Had David Moyes showed signs of progress during his first season as Manchester United manager it is likely that the board and fans would have shown more patience.
The club were determined not to become a “sacking club” so persevered with Moyes longer than any other club would. To drop six places after spending £60m is an awful return and despite Moyes’ claims today that the squad needed “fundamental rebuilding”, these players were good enough to win the league weeks before the end of the season last year.
There were some mitigating factors, of course. Robin van Persie was United’s star man last season and has been injured for large chunks of this season. It would be foolish to claim this didn’t have an impact and would have hampered whichever manager was in charge.
Also, other teams spent wisely in the summer and brought in quality players to strengthen, so the sides United finished 11 points above last season don’t exist anymore.
Still, whilst this was a “transitional” period for United, something else Moyes was keen to emphasise in his statement today, it’s important to remember that four of the six teams above us changed their manager this season. Of course, the manager before them hadn’t been in post for almost three decades before them though. But still, none of these teams have gone backwards, with the exception of Spurs, who are two points worse off than at this stage last year, after replacing Andre Villas-Boas with Tim Sherwood. You know, Sherwood, the fella who had zero managerial experience, but is still six points clear of where Moyes left last year’s champions.
At the end of February, Gianluca Vialli said that “David Moyes, in Italy, would have been sacked three times now.” At the time, United were on 45 points, which is 23 points behind where they were at the same point last season. We’re not in Italy though and United wanted to set themselves away from the culture of sacking, and weren’t our fans proud of that. We didn’t want to associate ourselves with that sort of behaviour and the fan that circled a few weeks ago, with a ‘Moyes Out’ banner, was jeered by some sections of the crowd and met with chants for Moyes.
But just how determined can someone be to stick to not sacking an under-performing manager? Where is the cut off point? For the fans and sections of the media, like Gary Neville, who claim Moyes needed more time, could the same be said if we were 10th now? 15th? Relegation zone? If we were about to go down to the Championship after a season of Moyes, would it then be acceptable for him to keep his job, just so we can say we’re not a sacking club? Where do you draw the line?
Since I first became resigned to the fact Moyes was not ever going to be good enough to be United manager, as I left the home game against Fulham, I have repeatedly been asked what the club should do if this time next year, under a new manager, we are struggling again.
‘Do you want us to become like Chelsea?’ is something I get asked a lot too. Well, if over the next decade we win three league titles, a European Cup, four FA Cups and two League Cups, I probably won’t be complaining, no. But their short-sighted approach with managers costs money that United don’t have. There’s no forward thinking there but they don’t need to have it, as Roman Abramovich is happy to shell out the dosh. When you’re in as much debt as we are, thanks to the Glazers, you can’t afford to splash £100m every year without any consideration for five years down the line.
But even with their numerous sackings, were Chelsea wrong to bin Scolari? Grant? Villas-Boas? Sometimes managers just aren’t cut out for the job. If United were to sack the manager the season after winning the double, as Chelsea disgracefully did with Carlo Ancelotti, then I’d be disgusted. If United sacked the manager because he finished 2nd after winning the title in the two consecutive seasons before that, as Chelsea did with Jose Mourinho, I’d be embarrassed. But there’s no shame is sacking someone like Moyes, like Scolari, like Villas-Boas, when they show no signs of being able to turn things around.
If next season United have a manager who has experienced success in the past, proving that they are capable of creating a title winning team, then they will be afforded more patience than Moyes. Our former manager should have been at least one club away from being on United’s radar. His CV was nowhere near impressive enough.
When Ferguson was given the job, he’d won three league titles, six domestic trophies and two European trophies (one after beating Real Madrid, the other after beating European champions Hamburg), in the space of six years. As champions of England, that is the calibre of manager we should have demanded when Ferguson left, but instead we took a gamble and it didn’t pay off. The next manager needs to have been there and done it before, and if he has, that means he deserves time to settle, just like Fergie did.
If the next manager stabilises the club, brings in a few quality players, and gets the team playing good football regularly enough, then I’d be happy enough with a top four finish. As long as the club is heading in the right direction, then what we actually win or where abouts we finish isn’t of ultimate importance to me, as long as we’ve got Champions League football waiting for us.
The sooner we can put this nightmare behind us, the better.