Following the sacking of David Moyes, there has been a lot of criticism for our players, suggesting that they contributed to him losing his job. The fact that he didn’t mention them or thank them in his parting statement, where he did express gratitude to the fans and staff, suggests Moyes probably agrees.
Player power is something that has only risen to prominence in the past decade or so in England, with Chelsea being labelled the main culprits. But if those players stopped playing for the likes of Luiz Felipe Scolari, Avram Grant or Andre Villas-Boas, therefore forcing Roman Abramovich to get rid of a manager who wasn’t up to the job and replace them with someone who hopefully was, is that a bad thing? For rivals fans it was, but not for Chelsea. Why do you think City fans showed up with “Don’t sack Moyes” banners at their game last week?
Arsenal and Manchester United were the only teams who were enjoying comparable success or who had similar aspirations as Chelsea during this time, and both of them had long-term managers in place. There was no need for player power at those clubs because, for the most part, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger were doing a decent job.
Having won titles and trophies, playing under world class managers, when Abramovich put some clueless dick in charge, was it any surprise the players kicked off? We can talk about how the players should always respect the manager, how it is their job to do as the manager instructs, but who is their allegiance to – the club or the manager? When players want to continue winning things, and want the club to continue being successful, should they play out of their skin to help an incapable manager keep his job for longer, knowing that in the end they will be sacked anyway because they’re not up to the job, or should they take their foot off the gas and let that manager get found out?
You’re not meant to like the fact these multi-millionaire footballers decide they aren’t going to give their all, if it is in fact a conscious decision, but the fact they earn so much money and play for the best clubs is because they’ve got a ridiculously competitive attitude. Ben Foster probably wouldn’t have altered his level of performance for David Moyes and plodded along as he always does, but that’s the reason why Foster isn’t still at United.
When reading an article on player power this week, I came across an interesting anecdote about when Wigan’s rugby team were looking to replace their coach, John Monie. He spent four years at the club in the 1990s and won the league and cup double four seasons running. When Monie stepped down in 1993, the Wigan chairman, Jack Robinson, knew he had a job on his hands in finding a replacement. “All those coaches in charge of players who don’t mind if they don’t win anything don’t know how lucky they are,” he said once training-ground resistance had made life impossible for his choice of successor. “How do you go about finding the right person to deal with a dressing room full of world-class psychopaths?”
United fans could look down their noses at Chelsea, with John Terry, Frank Lampard and the like seemingly deciding whether a manager was good enough to manage them or not, and letting Abramovich know all about it when they decided he wasn’t, because our players didn’t need to have any questions over whether their manager was capable of doing the job.
With Moyes, a man who hadn’t won a thing in all his years of management, our players were confronted with a manager who wasn’t good enough. He might have been a nice bloke but with hindsight, you get to appreciate what an ego he must have. Coming from Everton, a side he had transformed from relegation fodder to top third of the table material, he believed he knew better than Ferguson.
I’ve been angry with Ferguson picking his mate, someone he deemed to be cut from the same cloth when it’s apparent by his honours record alone that this is not the case at all, to replace him as manager of our club. No interviews, no rigorous process, just Fergie showing up at Moyes’ house and telling him he had the job, a job he hadn’t even applied for. In what world was this deemed acceptable, to both Ferguson and the owners of the club? It is mental.
But then Ferguson probably assumed, as it would have been the sensible thing to do, that Moyes would just keep things ticking over nicely. Avram Grant did the same thing in 2007-2008, with the players more or less managing themselves, and Steve Clarke kept in the frame to ensure there weren’t wholesale changes. Chelsea also brought in Henk ten Cate, who had been assistant at Barcelona for three years when they won two league titles, two Supercopa de Espanas and one European Cup.
In contrast, Moyes got rid of United’s backroom staff, with Rene Meulensteen believing his role would be marginalised and therefore not being worth his while to hang around. What a bizarre thing to do. You’ve won nothing, you know nothing about winning trophies, and then you bin off all the people who do have that experience and replace them with people who also have never won a thing. Why would Moyes not keep things in place for that first season at least and then start his second year at the club, after presumably sustaining some level of success (even if that was just merely qualifying for next year’s Champions League) decide on which things he wanted to keep, having learnt from the best, and which things he wanted to change? Why immediately change everything? Did he honestly think that his way was better than what United had been doing?
This isn’t to say Moyes should be held solely responsible for the failure of this season. Whilst I disagree with comments in Moyes’ parting statement about the squad neededing “fundamental rebuilding”, given we had just strolled to the title the season before, we were short of a few players and Ed Woodward let him down massively in the summer. I don’t think Marouane Fellaini was his first choice, given the player’s clause was allowed to expire and United only wrapped up the deal in the final moments of the transfer window, but he was seen as a safe bet for Moyes who trusted him to deliver the goods as he had done at Everton. Hindsight would suggest Fellaini isn’t good enough for United, but it would be nice if all the United fans who used to sing Fellaini’s praises after he bossed the midfield every time he played against us would admit they once thought he could do a job for us too.
But claims that Moyes lost the dressing room are probably false, because it’s likely he never had it to begin with. That’s not the say the players have been plotting against him all season, but they were more than likely waiting for him to prove that he could cope with the magnitude of the job, and that was something he didn’t ever achieve.
When you look at people like Ryan Giggs, Manchester United through and through, and you hear people in the media say he is at fault for Moyes’ sacking, well if that’s true, then doesn’t that suggest to you that maybe it’s for the best? Unless you want to believe that Giggs is some massive egotist, who wanted Moyes gone so he could be United manager for a few games, and run the risk of being out on his arse when the permanent replacement arrived, does it not stand to reason that Giggs wants the best for the club? He knows the club and players inside out, so can we not trust that if he believes Moyes isn’t good enough, it’s because he isn’t? Let’s remember, Giggs knows an awful lot more about Moyes’ managerial capabilities than Ferguson did, given that he has worked alongside/under him for the past year.
Phil Jones has reacted angrily to the claim that United haven’t given their all this season though, insisting that they obviously wanted to win every game.
“Players don’t go out on the football pitch to lose games. That is ridiculous,” he said. “Everyone wants to win every game at this club. That accusation is hurtful. It’s not happened for whatever reason, but we need to move on quickly and end the season well. We are sorry he has lost his job and probably we didn’t get some of the results that we would have liked for him, but that’s football.”
But players wanting to win games isn’t enough. If it was, we wouldn’t have football managers, and we wouldn’t be able to differentiate between great managers and poor ones.
Think back to Roy Keane’s performance in Turin against Juventus in 1999, when United trailed 2-0 after ten minutes only to come back to win 3-2 and book their place in the European Cup final. Keane was like a man possessed.
“It was the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field,” Ferguson later reflected. “Pounding over every blade of grass, competing as if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose, he inspired all around him. I felt it was an honour to be associated with such a player.”
Now maybe Keane isn’t the best example. Maybe he would play like that whichever shirt he wore or whoever the manager was. But then it’s also possible that if Keane’s relationship with Ferguson then was as it is now, we wouldn’t have seen quite the same display. That wouldn’t make Keane any less of a winner, but surely the job of managers is to give the players that little bit extra. Isn’t that why last season’s United squad pissed all over the league, winning the title by 11 points despite having flaws, because Ferguson was the best in the business?
When Zlatan Ibrahimovic reflected on his relationship with Jose Mourinho when he played for him at Inter Milan, he said: “He’s the leader of his army. But he cares, too. Mourinho would become a guy I was basically willing to die for.”
That’s what outstanding football managers do. However they do it, and it must be a rare talent given how few of them there are about, they make their players give them something more. Ferguson got every last drop of effort out of his players because he was a winner and he was a fighter.
Moyes is not an outstanding football manager and he didn’t get enough out of those same players. We can call our players spoilt and selfish, just like we have said about Chelsea’s time and again when another manager hasn’t made the grade and stories leak about players making life difficult for the departed boss.
Or we can accept that the best football players want to play for the best football managers. They want to go to training and improve. They want to become better players and win more medals. They want to get out on the pitch with a clear vision and employ tactics that will enable them to beat the opposition. And if they are playing for someone who isn’t capable of doing those things, are they at fault for becoming demotivated? Some will still argue that they still should, given the wages they are on, but they are still only human. Compare any employee’s work rate when working for an inspirational and exceptional boss to them working for an inexperienced and ordinary boss. That doesn’t mean that employees for a less-skilled boss are being defiant or lazy, rather that their boss isn’t getting the best out of them.
Leighton Baines summed this up well when comparing his new manager, who again has got much more out of Everton’s players than Moyes ever did, with his former manager.
“The two managers are totally different, in every way,” Baines said. “The current manager, he’s ultra-positive. He takes the positive from every single scenario. That’s been the big thing for me: the difference in the style of play, committing to that and not feeling like we have to adapt to the opposition. The new manager has that confidence and belief in himself, in his own blueprint. And then in us.”
That second half against Norwich at the weekend was probably the best football we’ve played all season. You could say it was only a home game against a team fighting a relegation battle, and that is a true, and an indication of how far we’ve fallen. But we lost 2-1 at home to West Brom this season too, and they are only four points better off than Norwich (with three of those four coming from their victory over us). Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney were gushing when talking about the appointment of Giggs. He isn’t an exceptional manager (yet!) but he is inspiring and the players trust him. You would imagine that all of our players, particularly those who have been there a while, will have learnt something from him at some time or another.
Martinez has achieved very little in the game, so far, but look at how he has improved the way Everton play and the confidence they have. Di Matteo had achieved nothing in the game but won a European Cup at Chelsea. Giggs has his coaching badges and no experience of management, but on the limited evidence we have, could get a better performance out of the players than Moyes could.
Maybe we will read an autobiography or two in years to come that will fill in the blanks on what went on behind the scenes this season, but contrary to Keane’s claims, I don’t think our players need to be ashamed of what’s happened this season. But we can hope the hurt and embarrassment will prove vital in aiding the next manager in inspiring them to glory next season.
The RoM 2017-18 Season Preview is available for just £5. It includes an EXCLUSIVE interview with Paul Scholes, a Q&A with the country's top journalists about our transfer targets, articles by brilliant United writers, and so much more. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.