Wednesday 5 February 1958. Manchester United played Red Star in the European Cup quarter-final, drawing 3-3 in Belgrade. Bobby Charlton scored twice and Dennis Violett another as Matt Busby’s “Babes” secured passaged through to the semi-finals on a 5-4 aggregate score. They were to play AC Milan next.
Friday night’s comfortable 4-0 win over Yeovil Town in the FA Cup completed a very good week for Manchester United. On Monday weeks of speculation ended when Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez was confirmed as a United player. Then came the news that manager José Mourinho had signed a contract extension keeping the Portuguese manager at the club until at least 2020, with an option for another year.
Monday night’s confirmation that Alexis Sanchez has put pen to paper on a four and a half year deal at Manchester United was met with an unsurprising deluge of hatred and vitriol towards the player and his new club. Par for the course some might say. The welcome addition of a world-class talent to United’s squad wasn’t easy to swallow for the rest of the football community though, especially with everybody expecting the Chilean forward to reunite with Pep Guardiola at one of Greater Manchester’s lesser clubs. United blew that out of the water and the now former Arsenal player should make his début at Yeovil on Friday night.
Sunday saw yet another abysmal performance from “Moyes Boys” at Old Trafford, with three crucial points heading down the drain after Manchester United’s 2-2 draw with Fulham. So poor was United’s performance that plenty leaving the stadium expressed a belief that the Premier League champions may now be due a ‘proper manager’ at the helm.
Replacing Moyes is now a question on many supporters lips, with some asking how the Scot can expect to keep his job when United has lost 40 per cent of home games this season. Effectively out of the race for a top four place and with it Champions League qualification, some fans now believe that United must now regroup under a new manager; one with a better understanding of the game and more tactical nous than David Moyes. It may be unlikely, but should the Glazer family fire Moyes, enter the candidates:
The 67-year-old Dutchman was recently fired by crazy Anzhi Makhachkala owner Suleyman Kerimov, and is thus available on the market as a short-term fix. The vastly experienced manager is known for his attacking sensibility and holds Premier League experience after leading Chelsea to an FA Cup final win in 2009 with an impressive 74 per cent win record after taking over from Luis Felipe Scolari. United couldn’t benefit from this maagerial great in the long-term as he will take over the Netherlands national side after this summer’s World Cup.
Rant score: 10/10
Current job: Unemployed
History: PSV Eindhoven, Fenerbahçe, Valencia, Netherlands, Real Madrid, Real Betis, South Korea, Australia, Russia, Chelsea, Turkey, Anzhi Makhachkala
The 74-year-old Italian is still going strong, proving like United’s former manager that age really is a state of mind. Trapattoni is available after the leaving is post as manager of the Republic of Ireland in September. A great player in the sixties with AC Milan, Trapattoni speaks four languages – with certain charming mistakes – and is one of the most decorated managers in history. He has won 10 league titles – in four countries – and all three major European club titles. Perhaps the fiery Italian could transform United’s season?
Rant score: 6/10
Current job: Unemployed
History: Milan, Juventus, Inter, Bayern Munich, Cagliari, Fiorentina, Italy, Benfica, Stuttgart, Salzburg, Republic of Ireland
A part of the current playing squad, 40-year-old Giggs is the only active player in the world who holds every single coaching badge available including the UEFA Pro Elite badge. Could the most decorated player in world football begin his managerial career as United’s version of Pep Guardiola? Certainly his peers would respect Giggs many times more than they seem to respect United’s current manager. And perhaps Giggs would do the sensible thing and hire a few decent coaches to help him out at Carrington!
Rant score: 6/10
Current job: Player-coach, Manchester United
History: Manchester United
Former United fan favourite ‘Larry White’ is a keen student of the game and has already shaken up the French league by winning the title with underdog Bordeaux in 2009 – much like Sir Alex Ferguson did with Aberdeen thirty years ago in Scotland. The 48-year-old, nicknamed Le Président, would relish the chance to manage United, but won’t come cheap as he is under contract with mega-rich Paris Saint-Germain.
Rant score: 9/10
Current job: Paris Saint-Germain
History: Bordeaux, France, Paris Saint-Germain
Charismatic Croatian rock ‘n’ roll manager Bilic speaks fluent English and holds a law degree. Bilic spent six years as manager of Croatia and has a record of inspiring his teams, while offering few dire excuses. After a successful stint as national team manager he is perhaps ready for the step up to a bigger challenge having frequently been linked to jobs in England.
Rant score: 5/10
History: Hajduk Split, Croatia, Lokomotiv Moscow, Beşiktaş
Ole Gunnar Solskjær
Ole has set about charming the Sky Sports presenters, is highly focused and chews gum incessantly on the sidelines during matches. Does the Babyfaced Assassin remind you of anybody? Finally back in the Premier League, where he surely belongs, there are few willing to bet against Solskjær achieving at least relative success with Cardiff City. Named Olegend by his peers in the Old Trafford dressing room, the 40-year-old would love to take charge of United.
Rant score: 7/10
Current job: Cardiff City
History: Molde, Cardiff City
Klopp holds a diploma in Sport Science and a liking for heavy metal – just a couple of the master motivator’s traits. There’s never a dull moment around with Brick Top, and neither with his attacking Borussia Dortmund side. Klopp secured two league titles on the trot in 2011 and 2012, which is a phenomenal achievement given just how many players Dortmand have lost in recent years, including to hated rivals Bayern Munich. Fed up with the German press’ favouritism of Munich, and a lack of funds to keep his players – such as Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa – Klopp could yet be tempted to take the reigns at United.
Rant score: 9/10
Current job: Borussia Dortmund
History: 1. FSV Mainz 05, Borussia Dortmund
The German genius managed to get ego-centric players such as Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery tp honour their defensive duties at Bayern Munich, with the side claiming a treble in Heynckes’ last season with the club. Heynckes was a marvellous striker in his pomp in the ’70s, winning both the European Championship and the World Cup. Now 68-years-old, Heynckes deserves another stint at the very top even though Munich wanted somebody younger. Let the Bavarians’ loss be United’s gain!
Rant score: 9/10
Current job: Retired
History: Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayern Munich, Athletic Bilbao, Eintracht Frankfurt, Tenerife, Real Madrid, Benfica, Schalke 04, Bayer Leverkusen
Mr Cool would do anything for United and therein lies at least one problem: there’s little chance Ed Woodward and the Glazer family would sanction free bird Cantona’s appointment as boss. Imagine what Eric might publicly say about the club’s state of affairs and the bean-counters in charge? And picture Luis Suarez back at Old Trafford in March, with Eric once literally kicking racism out of football! Eric was most recently sporting director at the New York Cosmos, but has said that he’d love to manage United. At least fans could expect some impressive attacking displays!
Rant score: 9/10
Current job: Unemployed
History: France (beach), New York Cosmos (Director of Soccer)
Sir Alex Ferguson
“I enjoy watching them play”, said United’s former manager of his former players. But how long can the Master sit tight and watch his successor ruin 27 years of hard work? Sir Alex is still very much active, and has travelled to almost all of United’s away games this season, in addition to holding a book tour, a lecture tour and giving countless interviews. Ferguson’s energy and enthusiasm will seemingly never diminish. Please come back, Sir, United might need you more now than we did in 1986!
Rant score: 10/10
Current job: Retired
History: East Stirlingshire, St. Mirren, Aberdeen, Manchester United
Six months with David Moyes and Manchester United has transformed from Premier League champions to something akin to a relegation contender. After all the amateur decision-making that has surrounded the club these past few months, it’s a wonder how the Reds are not long out of the Champions League as well. Maybe the age of miracles really isn’t over?
Moyes has made mistakes from the off. He came in to the position as United manager and sacked world-class coaches in René Meulensteen and Eric Steele in too much of a hurry. Preposterously, he went on to claim that he was “still getting to know” his players. Really? It might have been a good idea to keep some of the coaches that had trained these players for years.
Fast forward a few months and Moyes publicly claims that he needs more coaching manpower and wants to hire yet another former Everton coach in John Murtough, the Premier League’s Head of Elite Performance. One wonders what, exactly, was the point of giving Meulensteen, Steele, and even Mike Phelan the boot in the first place. Given Sir Alex Ferguson’s superhuman work ethic, it wouldn’t have been strange for Moyes to increase the number of backroom staff last summer, rather than shed experience.
During Ferguson’s recent lecture “Repeating Success”, held in Oslo a few weeks back, United’s former manager said that letting his staff take care of the day-to-day coaching was one of the best decisions he’d ever made. Ferguson explained that it was former assistant Archie Knox’ idea from their days at Aberdeen, freeing Sir Alex to concentrate on pretty much everything else.
In that context it is baffling that Moyes felt the need to stroll in to the Carrington – sorry, the “Aon Training Complex” – to take charge of every single training session from the off. Where does that leave Steve Round and what, exactly, does he do?
After all, the manager’s role at United is so big, so complex, and the workload so huge that it is simply common sense to rely on an extensive, and world-class, backroom staff, and Moyes had the opportunity to keep some pretty good coaches around. Instead, he felt the need to show United’s multi-millionaire stars, whom between them have won countless trophies, ‘how it really should be done’. No wonder Moyes has struggled to gain the players’ respect.
It is not as if Moyes’ training sessions have led to blistering football in any case. Quite the opposite. If Moyes had led an attacking revolution, it would be harder for supporters to criticise. As it is, with a top four finish seemingly unrealistic, it is oh so easy. In fact training, Moyes-style, has led only to slow, boring football, with two-time Premier League top-scorer Robin van Persie sat on the sidelines injured. Nice work, David.
It gets even worse when it comes to acquisitions. United’s bizarre and embarrassing approach to the summer transfer window has been fully analysed. Yet, after failing to acquire any top talent, it still boggles the mind why Moyes believed that United’s squad would benefit from the acquisition of Marouane Fellaini.
In fact Fellaini has been so bad that further analysis about the ‘wigman’ is unnecessary; you’ve seen him play. Fellaini was decent enough in the average punter’s Fantasy League team last season, but few actually wanted him in a United shirt. Yet, even with that observation in mind it would be natural to expect United’s coaching team to define Fellaini’s role with the side. The very same coaching team that know him from Everton.
It’s an obvious question, but how does Moyes expect Fellaini to contribute this season? As a midfield shield; holding up the ball; scoring goals, and using his height from set-pieces? He is doing none, and certainly not all of them! And, as an aside, Fellaini should have been sent off in United’s recent loss against Everton – not for the first time either. United’s disciplinary record is excellent, let’s keep it that way, eh?
Then there is the public pursuit of left-back Leighton Baines, when United already possesses one of the world’s finest in the position, the club vice-captain, Patrice Evra. Evra is almost never injured and his heart bleeds United, and he remains extremely important in the dressing room. Unsettling the man made little sense, especially when United have decent cover in Alexander “street footballer” Büttner, Fabio Da Silva and the fine youngster Guillermo Varela.
Off the pitch Moyes inspires no confidence either. The 50-year-old has name dropped Everton and what “we did there” in almost every press conference. But, David, sixth place isn’t honourable and at United it isn’t good enough either. United shalt always compete for honours – it is what fans have come to expect with Sir Alex at the helm.
After all, United’s worst position since the inauguration of the Premiership is third place, and that was widely criticised as a poor season. How about not finishing in the top four? For United’s ‘spoilt’ fans – sorry, “customers” – that is akin to living in either Sodomma or Gomorra. Take your pick.
This is, after all, the reigning Champions, not a club struggling for survival as United found itself in 1986 when Sir Alex took charge. Not only did United win the league by 11 points last season, but the side was unlucky not to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League.
It begs the question – exactly who does Moyes think he is coming to United and changing everything? This is a top club, and Moyes inherited top coaches and top playing talent served on a silver platter.
Whatever happened to Moyes’ promise to ‘continue the United way’? There’s nothing United-esque about the side these days. Two home defeats on the trot is almost unheard of! Yet, Moyes felt the need to reinvent the wheel. Some nerve after 11 seasons at Everton and not a single trophy secured.
It is a situation reminiscent of Roy Hodgson’s time at Liverpool – a decent manager that no one ever warmed to, who failed to gain his players’ respect. Wrong man, at the wrong time.
Legendary Italian player Paolo Maldini was 35-years-old when asked if he still got nervous ahead of matches. “It’s much worse now”, he replied, “when you’re young, you don’t really care about all the fuss, you just want to prove yourself.” There’s probably a lot to learn from Maldini, and even more so when last Saturday’s game against Sunderland and subsequent goals from youngster Adnan Januzaj are put in to context.
Unlike many senior Manchester United players, the young Belgian-Albanian seemed to enjoy his football, looking eager to prove himself. There was no stress as Januzaj took two beautiful goals. The first a fine pass out to Patrice Evra on the left, with Sunderland hardman Lee Cattermole snipping at the young attacker’s heels, followed by a well-timed run in to the box and nice finish with his right. Januzaj’s second was even better when a poor John O’Shea clearance was hammered into the corner with a volley even Robin van Persie would have been proud of.
There’s no denying Januzaj a run in the first team now, not after Saturday’s display, especially if David Moyes considers Ashley Young to be the youngster’s main competitor on United’s left! England international Young hasn’t performed well in the United shirt since the Reds beat Manchester City at Ethiad in December, almost a year ago. Moyes probably realises this too, which perhaps is why Young was nowhere to be seen last weekend.
The soon-to-be-out-of-contract Januzaj actually became the youngest ever to score two goals in a Premier League game Saturday evening, so if Moyes and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward know a bit about what they’re doing – and the jury is still definitely out – they’ll make sure the youngster signs a lengthy, and profitable, contract extension. The club can ill afford another Paul Pogba situation.
Can you actually win something with kids; perhaps Moyes should look to Januzaj and other United starlets to save this so far dismal season? It’s not as if blame can be attached to any of the squad’s younger players for United’s tepid season start.
Take Rio Ferdinand, for example, who was omitted from the squad against Sunderland with a groin strain. The England international has been at fault for much that’s been going on in United’s defence this season. Both of Bayern Leverkusen’s goals in the Champions League came from Rio’s mistakes, and the same argument can be made of West Bromwich Albion’s goals at Old Trafford.
Which begs the question: where’s Johnny Evans? Thoroughly solid two seasons on the trot, the Northern Irishman seems to be another of United’s forgotten men after his comfortable display in his first game this season against Liverpool in the league cup. Maybe Moyes blames the international for United’s shock defeat against WBA?
Phil Jones should perhaps have done better when Sunderland scored the opening goal last Saturday, but United captain Nemanja Vidic won’t be pleased with the way he handed Craig Gardner the opening goal. And hasn’t Chris Smalling been pretty much outstanding when given the chance this campaign? Perhaps a little more faith in youth at the back is the way forward, while playing with some enthusiasm like Rafael Da Silva would be nice.
Januzaj might not be the sole bright young spot on offer for United this season. It was, after all, a masterclass save from ‘keeper David De Gea with the score still at 1-0 to the home side that kept United in the game.
And Tom ‘TC23’ Cleverley might deserve a few more games next to Michael Carrick in the centre of the park after two decent performances against Shaktar Donetsk and the second half against Sunderland. At least the Englishman brings a bit more energy than Marouane Fellaini, who so far seems to only be very good at passing the ball back to Carrick, or even further back towards one of United’s defenders.
Perhaps another one to claim a future place next to Carrick could be the attacking midfielder Jesse Lingard, who’s on loan to Birmingham City in the Championship until the end of October. Lingard proved during this summer’s marketing tour – formerly known as “preseason” – that he knows how to shoot, so there seems little to lose in offering the youngster time when the loan deal expires. Four goals in his first game for the Brummies prompted the experienced Birmingham assistant manager Terry McDermott to say it was the best debut he had ever seen.
Then there is Nick Powell, the first player to ever have scored a goal for Wigan Athletic in Europe – a player that was hailed by Crewe Alexandra legend Dario Gradi as one of the finest to emerge from the club’s acknowledged academy.
It is not too much to ask that talents such as Januzaj, Lingard and Powell are given a chance ahead of those that have been given many, but failed to impress. If only to make sure the senior players know that their places are under threat. After all, the aforementioned Pogba went from United’s bench to star at Juventus – it should never happen again.
It also might not be a bad idea to give Wilfried Zaha a first team debut sometime soon. The youngster could show a tad more creative spark than the ultra boring Antonio Valencia, a player that Patrice Evra once described by saying “I think he ate a motor!” Some how the Ecuadorian who has “eaten a motor” now fails to track back, pass opposition defenders or properly cross the ball. Maybe the motor is depleted?
Meanwhile, many seem to think that want-away star Wayne Rooney has been United’s finest so far, but his form is surely vastly overrated. The Scouser’s touch doesn’t look good – always a barometer – and running around like a very rich man’s Carlos Tevez isn’t going to win United enough matches, nor trophies, unless is for appreciating “effort” above all else.
Sadly, Rooney’s new-found striking partner Robin van Persie doesn’t look all that fit either, not after fluffing the chance he had to score United’s third goal against Sunderland when the Dutchman was through one on one with the home side’s ‘keeper. van Persie in good form would score in a position like that. Possibly even in his sleep.
There is even an argument – a brutal one – that a younger guard in Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernández have earned a chance during the coming run of ‘favourable fixtures.’
“Manchester United has always relied hugely on young players and my priority will always be to promote these talents”, Moyes said this summer. Now is the time to prove it, David, and play your darlings!