You hear it a lot, and will probably hear it a lot more, but managing Manchester United is not the “impossible job”. It’s a difficult one, of course, exclusive to those who have learned, then earned. It’s the pinnacle for a lot of people, but, it’s only the pinnacle, only something to work to because, well, it’s not impossible.
You can’t look at a side performing badly and just shrug and say: “well, it’s an impossible job.” It’s perhaps worth distinguishing ‘impossible’ from ‘difficult’: Sir Alex Ferguson had a difficult job. But he still did well in it. ‘Impossible’, which even if it weren’t to be taken literally, is more about fate. It considers the fact that United haven’t started the season well but then goes on to justify that somewhat. “How do you follow Ferguson?” But football never works like that. (Depending on the context, ‘difficult’ and ‘impossible’ can mean the same thing. Forgot about the actual words, though, and look more at what’s behind them.)
Nobody takes the Real Madrid job to self-flagellate. They do it — get this — because they think they can succeed. Whether they actually will, who knows? But it’s never off the table. Most of the time, it’s in your control, save for the occasional outside force. There must be a better reason for seven points off six games than a shrug. The reason it irks is that is that it’s far too convenient. It overlooks the real things that matter in football, the things that have clearly mattered to Manchester United so far this season. People like soundbites, but we can probably do without the on-the-spot, rationalised bullshit.
Hey, sure Ferguson is/was unique/one-of-a-kind, but none of that could act as any sort of explanation for David Moyes’ start. There are better ones, and it feels right to say that because Moyes himself has acknowledged them. He clearly knows United can do better. Even if United had to go through the process of change, nothing this dramatic was expected. He wants his players to perform like he thinks he can. He also wants to buy a couple more. See, there: this is only a difficult job and nothing more because it’s possible to make it more or less easier. If he could sign the players he wanted (perhaps if he got appropriate backing to do so) or if his players play to a better level like they had last season, then things would certainly be different.
United’s best performance of September saw a lot of things click. Bayer Leverkusen were expected to be a bigger test but when the Reds wanted to, they ran through them. Moyes selected a strong, Ashley Young-less side. They passed the ball well. They brought it up the field quickly. Players combined and responded to each other. They crossed. They packed the box. They got the best out of Wayne Rooney. Defensively they were suspect but, on the whole: great! This was against a team who had only finished a point shy of Borussia Dortmund in 2012/13. It’s not that impossible.
When United were thrashed at Manchester City, it was less about what the manager in the dugout had looked like than what he did. Moyes saw an improvement, albeit at 4-0 down, and probably wished he had set up his side differently beforehand. Look, it’s okay to be critical if the situation demands it (and if the manager himself invites it). There were factors here. Things could have been less difficult. United’s defending was woeful. Against Liverpool, they played badly, again. But we know they can do more than be rubbish; we saw it at home to Leverkusen and, at some points, against Palace or Liverpool again in the League Cup. No analyst — paid or otherwise — can seriously look at the original game at Anfield and conclude “well, Fergie’s gone, let’s cut them some slack.” This happens, you have bad days. Ferguson had them. They can be avoided; but once it’s done, you move on and try to respond accordingly for the next game.
“Your job now is to stand by the new manager,” said Ferguson at the end of last season. Thing is, it’s possible to do that whilst pointing out any mistakes that have been made at the same time. People did that with the man who had won 38 trophies. Recently, Moyes has been highly critical of a lot of things. If he feels things can be better (look at the table!), then you are allowed to feel the same.
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