Losing to City and Liverpool away was painful, as it always is, but somewhat expected. Our record in both of these fixtures over the past few years under Sir Alex Ferguson has been pretty poor. Of course, you wouldn’t swap the trophies for derby day wins, we aren’t the sort of club that will bring out DVDs for beating Liverpool home and away, but have nothing to show for it at the end of the season. But there’s something so disheartening about the way we have been playing against our hated rivals in recent years. There’s no fight in our team, no warriors tearing about the park putting in nasty challenges and shaking up the opposition, no desperation to get the game won. The soundbites from the players before and after these games are what you would expect, with them talking about how important it is to win them, reflecting on how disappointed they are not to have won, but they don’t get that message across during the 90 minutes. We rarely look as though we want it as much as our rivals in the big clashes these days. When this trend continued with David Moyes, of course it was disappointing, but it wasn’t surprising. It certainly couldn’t be used as evidence that Moyes wasn’t up to the job.
The defeat at home to West Brom was a big result for Moyes, very damaging, but Ferguson had bad results too. That defeat at home to Blackburn the season before last, when they went on to get relegated, cost us the title, and the team selection for that game was shocking. The 1-0 defeat at the Etihad in the closing weeks of that same season, which more or less sealed our fate as runners up and allowed City one hand on the trophy, was down to a criminally defensive approach from the manager. He made mistakes. He got things wrong. Moyes should be afforded those mistakes too at this stage.
The draw with Southampton was the final nail in the coffin for some fans though. We are eight games in to the season and there are some reds, mainly those lurking on the internet, calling for the manager to be sacked. Can you imagine the reaction of these same fans if Chelsea or City sacked a manager after just eight league games in charge? Those clubs would be dismissed as plastic, as laughing stocks, as an embarrassing product of new money.
Moyes is learning all the time and we’re eager for him to learn faster. We want him to get it right straight away. As manager of Manchester United, maybe fans are right to claim that we should have a manager who has the experience to adjust faster than Moyes has. But Moyes is the man the club picked, the man our legendary former manager chose, so we do have to be patient.
Moyes persevered with Ashley Young, the player Ferguson believed deserved to be one of the club’s top earners, but has seemingly come to the conclusion the fans did a while ago, that he’s not up to the job. So instead of playing Young on the left, Moyes has given gifted youngster Adnan Januzaj a starting role instead, and was rewarded with three points at the Stadium of Light after the Belgian scored twice after we went a goal down. Unlike Paul Pogba, who left after being overlooked by Ferguson, Januzaj wants to stay at the club and has committed himself to a further five years with us as a result of the faith Moyes has shown in him.
Week by week Moyes is trying new things out, looking at who works best in midfield, deciding which defenders give us the most solid approach to games, and is adjusting his starting XI and tactics accordingly. He made odd subs against Southampton, but he made sensible ones against Sunderland, so just like every other manager, he can get it right and can get it wrong, and those decisions will win and lose us games.
After eight games, there’s no way we can tell whether he is going to get the big decisions right more than he does wrong. What we can tell is that he is happy to change the team and learn from what hasn’t worked before. He is too cautious and doesn’t get the game wrapped up when he needs to. Maybe he’s so worried about losing that he would rather preserve a point than go for the kill and risk losing? Maybe he’s so used to the more defensive approach required when he was Everton manager and is struggling to adjust? The shift in mentality, as much as he would be keen to adopt it straight away, will understandably take Moyes time. He’s only human. But this is a process, something that can’t be fixed over night, and any transition of this magnitude would take time to settle.
Still, there will continue to be fans who call for Moyes to be sacked, and one day, they will probably get their wish. For some fans it is better to be right than it is for United to do well, so the ones who haven’t wanted Moyes since the beginning will get to feel very proud when the club sack him after he hasn’t done a good enough job. We might not be in Europe, we might not have won anything, but at least they were right about Moyes from the beginning, and that’s what really matters.
Now, those who read the blog regularly will know I didn’t want Moyes as manager. I didn’t, and still don’t, think he’s qualified for the position. Nowhere near qualified in fact. The biggest worry was his Champions League experience, although thankfully, that has turned out to be one of his greatest strengths so far. We’re top of the group after beating Bayer Leverkusen, who are currently 1 point behind European champions Bayern Munich and on the same points as European Cup finalists Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, and drawing away to Shakhtar Donetsk at a ground where no English club has won.
Still, having no experience of winning trophies, of being in a title race, of managing world class stars, means Moyes doesn’t have the CV that the manager of Manchester United, that the manager of any champions, would require. Now, the only way of getting experience is to go out and there and do it. At Everton, Moyes was at a club that were capable of winning trophies, but this was something he never achieved. He wasn’t presented with an opportunity to get involved in title races there though, as Ferguson had been in Scotland, and just like our former manager, United is the first club where he’s been in charge of the biggest stars, and their egos. But for me, I think the manager who replaced Ferguson should have gained the required experience elsewhere, rather than learning on the job at United.
Ferguson picked Moyes though, whether we agree with it or not, and certainly has more insight than we do in to what type of person Moyes is and what he is capable of. Chances are he won’t see out his six year contract, with the gaps in his knowledge too vast to be bridged in a few years at Old Trafford, but there is always the possibility he will go on to do a good enough job. No one dreamed Ferguson would have gone on to achieve even half of what he did at United and whilst I don’t buy in to this “they’re cut from the same cloth” talk, you have to be open to all possibilities for Moyes, the man backed by Ferguson.
But if Moyes is going to get anywhere with our football club, he has to have support. Wayne Rooney, of all people, has defended Moyes and claimed the players need to take responsibility for their performances. He needs the players on side. If the talk of overtraining is accurate, which by all accounts it is, he may not have their unwavering backing for too long. Moyes needs the support of the club but has already been let down dreadfully by Ed Woodward. The antics of the summer were utterly embarrassing and have meant we have started the season with a squad even Ferguson would struggle to win the title with, in light of the new additions to the squads of our rivals. It is shocking that overpaying for Marouane Fellaini is all we have to show for the transfer window. Ferguson has claimed this week that David Gill is around to help Woodward, so let’s hope in January our dopey new chief exec takes advantage of the experience he is clearly lacking.
Finally though, Moyes needs the support of the fans, even if you’re not convinced he is the right man for the job. The crowd inside Old Trafford and at away games seem focussed on following Ferguson’s instruction of supporting the manager. His name is sung on repeat at every game, passing over the “red and white army” from Ferguson to Moyes. Some fans on the internet are proving to be different though. Essentially, this doesn’t really matter, as whether “#moyesout” trends on Twitter or not, it’s going to have no impact on the team. But the negativity won’t take too long to filter through. As if the press won’t be antagonising the situation enough without our own fans contributing to it.
This isn’t to say that if in three years time United find themselves in the relegation zone that we should all be sitting around urging people to back the manager. There comes a time when you just have to acknowledge that it wasn’t the right appointment, or it wasn’t the right signing, and cut your losses. But for now, what purpose does it serve to call for the manager to be sacked? Who do you think is going to take charge? You’re kidding yourself if you think Ferguson will. There’s no way he’s going to do anything to taint his reputation now. He left on a high, winning the club’s 20th title, overthrowing City as champions, and he’d be mad to wade back in to this now. The reasons he retired are still there and he there’s no way he will be repeating the actions of Sir Matt Busby after the appointment and subsequent sacking of Wilf McGuinness.
We are just eight games in. Eight games! It seems ludicrous that we should even be discussing this right now, although probably fairly predictable. As fans, as supporters, we need to make the best of a bad situation and play our part is sustaining the success of this club.
The RoM 2019-20 Season Preview is available for just £6. It includes an EXCLUSIVE interview with Rafael Da Silva, a Q&A with the country's top journalists, articles by brilliant United writers, and so much more. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.