As the Moyes regime begins to take shape, it is a time for United fans to reminisce and remember the good times. Now, we all know the title race isn’t over and a new manager needs time to settle, but the retirement of Fergie himself was the final stage of the clubs transition; one that has seen the club regress.
On a commercial front the club are bigger than ever, recently signing a new deal with Nike that will seem them receive an astronomical £60m per season over the next five years. A worldwide fanbase reported to be in the region of 659m as of May 2012 shows The Red Devils acting as a religion rather than a football club. They are a phenomenon.
Ferguson was key in everything they are and as key as he was off the pitch in their rise in modern football, his tactics and man management were key ingredients to the club’s development on the pitch.
His love of wide players saw him manage some of the best wingers in the game. Andrei Kanchelskis, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo – Sir Alex played a key role in the growth of all of these players, and they played their part in developing Man United.
Recent seasons, however, have seen the wily old manager go in search of the elusive antidote to Barcelona’s hypnotic style as well as having to deal with a blue moon rising in their own city. In this period he has relied upon a few wingers that some would argue are not up to the standards that he has held in the past.
The demise of the Man United winger reached a new low on Saturday as the club stuttered to a narrow victory over Stoke City at home. Nani, an outlet for much of the fans anger over recent seasons, was booed off the pitch when Moyes replaced him with the more productive Adnan Januzaj.
“He is a regular and captain for Portugal so he is very talented,” said Moyes. “There were one or two decisions he might have made better, but he got us the (first) goal with a lovely ball. We have a lot of competition for places in the wide areas, incredible competition, and that is what we’re looking for.”
It wasn’t just last Saturday’s performance that has caused United fans to vent their anger at Nani though. Expected to fill the void left when his fellow countryman Cristiano Ronaldo left the club for Real Madrid, Nani has failed to live up to expectations. The 27-year old, who has just signed a new 5-year contract, has only scored 9 league goals for the club since the start of the 2011/12 season and has registered just 10 assists.
It hasn’t been much better from United’s other wingers either, with Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young both drifting in and out of form since joining the club. Valencia, who was a shining light during his early days at the club, has been found out by most opposition defenders and created an embarrassing 40 chances throughout the whole of last season.
Young may be the worst of the bunch though, cutting inside to no avail at every given opportunity, almost as instinctive as his love for hitting the deck. The former Aston Villa winger, once dubbed as ‘world class’ by Martin O’Neill, has registered just 10 assists in the Premier League since the beginning of the 2011/12 season. If you compare these stats to Eden Hazard (below), and even Theo Walcott, from last season then you can see a clear difference in class compare to the wide men Moyes and Ferguson have had at their disposal.
Moyes opted to start Shinji Kagawa against Stoke on Saturday and even though the club stuttered to a narrow victory, his side looked more fluid with the Japan international able to come inside as well as go down the line. A 93% pass completion rate shows his technical prowess and ability to link up the play rather than play a hopeless ball into the box.
Kagawa has shown his productivity in the past, scoring 6 goals in the Premier League last season despite being a bit-part player, showing he can repeat his exploits from his time at Dortmund. Filling the gap on the opposite flank could well be their man of the moment, Adnan Januzaj. The Anderlecht academy product has produced some scintillating displays already in his short career at Old Trafford and the finishing clinic he displayed at Sunderland shows composure way beyond his years and from the evidence, way beyond his peers.
Moyes may have to give up on Fergie’s statement that wingers are loved at Old Trafford and develop his own attacking mantra to work from. Football has moved on since the ‘90s and although he kept the club up there with the best during his later years, he struggled to adapt tactically.
If the new boss is to make his own mark and truly replace Ferguson then he must move with the times by creating a new Man United.