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How “player power” might have saved Manchester United

Moyes-GiggsFollowing 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.

About Scott

Scott is the editor of Red Matters - 50 Years of Supporting Manchester United and an author of Play Like Fergie's Boys and Not Nineteen Forever. He writes for ESPN, The Metro and Bleacher Report. Follow @R_o_M on Twitter.

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  1. Marko Maric says:

    Degea…pal, SAf could bring one foot man if he wanted, but he played better than two foot man. So dont care…he had a result

  2. warrored says:

    @Marko…..I don’t know why you think we could have got Modric from Spurs?

    Levy wouldn’t sell him to Chelsea for £40 million and sold him to Madrid for less later.

  3. Marko Maric says:

    The point is, that SAF didn t think that there is not another SAF, who can run this poor team on the same way. From now on, you need really good players if you wanna win something

  4. Marko Maric says:

    @Warroed…when he was at Dinamo. I mean how come everybody saw talent, only we didnt . Only talent we spoted in the last years was Javier..that is shame

  5. warrored says:

    Yeah Madrid have Bale and Ronaldo on their wings, it wasn’t that long ago that we could have had them both too.

    That’s the difference with the financial investment required. We could have had both of them for under £20 million…….Madrid had to pay £165 million.

  6. tallestreD says:

    Marko lol Sure the man Modric is representing

  7. warrored says:

    @Marko….yeah sorry mate misunderstood your post. When Modric signed for Spurs though, we had Scholes so it’s not always black and white.

    Wasn’t it the same time we were in for Tosic and Ljajic?

  8. Marko Maric says:

    Bale, cost 10 millions…it was to much, Bebe for 7 wasn t hahaah

  9. warrored says:

    @Marko…..the season spurs bought Modric….we bought Nani Anderson and Hargreaves too.

    I always thought Modric suited us but not instead of Scholes though.

  10. Marko Maric says:

    If we were thinking about future, we wouldn t think that we had Scholes.
    Again, we only found Javier…it a shame for club like United. Ig we offered 50 millions for him after one year in Tot…we would get him. That is what i m talking about. When you need someone, you dnt ask for price. That is what other clubs did and we didnt. No they knoe we need all team, and they will put the price on the highest place. Get it?
    But you all said to me that i m crazy, why should we over pay anyone, he should be honoured to play for us. Bayern left that kind of thinking 10 years ago. do tell me now, is Modric worth 50-60 millions. Even motr! Back then, we were proud, why should we pay. No we paying with bad results and soon big wages…

  11. wayne barker says:

    The easiest thing in the World is having 20/20 vision after the fact but in reality unless a manager has a crystal ball not quite that simple

  12. warrored says:

    @Marko Bale cost 7 million. Southampton turned down our bid for him. SAF wanted him. Don’t forget he was a left back. When Spurs bought him they paid the same amount.

    He never made the grade at LB and was very nearly sold. He got his chance when Assou Ekotto got injured. When he returned from injury Harry moved Bale forward to the left wing and had never looked back.

    Maybe we could have tried harder to get him, but we had arguably one of the best left backs in the world already in Evra and had just bought Fabio and Rafael.

  13. warrored says:

    @Marko….yeah but we had Carrick Scholes Fletcher Nani Anderson Park and Ronaldo. We didn’t need Modric.

  14. warrored says:

    Oh Yeah and Giggs!!

  15. Marko Maric says:

    @wayne I agree…but Barca payed 2.2 millions for Halilovic from Dinamo…we dont know about him. The thing is, that we have a bad result about young players after Ronaldo. Tottenham was ready to gamble, we didn t.
    Bale – we offered 5, they wanted 10.
    We have to be honest, we didn t have the money, or we didn t have good scouts…

  16. Marko Maric says:

    How old was Scholes? We need to think about future, right?

  17. Marko Maric says:

    We didn t spot a single player that become good, others did…can t defend the club, SAF, scouts, when it is obvious

  18. wayne barker says:

    Marko if I remember right according to Sir Alex some kind of double cross went on Utd were dead keen on signing Bale and we’re front runners but Southampton sold Bale to Spurs without even giving Utd a chance,Sir Alex really wanted him

  19. wayne barker says:

    Lol Erm Ronnie cost 12 mill,Hernandez 8 mill

  20. wayne barker says:

    Evra and Vidic didn’t cost very much

  21. warrored says:

    @Marko…you could say that about any side lolol….How many unknown players have City and Chelsea signed lately? Or Bayern or Barca or Madrid Juve Liverpool or even Spurs?

    They are out there like Benteke and Michu.

    Had we bought Bale he wouldn’t have got a game based on Evras form and fitness. Would Modric have come to us to be a reserve player? I doubt it. You can’t buy everyone.

    Modric had one great season 10-11…..he was average before and after and has been very hit and miss at Madrid.

    Today has been his best game for Madrid in a while. Ask yourself why did RM buy Illarimendi and Khedira?

  22. warrored says:

    @Marko……ref Halilovec…..of course we knew about him, we’ve had scouts at Dinamo. There are not many players these days that are unknown.

    There is a scouting software that most clubs have that features every professional player and highlights the latest hot properties.

    Halilovic was dubbed the new Messi for christs sake….but then again so was Bojan and where is he now?

  23. Marko Maric says:

    Bayern – he produce…Kroos, Schweini…also buying Alaba, Ribery-guy wanted Real, who wouldn t and they made him to stay…
    Barca – look how manny players they produced
    Real – also…

    Modric played in Dinamo CL…so everyone could see how good is he. Rednapp always was praising him…
    Ofcourse you can t always win and know, but we missed some very clear oportunitys.

  24. Marko Maric says:

    @Wayne, you dont read…i said after Ronaldo…

  25. Marko Maric says:

    @Warr..thatvis also what i m saying. We didn t give chances to some players. Some could make manny mistakes, some couldn t, they would be benched.
    Hahhaha dont mention Juve hahahha
    Juve – Pogba, tevez for 9 millions hahha, Vidal, Llorente free…

  26. Marko Maric says:

    Roma – Strootman for our fans he was weak, suited for Italian league…we made more mistakes on transfer market than any other club. We are like amaters.
    Tottenham – Eriksen…he is 100 better than Fellaini and almost trice cheaper…

  27. Marko Maric says:

    I would say after Bayern, we have the most arrogant fans in the world. If player dont sign, he is chaseing money, if want Madrid he is a jerk, if dont wanna come to PL, then he is weak…

  28. Tommy says:


    With regards to Fellani whether you think hes a United player or not to describve him as a rubbish player is not true.


    Danny Wilson is scum plain and simple, I would rather be a liar and a cheat than a women beater. Theirs a reason none of the Giggs family speak to him.

  29. iamMatty says:

    warrored says:
    @Marko…you could say that about any side lolol….How many unknown
    players have City and Chelsea signed lately? Or Bayern or Barca or
    Madrid Juve Liverpool or even Spurs?
    They are out there like Benteke and Michu.
    Had we bought Bale he wouldn’t have got a game based on Evras form
    and fitness. Would Modric have come to us to be a reserve player? I
    doubt it. You can’t buy everyone.
    Modric had one great season 10-11…..he was average before and after
    and has been very hit and miss at Madrid.
    Today has been his best game for Madrid in a while. Ask yourself why
    did RM buy Illarimendi and Khedira?
    Actually modric was a star at the tail end of last year for madrid. He hasn’t looked back since that goal against us. Barring ronaldo, he’s been in my opinion madrid’s player of the year thus far.

  30. tallestreD says:

    IamMatty I would like to think Di Maria was more of a revelation for them this season. Modric no doubt has been a hit this season when you think that this was a player that was labelled flop of the season under Mourinho but I just think A. Di Maria aside CR7 is next in line.


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