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Should the players be ashamed of themselves?

Manchester United are not a sacking club.

It’s easy to make statements like that when you’ve shown faith in a manager in the 1980s, when you were in the relegation zone, and he’s gone on to prove himself as one of the greatest managers of all time.

When David Moyes struggled, the board, the fans and the players all stuck by him publicly. Who knows what was going on behind the scenes at the club, or what was being said on the training ground, but inside Old Trafford the fans were keen to show they weren’t about to start booing or bringing in banners to get the manager sacked.

During the 4-1 win over Aston Villa, following the plane funded by some fans off a football forum with the sign ‘Moyes Out’, the fans started chanting “stand up for David Moyes”. To my amazement, everyone around me stood up. I didn’t.

In the post-match interviews, the players were quick to dismiss any fault on the manager’s part and instead insisted that they had to take responsibility for yet another poor performance.

Rival fans will scoff now, following the dismissal of Moyes. “Not a sacking club, you say?” But the truth remains that any other club, and I literally mean, any other club, would have got rid of Moyes long before now. In February, Gianluca Vialli claimed that Moyes would have been sacked three times by then if he was coaching in Italy. It is not acceptable to spend over £60 million and drop six places in the league, whether you’re at the top of Serie A or midtable in La Liga, Moyes’ end product was nowhere near what is required for any football club.

Still, despite this, the players have come in for some stick from some sections of the press and fans. Roy Keane, who is no stranger to sticking the boot in these days, was quick to criticise them.

“I think it’s a shame, he should have been given more time,” said Keane of Moyes. “Some of the players should be ashamed of themselves, they really let him down.”

Really? More time? And is this the players’ fault?

On New Year’s Day, United were just 3 points behind Chelsea. We’d suffered a few poor results but for the most part, we were still challenging, even if from a distance. You’d assume the title was out of grasp but it wasn’t implausible that United would have a strong second half of the season, as they usually did, and be in amongst the teams going for the title.

As it is, we now find ourselves 18 points behind Chelsea and, crucially, 23 points behind league leaders Liverpool. Gutting.

So, having had more time at the club, more time to settle, a better understanding of how things work, more knowledge of how good the players are and what their strengths are, United’s performances have got worse. But who is to blame?

You could argue that the backroom staff United had prior to Moyes, who oversaw league title after league title, had the players ticking over nicely. The winning mentality was ingrained in to the players thanks to Ferguson. But as the months went on, in the absence of both the training expertise and the managerial presence, the strengths of the seasons before slowly drained away.

Let’s not forget that in the 2007-2008 season, when Jose Mourinho was sacked after a few months, Chelsea managed to take the title challenge to the last day and the European Cup to a penalty shoot-out, before bowing out, and that was with Avram Grant in charge. If you’ve got a team of winners that have been trained well by the manager, they can keep themselves ticking over in the mean time. The difference between these scenarios is that the useless Grant kept as much of the backroom staff in place as he could. Obviously Rui Faria left with Mourinho, but the likes of Steve Clarke stayed put. To replace the quality staff that left, Chelsea brought in world class replacements like Henk ten Cate, who left his role as Ajax manager, having been the assistant manager at Barcelona for three years.

In contrast, Moyes got rid of all of United’s backroom staff and replaced them with Steve Round and Jimmy Lumsden. Round’s CV boasts being a coach at Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Moyes’ assistant at Everton. After a failed managerial career with Bristol City and Rochdale, Lumsden’s coaching career consists of working for Moyes at Preston and Everton.

Another argument is that the United players never gave Moyes or his coaches the time of day. For Keane to suggest they should be ashamed of themselves, it implies that from day one they were unprepared to adapt to a new way of doing things. Giggs was rumoured to have serious problems with the way Moyes conducted training, to the point where he stopped attending coaches’ meetings and walked out of training after spending two hours working on defensive tactics.

Maybe a third scenario is more accurate though. Maybe the players were fairly shocked to see Ferguson leave, particularly the ones who had spend most, if not all, of their career playing for him. But still they were prepared to give the new manager a go. But when Moyes came in and decided to bin off all the things they were doing before, introduce a knackering training regime to the pre-season (one that had always seen Everton start the season slowly) and replace the world class, proven coaches with men who had achieved nothing in the game, maybe the players worked out that he wasn’t up for the job. Maybe they were genuinely prepared to give him a go but nothing he did, from Carrington to the dressing room, inspired any confidence in him having the ability to take the club forward.

Keane brands some of the players a disgrace. If Giggs behaved in a way that helped move along an incapable manager, so that a better manager could be brought in his place, is that a disgrace?

You would imagine that, as professional footballers earning an obscene amount of money, they would be able to turn it on regardless of who was giving the instructions. But when you look to that game against Fulham, when the instructions were to keep playing it wide and crossing it in, despite this clearly not working, you do have to wonder what you expect the players to do. Should they ignore their managers tactics and do what they think will work? Would that be less of a disgrace than doing what the manager told them to do and dropping points?

“The players have to take massive responsibility,” Neville said. “They are the ones out on the football pitch. I never once in my 18-year career at United said, ‘You lost us that game boss’. Players have to take responsibility and accountability in football, but the fact of the matter is you don’t go and sack 24 players. Those players there are not as bad as they have been showing.”

Whilst we should remember that Neville spent his entire career playing for Sir Alex Ferguson, one of the greatest of all time, and not David Moyes, he still makes a valid point. No, he wouldn’t walk off a pitch and blame Fergie, but if he was playing for Moyes, he might have felt differently. Still, this season, the only players to improve have been David de Gea and Danny Welbeck. However, with De Gea having another year’s experience of the Premier League and Welbeck playing more games up front instead of on the wing, you could argue these players would have done better this season regardless of who the manager is. So what have the players been doing? Why have they under performed?

Either the tactics weren’t good enough or they didn’t respect the manager so actively decided not to play for him. Neither scenario is particularly encouraging for United fans, although the former is less daunting now that the manager has been sacked.

Are players obliged to show up regardless of who is in charge? It’s not really on that Wayne Rooney earns over £200k-a-week but can’t control the ball to save his life. But then if they played out of their skin, managed to finish 5th with Moyes’ archaic approach to football, would we be in a better position? Even if we managed to finish in the top 4, that would only mean Moyes kept his job, but he’s shown that he isn’t capable of managing the champions. So did the players do us a favour?

I’m sure over that in our lifetime we will get to read an autobiography or two that will shed light on what went on behind the scenes. Has Rio Ferdinand been as disruptive as we’ve been lead to believe? Did Giggs run out of patience months ago? Is he now thoroughly enjoying getting one over Moyes? Who knows.

But the fact that Robin van Persie has immediately returned from Holland, that the players are playing practical jokes with their ‘gaffer’ sign over Giggs’ seat at Carrington, and the players are all speaking so positively about Giggs’ appointment, arguably shows that they all felt Moyes wasn’t up to the job. Would it have been more professional to give 100% on the pitch like they did for Fergie? Definitely. But would that have helped the future of the club? Almost probably not.

Moyes has gone now and we can look to a brighter future. I’m certainly not ashamed of our players and I’m looking forward to them turning it around under a proper manager 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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21 Comments

  1. keanoisdaman says:

    Only they know..

  2. Funkdakarma says:

    Absolutely no doubt about it. Sacking Moyes may eventually give us the United way back, but at what cost? Even if you don’t like the new manager, you’re in a fight to ensure that your club emerges with at least something to cheer about this season. It’s your duty first and foremost to the fans, and then to yourself as professionals. So play for the shirt! Unfortunately they didn’t do so, and left the club’s season in tatters. Out of all cups, a limp title challenge, and maybe even no European football next season.

    The worst they could have done is give Moyes another year. He was chosen to lead the club, took us to the European Cup quarter-finals and kept us unbeaten at home there, was looking to build for next season……who’s to say he wouldn’t have adapted and evolved in his second year. Only then could we have judged.

    Still, once I see us playing the United Way again, I’l start to forget this slightly bitter taste that the player attitudes have left.

  3. ashtheking says:

    Players are to blame also. Some of them never wanted to play under moyes and that’s unprofessionalism . Anyways let’s move on . Excited to giggsy in hot seat.

    Love giggsy

  4. Jackie Spain says:

    “the world class, proven coaches” – oh, come on, Scott, that’s just a bit too much rhetoric.

    Most supporters saw Phelan as just a ‘yes’ man and wanted him replaced.

  5. NBI Red 21 says:

    No, the tactics, subs, constant tinkering and playing players out of position is to blame. The lack of focus on attacking play became more and more obvious as we lost our ability to penetrate and score. The double training sessions after a loss meant players looked tired at the end of matches.

    The tactics were also confused, with neither fans or commentators being able to sometimes tell what the set up was or what the plan was and players looked equally confused on the pitch.

    One thing missing Scott is that there was a point around Nov where the confidence in the team evaporated and you could see nerves had set in. Once the confidence went and nerves came in the quality of the game and willingness to take players on crumbled. This mental side was a result of poor results, plans that did not work and a failure by the manager to build up his team, instead telling them they were mentally soft, that he had inherited rubbish and basically undermining the already falling confidence publicly and no doubt privately.

    I think the players gave the manager a fair chance but what he did did not work and they know what works at this level better than him. Fact. He has never played or coached at this level. He has won nothing. He has less experience than most of his players. They knew that there was not enough training in certain areas and too much focus on defence and getting it wide. But the players credit to them largely stuck to his game plan, if you went to matches at OT you could hear Moyes should “get it wide” “run up”, all bloody game sometimes.

    Rene said United’s play was predictable and that was spot on. With almost zero play through the middle United was easily shut down by much weaker teams it was too too easy, there was no plan B and no ability to vary the game or change up tactics during a game. Plus the 442, always picking Rooney, playing our best AMF players on wings, these were all stupid decisions. Carrick is better than he looked this season. He was playing deeper than ever, he has no one to pass to most of the time as other teams new our plans, all passing was to feet, there were no runs ahead of him, his MF partner was easily marked out of the game and running with the ball is not something he does so he was completely ineffective.

    Did players lose confidence in the manager and the tactics is the real question. My answer to that is yes and with good reason. They still fought their hearts out in games like Bayern but the manager repeatedly let them down with selection and tactics. No blame for the players for me. Unlike the manager they know what is needed at this level.

    Whoever comes in next season the Club must make it a condition that their staff are retained for continuity, I would like to see Giggs, Scholes and Rene in the first team, United ceded too much control to an inexperienced overconfident manager who though he knew it all and did not want to learn from others with more experience, we cannot make the same mistake again, I am disappointed Rene has not been recalled.

  6. NBI Red 21 says:

    Also in terms of displays of unwillingness to work with Moyes, RVP who is a new United player and still pissed SAF mislead him about when he was retiring, is the only player to openly show dissent imo. It was an open secret Moyes admitted “overtraining” of a player that needs to be carefully managed and failure to properly organise attacking play with Rooney a complete mess most of the time, riled RVP.

    What is also clear is that Moyes has poor communication skills. He is a manager who clearly does not listen and if he really shut out people like Giggs input during his over long defensive dull training sessions, then he deserved more of a player rebellion than he got.

    Many of us have been in positions where a complete idiot who thinks he knows it all and does not listen is in a senior position and it damages the workplace, morale and people just get their heads down and work unhappily or leave.

    There is huge lack of appreciation for tactics, allowing stable partnerships to form and selection among British fans so I expect many fans will only blame players are they are too limited to do any deeper analysis that think simplistically that the players were on the pitch so its their fault. That unfortunately gives managers like Moyes a free pass as most fans are in the stone age with him in terms of tactics, selection, strategy, motivation and communication.

  7. Jackie Spain says:

    In my job, if I’d done what you say Giggs did – refuse to attend meetings, walk out of others – then I’d have been sacked. It’s not professional and if some one does that to Giggs while he’s interim manager, he wouldn’t be pleased.

    So Moyes may have overdone the defensive side of things in training but it’s an area that United needed to improve on. Who hasn’t castigated Evra for being the PL’s worst defensive fullback? And even average defending against Bayern would have got us through.

  8. Xyth X says:

    While Moyes is primarily responsible for its own downfall, players should take their fair share of responsibility for getting us in this position. Despite Moyes, his tactics, selection etc. the attitude especially when we played top teams stunk. During those matches I wondered if they have any pride at all.

    I thought that players should have done something about Moyes sooner [after we lost at home to Newcastle and Everton, when it became clear that the situation was getting from bad to worse] and salvage the season.

    Well, RvP should now be happy if reports that we are getting Van Gaal are true and hopefully he and the other players will make the next season a memorable one!

  9. Oijennus says:

    Yes. They didn’t do their best to win for the manager, nor the club, the fans or simply the shirt on their backs. Yes. They should be ashamed.

  10. dannysoya LOVES USAIN BOLT says:

    Respect is a two way street. As a manager with very little to ZERO title-winning experience, you should be coming into a club like Manchester United and allowing the club to shape you not trying to stamp your authority straight away. Like Marcotti was saying earlier this week, there was a massive credibility gap for David Moyes that he absolutely HAD to make up. The best way to make that up without hurting anyone’s feelings would have been to adapt to the way things were the year before while SLOWLY effecting changes. Moyes basically he had to legitimize himself to the players because he was a manager who had no idea what it meant to win a big time trophy coming to coach players who win trophies in their sleep. But he chose to completely overhaul a title-winning system without gaining ANY legitimacy whatsoever to do so. It was a disaster from the beginning.

    So yeah of course the players might not have liked his methods but that’s because he did not do ANYTHING in the 10 months he was here to prove that he was credible enough to manage Manchester United and those kinds of players.

    This is like a democracy. A legitimate leader has to have the full backing of his people and the only to get the backing of your people is to prove to them that you are up to the task of looking after them and improving their lives. Sam thing in football.

  11. NBI Red 21 says:

    I don’t really buy this Giggs showing open dissent thing. It just does not fit and I would like to see what the source is. There are also reports it was Moyes who marginalised Giggs excluding him from meetings and giving him a minor role if at all, so I don’t think anyone knows right now what went on behind scenes other than those involved. What can be said is no player publicly undermined the manager. The furthest it got was Rio having a good old whine about how the last minute notice of team left him unable to prepare properly and meant players were too on edge and not as settled going into matches as they could not prepare themselves properly. Which is a fair point but should probably not have been said aloud, saying that, the manager was not exactly holding back on publicly throwing the players under a bus at every opportunity to blame someone else so why should the players have loyalty to a manager telling the world constantly that they are shit, mentally weak and poor him. Once Moyes started that game of publicly criticising players, eg Welbeck, etc, he was always going to lose the dressing room.

  12. Dela says:

    Giggsy: “We win together, we lose together”

    ROM: “No Giggsy, you only win unless someone else makes you lose. You’re always the victim, IT’S NEVER YOUR FAULT”

    More apologetics for a bunch of privileged millionaires…. Regardless of who the manager is, play better!

    Anyway…. I am genuinely looking forward to the game today, just because I am critical of how United handled the past week doesn’t mean I won’t smile seeing the big gaffer Giggsy following the team out, it’ll be like looking into the future… :-)

  13. Dela says:

    I should clarify the start of my previous comment wasn’t a direct reply to the article above btw, more an observation of the sheer denialism I encountered at how poor the United players had been this past season on ROM, mostly in comments.

  14. NBI Red 21 says:

    And some delusional angry fans still busy sucking Moyes cock all season and now very bitter he is gone are still in denial about the extent Moyes was responsible for results because they cannot analyse tactics or understand Smalling is not a RB nor is Mata a winger. For a lesson see commentator analysis on rigid flat lines of 4, see also GNev, Scholes analysis of late, read any bloody detailed analysis of tactics and selection. If you read ROM there have been lots of good posts on tactical analysis throughout the season.

  15. NBI Red 21 says:

    @ The_Red_Devils posted this link – http://www.goal.com/en-india/news/137/england/2014/04/26/4776778/pep-or-jose-would-have-united-at-the-top-says-meulensteen

    Someone who actually knows footballs and the players, Rene, answers this thread with authority that nasty works like Dela and ashwin who are constantly player bashing don’t have:

    “The former Everton boss was sacked just 10 months into his spell in charge of the club and Meulensteen believes Moyes must take SOLE responsibility for their failures this season.

    “Nonsense,” he told Dutch magazine Voetbal International when asked if the players were the main problem.

    “This group were last year’s champions with a difference of 11 points. A manager like Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola would have United near the top, I’m sure.”

    “They are going to have to build something again. But that takes time and needs patience. In my view, it is more likely that the Glazers want to challenge for trophies again as soon as possible.

  16. evered7 says:

    Absolutely. It is one thing that the leadership isn’t quite good as what it was earlier. That doesn’t excuse you from the fact that you still have to do your job well.

    Plenty of defensive mistakes that costed us the points/game. Evra has been a liability for some seasons now. Some how the left back position hasn’t been addressed. We had Fabio, got Buttner but it has not helped.

    We have to look at Chelsea and Jose to see how they replaced Cole with Azpi. This is where Moyes didn’t do it right.

    He should have been brave to drop the overpaid egos, he didn’t do it and we paid the price in most games.

    Seeing Buttner against Bayern, I don’t think he would have done bad against most BPL teams.

    Hope there is some clearance sale at United over the summer. We seem to stick with the players till they are old enough to be given pension.

    Train the young blood with the seniors and cut them off once they have waned past their best.

  17. wayne barker says:

    This isn’t even open for debate whichever players we’re behind this let the fans and the club down while still collecting a kings ransom in wages.Should’ve played fully committed,the powers to be would’ve figured things out one way or the other
    It’s about professional/personnel pride and having respect for the club regardless of who the manager is

  18. wayne barker says:

    If any player has a issue with the manager ask for a transfer let everyone know don’t want to play or be paid then everyone can respect said individual.Pretending to be injured,staying silent or even saying the right things while collecting a huge wage and not trying is just scummy
    This has nothing to do with who the manager is

  19. Tommy says:

    Players have to take their share of the responsibility, It was not David Moyes out on the pitch when you go past that white line, its the players that have to do the buisness, and for Scott to insinuate that he was happy for the team to lose as long as Moyes was gone hahahaha you sound like a fucking scouser. Their was 1 genius at United it was not Rene and it was not Mike, it was Sir Alex. If Rene or Mike were as good as people think, why has Rene been sacked twice this year, and in almost a year out of the game Mike hasnt took up another job in football?

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