Manchester United saw out April last year as Premier League champions; this year, as the team in seventh. Everyone knows that, of course. But it’s important to know, because it’s why David Moyes lost his job. He was committed, though. He didn’t really have the chance to build his own squad. His players should have performed better. All very interesting – but United are seventh.
Sacking a wildly unpopular manager arouses some amazing feels, though, on balance, a title win is probably preferable. The thrill exists with both but, with the latter, that’s all that’s there. And it’s great! Dismissing the boss, however, is absolutely loaded with other things you’d rather not deal with. There’s sympathy for a man who was never really up to it, even if the huge payoff considerably lessens it. There’s confusion and uncertainty: what’s the guarantee things go back to the way it was? Sure, United could make the top four next season, but when was that ever the objective (for example)? What if the same mistakes are repeated? Inexperience (Ryan Giggs) or a drastic change (possibly Louis van Gaal with the coaching staff) are things you might want to avoid. There’s also cause for reflection, and nobody likes that. Regret: a whole season wasted. Anger: why did Sir Alex Ferguson choose Moyes, you ask, as you try desperately to forget that you too, at the time, thought it was a shrewd choice. You might not feel all of these, especially if you care about not seeming spoiled or unreasonable, but then you also might. (Covering all bases, here.)
Then Ryan Giggs walks out as interim manager of Manchester United at Old Trafford and receives the sort of reception that, in his own words, makes him feel “10 feet tall”. You don’t feel 10 feet tall yourself, because that would be weird. But you feel a similar kind of joy, and all those not-Championship-conquering feelings above are temporarily suspended. Even the apprehension of half an hour before as a result of team selection becomes a little irrelevant.
The 4-0 win against Norwich City wasn’t exactly perfect, and came too soon, on the basis that it was Giggs’ first in charge, to be read as a sign of change. Indeed, United hit four in recent league games against Aston Villa and Newcastle. It was, instead, something to be built upon after the 2-0 defeat at Everton that did for Moyes. If United’s players lacked confidence in their manager then, they might not with a man they like and still call “Giggsy”. Three solid performances in May might not take the Reds anywhere in the table, but it would be welcome for the fact that they haven’t really had “three solid performances” consecutively for a while now.
It’s never been certain how much a part confidence plays in football. It either explains the players’ inadequate efforts or changes the subject away from it. The abject display at the Goodison was not solely Moyes’ fault, clearly, and yet it appeared to sum up his time better than the thrashing of Newcastle at the start of the month. In that game, we saw a fantastic combination of United’s most fashionable: Adnan Januzaj, Juan Mata and Shinji Kagawa were responsible for the sort of football we’ve been starved of under Moyes. How different would the season be had that, granted, against a pathetic team, characterised David Moyes’ Manchester United team?
In a Daily Mail report best treated with suspicion, it was said that Moyes was seen reading a self-help guide on the flight home from Athens. That would have been after the 2-0 defeat to Olympiakos. It was also written that players openly showed their displeasure, ignoring the Scot’s orders and showing disdain for a coach they found “boring”. One substitute had apparently (‘apparently’ is stressed) called for the referee to send off Moyes after arguing with an official. It could only be guessed what is and isn’t true, but Ferguson’s successor was obviously not popular enough. This definitely doesn’t mean the new man should be one they ‘like’, just one whose authority they respect. That would not discount anyone from United’s shortlist. (Louis van Gaal is likely to be announced soon, anyway.)
The two others games in the month not touched on saw further frustration, though did not shame Moyes. Nothing can really prepare you for a Champions League exit, even as inevitable as the latest one was. But some are easier to get over than others: many still curse the referee who sent Nani off in 2013 or Tim Howard in the middle of the night for 2004’s misery. Beating Bayern Munich was improbable, as we saw. The tie did give us arguably the best moment of the season, when Patrice Evra scored the goal of the season, context considered, to give United hope for a delightful 70 seconds. Moyes figured out how to stay competitive in both legs, but was ultimately undone by the German’s superiority which emerged as the games wore out. He can at least find comfort in that it didn’t end the same way as defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City. That’s a poor compliment.
So a good/bad month, which isn’t as great as one of those ‘good months’ we were once so familiar with. Who should manage Manchester United, then? As it is, it’s too soon for Giggs. Nobody wants to see a man like him fail without the necessary experience. The most-wanted men, like Antonio Conte, Diego Simeone and Pep Guardiola, had prior experience before taking the big job(s). So Van Gaal it is. Just marvel at him.
What is April 2015 going to be like?