When Manchester United appointed David Moyes as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor, most supporters were fairly surprised, given that the former Everton manager hadn’t won a single trophy and had never managed a side in the Champions League.
Whilst finding a manager with a CV that matched Ferguson’s was impossible, the difference in quality between the two men was incredible, despite claims from some sections of the press that they were “cut from the same cloth”. This just wasn’t true. They were both Scottish, fine, but Ferguson had been a winner everywhere he’d been, whilst Moyes hasn’t ever been a winner, not of any silverware at least.
Having broken the Old Firm dominance in Scotland to win three league titles, four Scottish Cups and one Scottish League Cup in just seven years, Ferguson also enjoyed success in Europe. He beat Real Madrid to win the European Cup Winners Cup, as well as German and European champions, Hamburg, to win the UEFA Super Cup.
That was the required standard of manager for United when we were in the relegation zone, so the fact that we were going for a manager with nothing like that success, when we were champions and had aspirations of winning the Champions League, was baffling.
Lots of comparisons were made between the results of Ferguson’s first five game in charge and Moyes’. Then their first ten games in charge. And then people started saying “well, it took Ferguson over three years to win a trophy, and look how well he went on to do, so we must be patient with Moyes.” You can politely smile the first two or three times you hear that, but after a while it’s start to grate. The club were right to be patient with Ferguson because he had already proven he was capable of greatness, whilst Moyes hasn’t. The club were right to be patient with Ferguson because he inherited a team that were in the relegation zone, whilst Moyes inherited the champions. Comparing how well they did at the beginning of their time at United and somehow equating that to justification for giving Moyes at least three years in charge is beyond ridiculous.
Still, this was the man that Ferguson had picked and who we had been implored to support. So despite the doubts of many, we made the best of it, and got behind him. Win, lose or draw, our home and away fans sung for Moyes at every single game. No matter how disappointing the result, like the defeats away to City or Liverpool, or how embarrassing the result, like the defeats at home against West Brom, Newcastle and Swansea, the fans were still on side. We knew there was going to be a period of transition, of relative failure, so for any grumbles in the pub or on the internet, inside the ground Moyes has had plenty of support.
Even when you look at the defeat against Olympiacos, the fans who had made the journey to Greece didn’t voice their displeasure at the final whistle, despite a truly woeful performance and result. When you compare that with the reaction of the fans when we lost 1-0 to Lille in November 2005, when United were last “in crisis”, Moyes escaped a berating he probably deserved. United were 7th in the league when they lost in France, having won just half the games they had played, and falling 13 points behind league leaders Chelsea.
Now there’s the difference between this season and that. United went on to finish 2nd and win the League Cup, having won 9 of the final 12 games, drawing 2 and losing 1. This season, United are getting worse as they go along. On the final day of 2013, United were just 3 points behind Chelsea and 7 points behind the league leaders. Just eight weeks later, we’re 15 points off Chelsea.
Where did it all go wrong?
The past two months have been a disaster for United, the worst two months for decades, with United throwing away all hopes of salvaging anything from the season. It was clear early on that we wouldn’t be retaining our title, but in 2013 we were still fairly confident of securing a top four finish.
On January 1st we lost 2-1 to Spurs at home. Four days later we were knocked out of the FA Cup in the 3rd Round after losing 2-1 to Swansea. Two days later we lost 2-1 to Sunderland away from home in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final. Four days later we beat Swansea 2-0, giving fans the hope that we were capable of turning things around, but our next game was a 3-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge. Samuel Eto’o, the striker who had just three goals to his name before kick-off, scored a hattrick against us. Three days later we were beaten by Sunderland in a penalty shoot-out. The saddest thing about that was hearing how many fans were relieved that we’d lost, to save the humiliation of playing City in the League Cup final. The defeat against Sunderland has already been brushed under the carpet, lost in amongst all the other dreadful results, but a thrashing from City in the first Manchester cup final would have been in the history books forever.
Our next game was a home win over Cardiff which was followed by a loss away to Stoke City. Still, in all of these games, Moyes was shown unwavering support.
The crushing blow for me, when finally I felt it was safe to criticise the manager, was the 2-2 draw against Fulham. Whilst rival fans won’t believe it, even in the past two decades, in amongst all the trophies, United fans have endured low points. The cup final losses, the heavy defeats against our rivals, and that 4-1 thrashing from Middlesbrough that saw us lose our captain who was never be replaced, were all pretty shit moments. But that draw against Fulham was crushing. The London team offered nothing yet we were fairly fortuitous to find ourselves 2-1 up against them, thanks to a deflection on a Michael Carrick shot. At half-time, without the hysteria surrounding the stats that revealed for those outside of the ground that we would go on to cross the ball more than 80 times, fans were either furious or laughing. Nobody could believe we had spent 45 minutes going wide and hitting it across the goal, only for the Fulham defence to head it away or the ball to go nowhere near a red shirt. For the players to come out and persevere in exactly the same way for another 45 minutes was beyond belief.
The straw that broke the camel’s back, for me at least, was Moyes’ post-match comments. He’s made all kinds of mistakes with the press, most notably saying that he planned to “make it as hard and difficult for them as we possibly can” ahead of home game against Newcastle, clearly still in the mindset of a manager of a midtable club, but his remarks post-Fulham terrified me.
“I just keep doing the job because I know that we’re doing the right job. We’ll do the same things, we’ll make sure things are right – prepare the players well and things will change I have no doubt.”
Keep doing the same things? We crossed the ball over 80 times and not one of these crosses lead to a goal, in a game against the worst team in the league at home. It doesn’t take a tactical mastermind to realise that things do need to change. They needed to change during that game, let alone in future games.
Moyes did a great job with Everton and, like I said at the time of his appointment, if I didn’t support the champions but instead supported a team with aspirations of finishing in the top half of the table, I would be delighted if he became the manager of my team. But at this level, he’s shown nothing to suggest that he’s capable of making the leap from a great top half of the table manager to a title and trophy winning manager. This isn’t about a lack of patience, of wanting us to have immediate success following the departure of Ferguson, rather the realisation that things are getting worse, not better. We aren’t heading the right direction. It’s not as if you can see what Moyes is trying to do, but isn’t quite managing to pull it off. We look a shadow of the former teams who’ve won our shirt and with the quality we have in the side, like Van Persie, Rooney, Mata and Januzaj, there’s simply no excuse. If we were only looking second best against the likes of City or Chelsea, then that would be fair enough, but we are struggling against teams who are lacking anything like the talent we have in our squad.
We have been on a steady decline for a couple of months and it’s hard to see what can put a stop to that. We were just about holding our own before the turn of the year and stood a good chance of displacing the teams above us to finish 4th. We’ve now been defeated in 7 of our last 12 games and victorious in just 3. Even if we had been playing quality sides, then that would still be a poor return, but we’ve played all six of the bottom six teams in that period of time.
That’s not to say I’m calling for the club to sack the manager now. There’s no way we could bring in a long-term replacement at this stage in the season so appointing a stop-gap would just add to the instability behind the scenes which is no good for anyone. We aren’t going to make up eleven points on Liverpool in eleven games, so there’s nothing to play for now, unless you count the Champions League as a viable option for success. Based on our group stage form, maybe you would have been forgiven for believing we could do a Liverpool 2005 or Chelsea 2012, but following our 2-0 defeat against Olympiacos, surely that dream is dead. Let’s remember that the Greeks sold Kostas Mitroglou, their top scorer in the competition from the group stages, in the January transfer window. So we lost to one of the worst sides still left in the competition without their best player, and also without the player they’d bought to replace him, Nelson Haedo Valdez, whose injury restricted him to an 86th minute cameo.
Moyes has overseen our first home loss to West Brom since 1978, first home loss to Newcastle since 1972, first home loss to Everton since 1992, first ever home loss to Swansea (and the 2nd time in 29 years we’ve gone out in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup), first league loss to Stoke since 1984 and the first ever loss to a Greek side in a European competition. We’ve had three defeats in a row for the first time since 2001 (and that was when the title was already won), we’ve already lost eight games this season in the league and the most we have ever lost in a whole Premier League season is nine in the 2001-02 and 2003-04 seasons.
This isn’t just bad luck, is it? There is something horribly wrong, and whilst I don’t think the players are entirely blameless, with Rooney and Welbeck the only two players to improve on last season’s form, where performances and results are concerned, the buck stops with Moyes.
That’s not to say I dislike him. He’s out of his depth but I can’t blame him for taking the job. Who in their right mind would turn down the opportunity of replacing Ferguson as the manager of Manchester United? But then again, who in their right mind would offer the Manchester United job to a manager of Moyes’ experience? This, like all of our failings since 2005, comes back to the Glazers and their lack of investment. The club with the third largest revenue in the world has a net spend that is more comparable to Stoke than to City or Chelsea and that is unforgivable. Even Moyes’ appointment was a typical Glazer move, with them going for a manager who would be grateful for any transfer funds he was given, opposed to a world class manager who was accustomed to spending big. Most managers would have looked at our squad, the current champions, and seen that in light of all the strengthening of our rivals’ squads, United needed huge investment. Can you imagine Marouane Fellaini being the only purchase of Guardiola or Mourinho in last summer’s transfer window if they were at United?
So whilst the protests against Moyes will likely come first, it is the Glazers who are responsible, and they are the real enemy here.
I would love to be wrong and I would love for Moyes to turn it around. When his appointment was announced I hoped I’d never have to voice an opinion like this. We knew this season was going to be hard and that it would be different, but even in our worst nightmares, we didn’t envisage anything as awful as this, in terms of the football played and the results gained. I won’t be booing him and I’ll get behind the team as always, but I hope the right decision is made in the summer and the sooner we can wipe this disaster of a season from our memories the better.