Manchester United fans stuck with David Moyes for longer than they probably should for fear of “doing a Chelsea”. The west London club have regularly sacked their manager and this has been widely criticised. I wrote at length about this at the beginning of the month, pointing to the fact Chelsea have hardly struggled for success over the past decade, despite getting rid of the manager at least every couple of years.
Their problem wasn’t sacking the manager but sacking the wrong manager. Nobody could argue with the decisions to get rid of Avram Grant or Luiz Felipe Scolari, but the decisions to get rid of Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti were baffling. Even Roberto Di Matteo, who had brought the first ever European Cup to a London club just a few months earlier, was hard done by. Roman Abramovich’s decision to get rid of good managers almost certainly cost Chelsea trophies, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have dismissed the managers who weren’t up to the job.
All clubs have a tipping point though and whilst Chelsea’s criteria for sacking the manager might be much harsher than other clubs, that doesn’t change the fact that owners are more often than not justified when it comes to getting rid of an under-performing manager.
Liverpool fans used to pride themselves on getting behind the manager, through thick and thin, but even they managed to crack over recent years.
Liverpool finished 7th in the league at the end of the 2009-2010 season. Roy Hodgson replaced Rafa Benitez for the following season but was sacked on January 8th after the club had dropped five places and were 12th on goal difference. They were 11 points away from the top four.
Kenny Dalglish replaced Hodgson and guided them to 6th in the table. At the end of the following season he was sacked after they fell to 8th, six points worse off than where they had finished the season before.
Liverpool finished 7th in the league the season before Brednan Rodgers got the job, four points off 6th place and 37 points behind City and United. There was some pressure on him at the end of his first season, but we should remember that they still improved, even if marginally, with them still finishing 7th, two points behind 6th place and 28 points behind United.
United fans have felt they had to remain loyal to Moyes for a few reasons. Firstly, because Sir Alex Ferguson was under the cosh after his first few seasons in charge and the club were massively rewarded by sticking with him. Had Ferguson been a manager working for Abramovich, there’s no doubt he would have been sacked. But for United, the club were content that he was the right man for the club, given the incredible success he had enjoyed with Aberdeen and the progress they had made since Ferguson got the job, climbing up from the relegation zone.
Whilst all wasn’t rosy in Ferguson’s early years, he did enough to justify the board keeping the faith, both at his previous club and at United. This man had won league titles and European trophies, as well as plenty of other cups, suggesting that he had the winning mentality required to take United to the top.
Misguided United fans therefore believe that the two managers are comparable, despite the fact Moyes has done nothing to justify having faith in him. He did a good job at Everton, spending very little money, keeping them just outside the top four. This is an achievement. If I supported a club that had aspirations of finishing just outside the top four and spending next to no money, then Moyes would be a manager I’d think was owed time to come good. As it is, I support the most successful club in England, the third most profitable club in the world, so Moyes’ strengths are fairly irrelevant to me. If we had a manager in charge who had been there and done it all before elsewhere, was struggling initially, but at least showed signs of improvement, I’d try much harder to be patient.
As it is, United are getting worse. On New Year’s Eve 2013, United were just three points behind Chelsea. Now we’re 18 points behind them. The decline is so huge and so rapid that it surely cannot be ignored.
Not only are performances on the pitch dreadful, Moyes’ behaviour off the field is abysmal. Ahead of Liverpool’s trip to Old Trafford he called them favourites. Following City’s 3-0 victory he said we aspired to be as good as them. Ahead of Newcastle’s visit to Old Trafford, a club floating around in midtable, Moyes said we were going to “make it as hard and as difficult for them as we possibly can.” Moyes just isn’t wired up to be a big club manager.
The second reason United fans feel they should stay loyal is because that is what Ferguson instructed us to do. His parting words to us were to “stick by the new manager”. So that is what we have strived to do. Despite all the failings, we haven’t booed the team, if anything, we’ve sung louder and supported them better.
But like all the other clubs, we have to reach our tipping point. At the start of the season, imagining worst case scenarios, it was something like finishing 4th and winning nothing. That would have been just about acceptable given that we were in transition. But when you look at four of the six teams above us, all of them changed their manager this season, and none of them were champions last season, yet there they are, ahead of us. The most damning of all is Everton’s current position, with the club going from strength to strength since Moyes’ departure and Roberto Martinez’s arrival. The fact that Ross Barkley, the player who had just two starts in the league under Moyes last season, is their star man, just adds insult to injury.
United are 26 points worse off than they were this time last season and there is surely no club in the country that would stand for that sort of decline, particularly after spending £70m on players. Time’s up. Moyes cannot be given another season.