bargains in a seller’s market.

And when, by contrast, even Arsène Wenger spends lavishly it is fair to conclude that United’s competitors have moved on. The Reds will now move on too. Except, this time, from a humiliating summer.

Reds suffering on the altar of value

August 24, 2013 Tags: , , Opinion 21 comments
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It had to happen, the confab that Manchester United fans now dread, the one that ends with ‘V’ … for value. But contrary to his predecessor United manager David Moyes apparently believes that the mythical quality exists in the transfer market. The Scot just hasn’t been able to find it. Or buy it. And with just nine days to go before the transfer window closes Moyes admitted for the first time that the club may not reinforce this summer.

Indeed, those United supporters of a more cynical bent might conclude that the club had little intention of succeeding in the market this summer. After all the far-fetched chase for Thiago Alcântara, low-balled bid for Cesc Fàbregas and, frankly, embarrassing joint offer for Marouanne Fellaini and Leighton Baines were hardly conducive to success.

Rant would comment on that particular theory, but slander is still punishable as a criminal offence in some territories.

Still, while supporters might chunter on the sidelines the benefit of the considerable doubt remains with the club for a little over a week at least, Moyes insistent as he is that United is still working on bringing new faces to Old Trafford before 2 September.

There is, in fact, a “need” to add to the squad according to the 50-year-old Scot, who identified United’s midfield as an area of weakness early in the piece. But with Fàbregas and Alcântara out of sight, and Everton unwilling to trade Fellaini on the cheap, it has remained a summer of considerable frustration. Incompetence even.

Still, it is likely to be a fascinating period both on and off the field over the next 10 days, with the seemingly impotent vice chairman Ed Woodward attempting to a close a major transfer for the first time, while United faces Chelsea and Liverpool in the Premier League. It is a period when the club could gain significant momentum, or lose  more ground on rivals at home and abroad.

Running out of time Moyes admitted for the first time on Friday that the club will fall back on the promise of youth should the Reds fail to augment a midfield quotient widely recognised as falling short. It is an approach that appeals to United’s legion fans, although there are few central midfielders of quality in the Reds under-21 side.

“There is a need to do it, but there is no pressure to do it,” said Moyes of United’s plans to recruit.

“We’ve been talking about it since I took the job on 1 July. I have an idea of where I’d like to strengthen and what we need to do. We have only targeted certain players and don’t have a big, big list. There are only certain quality players we want to bring to the club.

“There is a possibility [we won’t sign anybody] but the plan is we bring in one or two if we can. If the right players are available then great, but, if not, the first thing we’ll do is encourage our own young players in the squad to do as well as they did last year.”

Moyes’ belief that United can recruit at the highest level is a theory sound on paper, but seemingly much harder to enact in practice, with Woodward green in a market still governed by old-school relationships. Indeed, while United’s efforts this summer have widely been viewed with embarrassment among the club’s supporters, a naïve approach has brought little but scorn from rival clubs.

Everton, once Moyes’ home, is now basecamp for United’s sceptics, including Moyes’ former employer Bill Kenwright and the Scot’s successor Roberto Martinez. Angered by Moyes’ admission that he had accepted the United job weeks before his contract with Everton ended, Kenwright  is now reportedly enraged that United has sought to unsettle two contracted players with a low bid.

Although Moyes claimed on Friday that Everton released details of the bid, it is an assertion Martinez disputes. Further, says the Spaniard, United’s seemingly amateur approach this summer is a factor of change both in the coaching set up and boardroom. With Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill gone, 40 years aggregated experience has been lost to the  club.

“I’ve never seen Manchester United working in this manner before,” said Everton boss Martinez.

“When you want a player you just do the business quietly, you get it done and that’s it. I don’t know if this is a new way of working. There’s been a previous relationship of 11 years with a manager and he had a great relationship with the chairman, so you can imagine it’s extra sensitive.

“It wasn’t even a bid because it never reached any sort of valuation. There isn’t an offer on the table where anyone would consider anything. All we’ve had is a bid that doesn’t go anywhere near the reality.”

Critics lies from closer to home as well, with former assistant manager Mike Phelan suggesting Woodward’s inexperience in the transfer market has cost United this summer. Woodward has excelled driving home United’s strategy of securing exclusive local-market sponsors in selected verticals.

After all, the list of partners signed this summer far exceeds the resources added to Moyes’ squad. But in the game of smoke and mirrors of the European transfer market Woodward has been left exposed.

“Ed Woodward has previously been on the commercial side and concentrating on bringing money into the club rather than spending it,” said Phelan, who is yet to take on a new role after departing the club this summer.

“It is a totally different outlook. He will learn that. He may be frightened by a few prices every now and again but he will have to pick that up, because you are dealing with high quality football players. He and the club have gone on record to say that money is available. That’s great, but then every price goes up a peg or two as well.”

But Woodward’s assertion at the start of the summer that the club is prepared spend upwards of £60 million on a single player has proven false – not least with United’s unusually low opening offers for Fàbregas, Baines and Fellaini. The approach, unsurprisingly, has proven unsuccessful.

Woodward is smart enough to learn of course, although he has little experience of executive management in an alien industry.

Perhaps it still comes down to that old word, the one Ferguson used to such divisive effect during seven years under the Glazer family’s stewardship. But asked on Friday whether he believes value exists in the market Moyes’ answer remains definitive: “Yes I do.”

The worry is that it may be too late for United’s to discover the Holy Grail this summer; an outcome that will leave Moyes short and vulnerable to the brutally competitive landscape domestically and in Europe.

Swansea victory offers insight into Moyes’ tactical plan

August 20, 2013 Tags: , Opinion 9 comments
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David Moyes has made a good start to his Manchester United career as the Reds solidly beat Swansea City on Saturday. The new United manager is notoriously reactive and one cannot assume that the Scot will continue with the tactics used in Wales, but  important details as to how Moyes will utilize the squad he inherited from Sir Alex Ferguson can be gleamed from the Premier League opener.

As expected, United came into the game with a very specific plan. There were some mistakes to be ironed out on the training ground, but the fact that the players stuck to Moyes’ ideas is a very good sign – some managers with clearly defined tactical ideal, such as Andre Villas-Boas, sometimes fail to control the playing staff and struggle to implement a strategy. It is a pitfall that the former Everton manager has clearly dodged.

Manchester United lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation as expected. When defending, two banks of four were quickly formed and Robin Van Persie stayed up top while Danny Welbeck or Ryan Giggs, who took turns playing in the hole, helped out as needed. Van Persie and Welbeck or Giggs pressed aggressively high up the pitch to allow United’s midfielders and defenders fall back into line.

Meanwhile, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand defended deep and the midfield bank of four refrained from pressing their Swansea counterparts lest the home side exploit the space between United’s defence and midfield.

Interestingly though the Red full-backs tucked inside quickly and allowed Swansea’s wingers to put in crosses. Swansea failed to capitalize on United’s deep-lying  defence, but it remains to be seen whether Moyes will allow an opposition with a proper target man to utilize the aerial route.

United’s offensive approach was much more interesting. As Moyes had done at Everton, the Glaswegian had the Reds draw Swansea in before launching long balls forward. David de Gea directed his goal kicks long – often aimed at Welbeck’s head – and United attacked only when forward players had some room ahead of them and numerical advantage over Swansea’s defence.

Attacks were direct and purposeful – the Reds rarely bothered with patiently prodding around the Swansea defence and midfield. Instead, United tried to create situations where forwards could hold up the ball upfield then turn or make quick passes to United players running from midfield.

United’s forwards repeatedly attempted to establish a numerical superiority either by running directly at the Swansea defence on the counter or by drawing Welsh defenders out then exploiting the gap left behind. van Persie’s first goal epitomizes this approach.

Surprisingly, United produced very few crosses. Phil Jones and Patrice Evra consistently motored forward while the Reds’ wingers cut inside quickly, but generally attacks took a more central route than down the flanks.

Still, pushing full-backs into advanced positions is advantageous since it forces the opposition to trade off the risk of a United break through the middle by committing men to mark wide areas. And since attacks are sporadic United full-backs should be able to handle the physical aspect of the task.

When attacking the front four often switched positions to create space. Decent runs were made, but the frequency with which United forwards got caught offside was alarming. The timing of runs will become sharper as the season goes on, but it is troubling that there were very few incisive through balls.

With attacks bypassing central midfield entirely, Michael Carrick was reduced to mostly screening the defence. With Tom Cleverley never a particularly creative player it is clear why Moyes has chased Cesc Fabregas this summer. With someone of the Spanish’s inventiveness partnering Carrick, United attacks will become more varied and, therefore, harder to defend.

But if United is going to be functional in midfield then spark must come from the front four. Van Persie can fill in the ‘number 10′ role if needed, but without the Dutcman up front the Reds might want for a good finisher. Ryan Giggs lacks the explosiveness needed in this plan, although he did provide moments of genius against Swansea that Welbeck and Antonio Valencia cannot reliably offer.

Meanwhile, Shinji Kagawa is tailor made for this approach and it remains a mystery as to why the Japanese didn’t even get on as a substitute. Kagawa saw little game time in pre-season either and it is very possible that the former Dortmund player is simply unfit.

Moreover, the Japanese has never played as a winger with an onus on defending in two banks of four; as things stand, Kagawa can only be deployed in the hole. And with no central midfielder bursting forward to offer creative support relying on the Kagawa at number 10 would likely render United predictable.

There is also a rationale in playing Giggs, who understands Moyes’ defensive system, and can also swap places with Welbeck. To fit Kagawa into the United side Moyes has to buy a midfielder who can share the creative burden.

There are implications for United’s wingers in Moyes set up too – they will be asked to cut inside rather than attack the byline. Moyes’ wide-men will also have to quickly retreat to form the first line of defence when Untied loses possession, and burst forward when the Reds attack. Pace will be in the front of Moyes’ mind when he selects his wide players.

Given the role, finishing and movement must also be considered, meaning that barring new additions, Ashley Young and Luis Nani will have a role in Moyes’ system – possibly ahead of Antonio Valencia.

Young is a limited player, but he has played at 10 and his ability to feature across attacking midfield may come in very handy. Despite his notoriously poor decision-making Nani remains the only Premier League tested player in the squad who can beat a man; the Portuguese’s productivity will tempt the United manager to pick him instead of the Ecuadorian.

Indeed, Valencia’s place is under threat from multiple angles, while the one player who can perhaps make the winger worth deploying – Danny Welbeck – might just end up taking the former Wigan Athletic player’s place.

Welbeck has always been physically impressive and diligent – and it comes as no surprise that Moyes has put the youngster in the first 11 ahead of more illustrious players on the bench. The English striker has a fine tactical brain and maintains possession well even though he lacks incision.

Despite the rather meager goalscoring return in 2012/13 Welbeck has all the tools to consistently score. Crucially, he can compete in the air and will provide a very good target for de Gea’s long clearances if that is a key part of the plan.

Moyes used a well defined system with little variation at Everton. The Scot now has a variety of players at his disposal meaning there is no guarantee that the tactics deployed against Swansea will become the template.

That said Moyes’ has a tactical history – and the embarrassing chase for two Barcelona midfielders suggests that a facsimile of the Swansea plan will feature prominently this season.

The half-hearted bid for Marouane Fellaini is another sign that Moyes will go down this route as there is little need to compete physically in central midfield under the system deployed last weekend. And with United’s defence rather immobile, a pressing game is very dangerous; Moyes seems at least smart enough to react to his own team’s weaknesses.

Giggs levels up to even out United’s Evertonisation

July 6, 2013 Tags: , , Opinion No comments
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“Success is tattooed right across the club badge,” said David Moyes in his first press conference as Manchester United manager. It was a nice line from the coach who said almost all the right things in facing the world’s press at Old Trafford on Friday. Yet, the fascination with Moyes first presser was surely eclipsed this week by Ryan Giggs’ promotion to the coaching staff. The question now asked: is Giggs United’s manager-in-waiting taking baby steps on the road to Old Trafford’s hotseat?

More than 20 years a United player – a quarter century since Ryan Wilson first signed schoolboy forms – Giggs senior began the next phase of his career this week by taking a training session at Carrington alongside the returning Phil Neville.

Giggs’ promotion, together with Neville and Nicky Butt, ensures that somewhere in the corner of M16 United’s soul remains amid the rampant Evertonisation of the club this summer. Paul Scholes will make it four from the ‘class of 92′  cohort to take a coaching role at some point in the coming months.

The Welshman’s integration into the coaching staff provides something of a counter-balance to Moyes’ promotion of three ex-Everton staffers onto the United payroll. It is perhaps the Scot’s smartest move to date. After all, it is little secret that the Welshman is United’s ‘manager in the dressing room’.

“I’m delighted that Ryan has accepted the chance to become player/coach,” said Moyes this week.

“I felt the right person was Ryan Giggs and he has been great. He has been on his Uefa pro licence course – and after two days you can see how incredible a footballer he is – he is taking steps forward and to get him and Phil Neville together is great.

“His career is an example to any aspiring young player and I’m sure that both he and the players will benefit from his new role.”

More than Giggs’ coaching qualities, if anybody can ease the new manager’s transition into Old Trafford then it is surely United’s 22-season veteran. Indeed, Giggs ended the day at just 16/1 to become the next United manager despite Moyes’ six-year contract – the latest in a very long line of former Sir Alex Ferguson proteges to take to coaching.

There seems an air of destiny. One suspects that rather like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Giggs might reach managerial heights that Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes and Paul Ince have not.

Meanwhile, Neville’s appointment as a coach also brings continuity where Moyes’ coaching hires had threatened disruption. The 36-year-old retired as a player after leaving Everton in May only to return to Old Trafford eight years on from joining the Toffees. Neville made 386 first team appearances for United between 1995 and 2005, a further 303 for Everton, and he earned 59 caps for England.

“I have known and worked with Philip for eight years and, in that time, I have come to know his dedication, ability to lead and appetite for hard work,” said Moyes in praise of the new appointment

“He understands the club very well and I think his addition to the coaching staff will be a valuable one.”

In common with Giggs, Neville junior has been taking coaching badges over the past two years and was interviewed for the vacant managerial role at Everton this summer. While the top job at a Premier League club may be a little premature, Neville has focused on coaching rather than media work like his older brother.

“When I retired from football, I knew that I wanted to continue in the game; it’s something that I have been preparing for over the last few years,” said Neville.

“When David called to give me this opportunity, I couldn’t resist. I gave my all when I played for Everton but it is no secret that this club is in my heart.”

Meanwhile, many of Moyes’ staff have followed the Scot to Old Trafford. Steve Round becomes assistant manager, veteran Jimmy Lumsden replaces Rene Meulenstein and Chris Woods replaces goalkeeping coach Eric Steele.

Round has worked alongside David Moyes at Everton since July 2008, having previously worked for Steve McClaren at Middlesbrough and England. Meanwhile, Woods  has been the goalkeeping coach at Everton since 1998, having enjoyed a fine playing career, including 43 caps for England. It is at least credibility at the top level even if many have expressed doubts about the coach’s pedigree.

It is the pensioner Lumsden, who has worked with Moyes since his days at Preston North End, that is perhaps the most surprising appointment given the he has rarely worked with the calibre of player available at United. This will be a test of credibility that Giggs will not have to pass.

“I have worked with Steve, Chris and Jimmy for a number of years,” said Moyes on Thursday.

“They bring great qualities in their respective fields and I know that they feel that this is a challenge to relish. I have great faith that together we can build upon the success this club has enjoyed.”

Moyes revealed that contrary to speculation Meulenstein was offered a role at United, albeit with a reduced remit, only for the Dutchman to turn down the position. Meulenstein is likely to be a man much in demand in both England and continental Europe.

Still, it is Giggs on whom many eyes will rest despite the plethora of coaching changes elsewhere. The Welshman completes his UEFA Pro licence this year – the essential prerequisite to manage in the Premier League.

The key question being after a period of coaching this year – and retirement from playing next summer – whether Giggs moves up the ranks at Old Trafford or takes a position elsewhere. Here Solskjaer is a guide, with the Norwegian spending two seasons as United’s reserve manager before taking over at Molde in the motherland.

“It’s a great privilege,” said Giggs of his new assignment.

“I hope I will be able to bring my experience to bear, having been part of the United family for so long. It’s no secret that I have been taking my qualifications and I see this as the first step in my future career.”

And should Giggs make a success of his first management role away from Old Trafford then the odds of the winger taking over the United manager’s job full-time will certainly fall. The top job may not be Giggs’ soon, but it surely will one day. It is certainly going to be entertaining to watch.

Moyes begins with much to ponder

July 1, 2013 Tags: Opinion No comments
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David Moyes strolled into Carrington on Monday, keys to a sponsored Chevrolet gripped tight in the right hand, BlackBerry in the other; every bit the modern Manchester United manager. The new man toured United’s ever burgeoning complex, posed for photographs and, with his players not due to arrive before Tuesday, casually chatted to catering staff.

He has, we learn from a series of staged photographs, a predilection for hand-crafted suits and expensive slip-on shoes, an office adorned with PC and official United mouse mat, and a subscription to the ever-ubiquitous Sky television. Rumours than Moyes snacked on Mr. Potato crisps, washed down with a cool bottle of Singha beer are yet to be confirmed.

Monday was the Scot’s first official day on the job – and Moyes begins his role with the best wishes of millions, an apparently reportedly substantial transfer budget – to be confirmed – and the safety of a six-year contract. More immediately, Moyes has a host of complicated issues to navigate. The rejoinder: Moyes is a man seemingly at ease in his new surroundings.

Yet, among an overflowing in-box Moyes has at least a dozen critical issue to overcome at Old Trafford; some more pivotal to United’s success and failure than others. But each has the propensity to make or break the Scot’s first season in charge.

Rant has 10 in mind...

The Rooney question
Should he stay or should he go? Sir Alex Ferguson’s assertion, following the Scot’s final match at Old Trafford last May, that Rooney made a second transfer request in three years has provoked a summer of speculation about the Scouser’s future. In briefing and counter briefing each side has played out another drama in the nation’s media over the past six weeks.

The club, sticking with Sir Alex’ line, asserts that Rooney’s transfer request was denied. Rooney’s people argue that no such request was ever made. In truth each is playing a tedious game of chess; sounding out the other before negotiations begin over Rooney’s next contract, or next move. United has already sought prospective buyers on continental Europe. Rooney’s entourage has made no secret of the player’s availability. Moyes’ ability to quickly resolve the drama by placating or replacing the striker could set the tone for United’s season ahead.

Clearing out the dead wood
United completed a stunning Premier League victory in May vanquishing Manchester City in securing the title by 11 points. There are few greater triumphs on which Ferguson could end more than 40 years in the game. Yet, an albeit unfortunate defeat to Real Madrid, together with domestic cup exit at Chelsea’s hands, exposed many of United’s weaknesses. Injuries and age in defence, inconsistency in attack and a criminally threadbare midfield to name but three.

More worrying than the general observation, however, is the form of half-a-dozen seemingly key players, with Anderson, Nani, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, among others, suffering seasons that player and fans alike might rather forget. The former pair will surely leave old Trafford this summer, unless Moyes believes that he can find a consistency in an erratic duo that Sir Alex could not. Young and Valencia, together with Tom Cleverley and Fabio da Silva have much to prove. It is probably too late for Federico Macheda and Bébé.

Integrating a new backroom
“I have worked with Steve, Chris and Jimmy for a number of years and I am delighted they have decided to join me,” said the new manager in a prepared statement as United welcomed Steve Round, Chris Woods and Jimmy Lumsden to the club. Round joins the club as Moyes’ assistant after working at Everton for the past five years. Meanwhile, Woods leaves Everton after 15 years at the club. The former international went to four tournaments in succession with England during the late 1980s and early ’90s. Veteran coach Lumsden has worked with Moyes since the pair worked at Preston North End.

However, the challenge, no matter how talented the new employees, is whether the players will miss Ferguson’s trusted ally Mike Phelan, together with technical mastermind Rene Meulenstein and goalkeeping coach Eric Steele. Indeed, Moyes decision to make wholesale changes is both a statement of confidence, and a significant risk.

Building on David de Gea’s progression
Steele’s departure is perhaps the most curious, with Spaniard de Gea making significant strides during United’s title-winning campaign. No longer the guileless waif, de Gea’s confidence under the high-ball, allied to outstanding reflexes with both hands and feet, seed a ‘world-class’ goalkeeping in the making.

The 22-year-old’s selection as PFA Goalkeeper of the year was perhaps a surprise, but reward nonetheless for progress hard-earned. What then the effect of Wood’s ingress at Carrington? The former England stopper has, after all, made little of Tim Howard, with the American suffering an uncertain season at Goodison Park. Steele’s exit may well be a change too far.

Getting the best out of Javier Hernández and Shinji Kagawa
Five goals this summer take the little Mexican’s international tally to 35 in 53 appearances for El Tricolor. It is an outstanding chronicle that in a little under four years has taken Chicharito to within a dozen goals of the national record; he will surely break it within the year.

And yet Hernández was seemingly further away from a regular United starting berth at the end of Ferguson’s tenure than on the day that he strolled into Old Trafford in summer 2010. True, Robin van Persie’s acquisition impacted heavily on his younger team-mate, but with Rooney out-of-form and Danny Welbeck continuously shot-shy, Hernández might have expected more opportunities. Can Moyes find space in his United team for the Mexican, and with it a guaranteed of goals?

Meanwhile, Kagawa’s progress as United’s leading playmaker depends largely on Rooney’s departure. Should the Englishman stay at Old Trafford then he will almost certainly be deployed in the same deep role that Kagawa prefers to occupy.

Wonderless wingers
Nani, Valencia, Young – a triumvirate of United wingers who seemed anything but in 2012/13. While Nani may yet leave the club this summer, Valencia and Young certainly will not. But can Moyes get more out of the trio than Ferguson could in the season past? Nani’s inconsistency, and sky-high wage demands, is likely to see the Portuguese leave, but Valencia is just a year on from an outstanding campaign in 2011/12. Meanwhile, Young will benefit from greater fitness as much eking the most out of limited talent. Wilfried Zaha could take advantage and quick-step his way straight into Moyes’ first team. But will Moyes afford the former Crystal Palace youngster an opportunity to impress?

Defensive dilemmas
On paper United possesses outstanding options in the back-four. Rio Ferdinand enjoyed a fine campaign last season, while Nemanja Vidić has lost none of the competitive edge, even if the Serbian’s fitness is sometimes wanting. In Chris Smalling and Phil Jones the club boasts two of the finest young defensive talents, while Jonny Evans has progressed hugely in the past 18 months. The same is true of Rafael da Silva.

Yet each is also a concern. Time is no friend of Ferdinand, Vidić and Patrice Evra; Smalling, Jones and Evans are of dubious fitness, and Rafael still naïve at times.

Moyes’ response is seemingly to draft in a former colleague in Leighton Baines, with Evra the likely victim. Speculation about a forthcoming bid for Benfica’s Argentinian defender Ezequiel Garay says much for the uncertainty in central positions.

It’s the midfield, stupid
Moyes get’s it. Right?

Relationship with the Glazers
Sir Alex’ complex relationship with the carpetbagging Americans coloured much of the great Scot’s legacy. Here was a man of working roots unedifying in his repeatedly aggressive public support for capitalism’s darker arts. Yet, in that Ferguson retained some ability to manipulate the family, squeezing a debt-burdened corporate bank account for more than £24 million to acquire van Persie last summer.

By contrast Moyes holds none of the power in his relationship with the Glazers. He will work at their whim, whether it is to fund a hugely unlikely deal for Cristiano Ronaldo, or by contrast to stick with Edward Woodward’s pre-IPO assertion that transfer spending would not stretch ‘beyond historical norms’ of around £20 million per season.

Winning over the fans
In truth Moyes’ relationship with Old Trafford’s faithful is dependent on two simple factors: success and style. Indeed, United’s supporters tolerated a far more conservative brand of football in Ferguson’s final decade at the club than the Scot proffered up to and including the 1999 Champions League triumph.

And while United’s support is some of the most patient in England – see exhibit 1, Anderson, for evidence – it is a willingness to endure that has rarely been fully tested in the past quarter-century. Should a summer of significant change, together with heavy investment at City and Chelsea, lead United to a difficult first season under Moyes then patience will indeed be a virtue.

Moyes, Mourinho and Pellegrini Makes Three

June 8, 2013 Tags: , , Opinion 6 comments
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It was the worst kept secret in football. No, not José Mourinho’s return to Chelsea six years after being unceremoniously sacked by Roman Abramovich, but the revelation that Portuguese coach was desperate to take the vacant Manchester United job this summer. Those following Mourinho’s flirtation with United over the past two years, whether in the pages of the broadsheets, or the more private spaces of Red Issue, could do little but chuckle at Mourinho’s rediscovered love of the Blues.

Mourinho didn’t end up at Old Trafford of course; the coach’s penchant for controversy apparently counting against the 50-year-old in the United boardroom. Still, with Manchester City and Chelsea also having appointed new managers this summer, the Premier League’s top three will each break new ground come the new season’s start in August.

United, of course, will suffer the greatest culture shock as David Moyes takes the helm following Sir Alex Ferguson’s 26 years in charge. With four coaches and a plethora of executive changes, stability is far from the watchword at Old Trafford this summer – a curious observation given that Moyes – trophyless as a manager – proffers the quality as his leading asset.

Yet, with Stamford Bridge Mourinho’s destination United fans will watch, one suspects in part horror, part delight, at the Portuguese maestro’s whirlwind of chaos, conspiracy and ample trophy collection.

But whatever silverware Mourinho secures in his second spell at Chelsea his presence comes at a cost – and an increasing one at that if three years in Madrid is any evidence. The acrimony generated at Santiago Bernabéu under Mourinho degenerated into something approaching parody. Farce of the kind that lacks any self-awareness.

Mourinho’s propensity to court argument with players, directors and the club President seemingly knew neither strategy nor understanding of the consequences.

Sergio Ramos was publicly embarrassed, Iker Casillas ignominiously dropped, and even Cristiano Ronaldo criticised. The coach blamed Braziliam Marcelo for an injury, ridiculed Pepe for a similar distress, and likened Karim Benezema to the family cat when, said Mourinho, he really wanted a dog.

It was little wonder that Mourinho so spectacularly lost the Merengues dressing room – the famed man-management skills deserting the 50-year-old to be replaced a destructive narcissism.

It is a trait that drove Johan Cruyff to declare that “Mourinho will never win a prize again.”

“I think that because of the way he acted in Madrid,” said the former Barcelona coach. “He blamed everyone and everybody when something went wrong in Madrid. And he is playing games with people who are working there.

“Mourinho played an unbelievably negative part in his Madrid years. He moved out general manager Jorge Valdano and later he did the same with director of football Zinedine Zidane. And in the end he dropped Iker Casillas.

“All these actions were the result of Mourinho’s private wars with a few of the biggest club icons. This behaviour does not work in football. It only works in paralysing the dressing room.”

Although none of this truly precludes Chelsea from winning big under the new manager. Given the significant level of investment the Blues have made in recent years – and will surely make this summer – it will be a major shock if Chelsea do not challenge more prominently for the Premier League next season.

Over at Eastlands the Abu Dhabi Emirati look set to appoint a far more conservative, if highly respected, choice in Manuel Pellegrini. While Robert Mancini eventually descended into childish carping at his new-found rivals across town, few expect Pellegrini to stay anything other than classy.

The 59-year-old may have failed in one season at Real Madrid, but few remember his Villareal side with anything but affection. Organised at the back, the Yellow Submarine then weaved a mesmeric attacking pattern in a 4-2-2-2 formation that took the Castellón side to within a penalty kick of the Champions League final in 2006.

Widely considered one of the continent’s finest tacticians, El Ingeniero should also develop a good rapport with media and City supporters given a well-earned reputation for eloquent communication, albeit with limited English. And while Pellegrini’s charge is to win trophies – lots of them – his is an appointment that should suit City’s ‘continental’ system involving a plethora of management layers, from the owners down to the head coach.

Although Pellegrini’s dismissal after a single season in Madrid is  a stain, trophies are not lacking from the résumé, with major silverware secured in Chile, Ecuador, and Argentina. Should the Chilean bring success to Eastlands, United supporters, cognitive dissonance at the forefront, might find much to respect in the greatest foe.

Which leaves United’s new man the odd one in three, with trophies conspicuously absent from the 50-year-old Scot’s record in more than 11 years at Goodison Park. It is seemingly an appointment that owes much to prudence and youth development, if not continuity many had first expected.

Moyes is also the safest public relations choice, although good press wins few trophies. After all, the jury is firmly out on whether Mourinho’s conceit, Pellegrini’s poise or Moyes’ determination will prove the safest bet.

And whatever choice proves the winner, next season’s Premier League should lack not for intrigue.

Managerial Records

Mourinho

  • Porto: Primeira Liga 2003, 2004, Taça de Portugal 2003, Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira 2003, Champions League 2004, UEFA Cup 2003
  • Chelsea: Premier League 2005, 2006, FA Cup 2007, League Cup 2005, 2007, Community Shield 2005
  • Internazionale: Serie A 2009, 2010, Coppa Italia 2010, Supercoppa 2008, Champions League 2010
  • Real Madrid: La Liga 20112, Copa del Rey 2011, Supercopa 2012#

Pellegrini

  • Universidad Católica (Chile): Copa Interamericana 1994, Copa Chile 1995
  • LDU Quito (Ecuador): Serie A 1999
  • San Lorenzo (Argentina): Primera División 2001, Copa Mercosur 2001
  • River Plate (Argentina): Primera División 2003
  • Villarreal: Intertoto Cup 2004

Moyes

  • Preston North End: Football League Second Division 2000

Summer of upheaval

May 26, 2013 Tags: , , Opinion 91 comments
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There is peace even in the storm ― Vincent van Gogh, 3 November 1876

There are times, when chaos abounds, mused Rudyard Kipling in sport’s most over-quoted poem; that those with clarity of thought will come to the forefront at times of crisis. And while Manchester United is in no crisis, it is not yet clear whether the club will emerge from a significant period of change damaged, or otherwise.

Let there be no doubt: United faces the most challenging summer in more than 20 years, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure just one of several major changes at the club as the season ends. While Ferguson’s retirement brings to an end more than 26 years of the Scot’s management at Old Trafford, he is also followed out of the door by long-time chief executive and leading ally David Gill, 16 years a United employee. In their wake the pair leaves a raft of changes in both coaching and executive management that will test the club’s contingency planning to the fullest.

Indeed, by the time Ferguson officially departs his job on 1 July four executive positions and a handful of coaching roles will have changed hands at Old Trafford, threatening short-term disruption that could undermine United’s planning for the 2012/13 campaign.

The question, of course: through the whirlwind of change, who will emerge with clear-sight to minimise the impact of transformation?

In Ferguson’s stead comes Everton manager David Moyes, to mixed reception, while youthful Ed Woodward is promoted to executive vice-chairman as Gill’s effective replacement. But the cascade of change runs deep, with Richard Arnold and Michael Bolingbroke also changing roles in the executive team.

Moyes has wasted little time instigating widely rumoured plans to shake up United’s senior coaching staff, leading to the departures of Ferguson’s assistant Mike Phelan, and respected goalkeeping coach Eric Steele.

There may be more bloodletting too. Reserve team manager Warren Joyce’s quip at the club annual awards ceremony last week that he is as yet unaware of his employment position tells a key story. Nervousness abounds ahead of Moyes official start on 1 July; six weeks shy of the new campaign.

After all, a new man at the top certainly spells change. Moyes may now seek to bring in his number two at Everton, Steve Round, while rumours abound that Phil Neville will join Old Trafford’s coaching team. Paul Scholes has not formally been offered a position in the backroom, although Sir Alex is a leading proponent of the 38-year-old’s coaching ability.

Round is widely respected in the football community, although the same is not quite true of Chris Woods, Everton’s goalkeeping coach, who may also join United. The outstanding job Steele has performed working with David de Gea over the past two years has seemingly been forgotten before the ink has dried on Moyes’ new contract.

Nor is it yet clear whether Ferguson’s departure will prompt a rethink from Rene Meulenstein; the Scot’s principle lieutenant alongside Phelan. Meulenstein’s short managerial spell in charge of Brondby six years ago may represent unfinished business to the Dutchman, especially if Moyes reduces the coach’s scope.

Meanwhile, Phelan may finally take a crack at management – previous assistants including Brian Kidd, Steve McClaren and Carlos Quieroz have found the yearning to lead too great a draw.

It is at least now clear that Moyes is not prepared to work within a system already created, principally of Ferguson’s design. The younger Scot is a man with his own ideas.  The former Everton manager is known to be a proponent of meticulously detailed planning, sports-science and boot-camp style fitness. There will certainly be a change of emphasis at Carrington next season.

Similarly, Moyes’ thinking on the style and substance of his team may prompt change in the playing staff. Top of the list is Wayne Rooney’s future, with the 27-year-old having asked Ferguson for a transfer earlier this spring. While the noise coming out of Old Trafford is that the new man will work with his former protégé, behind the scenes the club has sought an exit for the £27 million striker. A bid for long-standing target Robert Lewandowski hinges on Rooney’s departure, or otherwise.

Meanwhile, there have already been inevitable press reports linking United to an imminent bid for Everton’s combative forward Marouane Fellaini. The gossip may hold some substance, although it is surely unthinkable that Moyes will deploy the Belgian in the forward role he occupied at Goodison Park for most of last season.

Over in the boardroom executive changes are only likely to accelerate United’s hugely aggressive global search for cash. Gill’s departure, which is certainly linked to Ferguson’s – an announcement coming just days after the Scot told his ally last February of firm plans to retire  – means significant promotion for three of the Glazer family’s key commercial team.

Woodward, as the Glazer family’s premier executor of United’s perpetual remit to create new revenue sources, will offer continuity of a sort. Although any temperance to rampant commercialism that Gill brought to the party over the past seven years – an argument often put forward in the 57-year-old’s defence – will now surely evaporate.

The club will still benefit from Gill and Ferguson’s part-time loyalty though. Debt, it seems, wasn’t Gill’s road to ruin – just a ticket into UEFA’s inner circle and a lucrative non-executive position. Meanwhile, Ferguson will reportedly be paid £100,000 a day to for up to 20 commercial appearances a season with United’s principle sponsors.

Yet, amid all the change on and off the pitch weight of responsibility for any post-Ferguson failure will fall squarely on Moyes’ broad shoulders, whether that judgement is fair or otherwise.  Which is why there was some surprise at the sharp decision to sack two of Ferguson’s senior coaches, with perhaps more to come.

Amid a summer storm continuity may be Moyes’ best ally.  The question now is whether Moyes’ head is clear enough to steer the club to the peace of safer ground.

Moyes the man to evolve Ferguson’s legacy

May 13, 2013 Tags: , Opinion 51 comments
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José Mourinho was never a smart choice to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson, the Scot who departed Old Trafford as Manchester United manager for the final time on Sunday. Mourinho may be the biggest managerial name in world football, Sir Alex aside, but contrary to popular opinion would never have been a good fit in Manchester – the Portuguese would have significantly clashed with the system set in place by Ferguson over two decades.

Built and moulded in the outgoing manager’s image,  United’s top-down structure would have inhibited Mourinho. One needs only to look at examples from two of Mourinho’s old flames – Chelsea and Inter – for examples of how the system can limit a coach’s success. Mourinho achieved great things in west London and Milan by creating a coaching set up to his exacting specifications. Those managers who followed the 50-year-old to Inter anad Chelsea crashed and burned, haunted by Mourinho’s spectre.

There will be a presence at Old Trafford too of course. Mourinho has proven to be an outstanding manager over the past decade, but Ferguson is simply greater. Ferguson’s legacy, especially with the former Aberdeen manager remaining at the club in an ambassadorial role, would have doomed Mourinho to the same fate as his successors.

This may not be true of David Moyes, whose lack of ego means that he is more willing to work with the system in place. If anything the Scot may deal with Ferguson’s heritage better than Mourinho. Arriving from a smaller, less sophisticated club, Moyes is already familiar with working within the confines set by others, financial or otherwise.

Meanwhile, Moyes’ limitations should be no barrier to future success. True, the 50-year-old’s European experience is limited, but that is not as concerning as it may first appear. After all, United should be too good and experienced not to qualify from Champions League group stages next season, whomever the coach.

United’s 2011/12 European campaign was a disaster, and Manchester City, with arguably a better squad, failed to qualify beyond the group stage two years in the row. Yet, United’s players are well seasoned in Europe, unlike the Blues.

Beyond the group stage matches fall victim to the vagaries of chance more than most, which has haunted Ferguson over the years. Paul Scholes’ goal against Porto in 2004 springs to mind, incongruously ruled offside in the game against Porto that made Mourinho’s career.

Certainly, a tactician of Mourinho’s quality can prove the edge in key matches, but it may behoove United supporters not to write off Moyes too quickly. After all, caution is key in European matches – a trait in which the Scot is well-versed.

Moreover, it is highly advantageous that Moyes has been managing in the Premier League for more than a decade. Europe holds the glamour, but domestic superiority is always United’s priority. Not least because the financial rewards are now greater than in the Champions League. Moyes knows how to navigate difficult domestic ties; one of his main rivals for the top job, Jürgen Klopp, doesn’t.

And if Moyes’ tactical approach is cautious, so too is United’s executive branch. In 1986 United’s board could afford to gamble on Sir Alex taking to life in England. This is no longer the case. With millions of fans worldwide, and more than £300 million in debt, the club must continue to be successful to maintain its current station in world football. The club could not have appointed a coach with limited Premier League experience.

Ferguson, whether by design or disposition – his diligence and desire for control are well documented – is a manager in its truest sense. The 71-year-old secured a hand in everything from the first team to the Megastore. Over the years Fergie has delegated some of responsibilities, but has always remained United’s ‘manager.’

This system is a British tradition. Meanwhile, continental clubs have long abandoned the practice of an omnipotent head, stripping managers of all duties bar first team training and matches. It would have been foolish at this stage to bring in a new coach from continental Europe with a retinue and little understanding of the United way. Moyes probably won’t fulfil all of Ferguson’s extensive responsibilities, but he’ll be receptive to doing most.

In this sense Ferguson’s retirement is an opportunity for the club too. There may never again be a true manager running United in Sir Alex’ mould, partly because  the club has become more complex, but mostly because managers are simply being trained to be ‘head coaches.’

But the club also needs prepare for the future. United will have to adapt by gently introducing more people into the back room. This may inevitably culminate in the club hiring a director of football down the line. After all, the benefits of specialisation and division of labour had long been obvious before Adam Smith’s pin factory.

Part of Ferguson’s genius lies in his adaptability – the Scot survived 26 years in his job because he continued to adjust. Moyes will not last that long, because he is already 50. But as football evolves there is no guarantee that Moyes will keep up as well as Ferguson has previously done.

Conceivably United will have to hire Moyes’ replacement within the next decade. Without a continental style system place, the club will find very limited room to manoeuvre vis-à-vis hiring the new man.

For now though, United has appointed a manager very much in Ferguson’s hue.