David Moyes has been in for plenty of stick already this season, some of it warranted, some of it not so much, but we had to know this was going to happen. Whoever got the job, their every move would be under a microscope, and some managers would be easier to scrutinise than others.
Jose Mourinho got sent to the stands last weekend, suggesting that just eight games in he isn’t quite The Happy One he tried to convince of us he was. His decision not to give Juan Mata a starring role, a player who is superior to most in Europe and all at Chelsea, suggests another flaw in Mourinho’s way of thinking. This isn’t a justification of the decision not to appoint the man, rather acknowledgement that even the managers who are hailed as the best in the world make mistakes.
Moyes isn’t regarded as one of the best in the world, which makes the decision to appoint him as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor a strange one, and we can therefore expect he will get things wrong. Just a couple of months in to the season, an article on RoM this week detailed the top five things Moyes has already struggled with. An article in today’s Guardian criticised Moyes’ decision to replace our world class coaching staff with his own (inferior) staff, and any part he played, however small it might have been, in the embarrassing transfer window. These points are fair. Moyes should have done better.
But when talking about whether Moyes is the right man for the job, whether we should have gone for Mourinho or anyone else, whether another manager would have done a better job than Moyes is doing, it’s hard to tell. Looking at our performances and the teams we’ve played, would even Ferguson have done a better job?
The chances are that yes, he would have done. We would have almost certainly lost to City and Liverpool, like we usually do, with Ferguson’s approaches to these games over the past five years or so fairly painful to watch, but chances are we would have got results against West Brom and Southampton. These are the two games that have really stung. Of course it’s possible that we could have slipped up with Ferguson still in charge, but he inspired a confidence in our players and instilled a fear in our opposition that likely accounted for a ridiculous number of points every season. It must be ten years or more now since people called us “jammy” for all those last minute goals, and have come to the understanding that our winning mentality is just stronger than everyone else’s. Ferguson was the driving force behind that.
But looking at the quality of our squad and the level of performances last season, there’s no way we should have cruised to the title. We were obviously worthy winners, wrapping up the league in April, but it was hardly an enjoyable season for United fans in terms of the football we played. I know that’s a ridiculously spoilt attitude, but one created from growing up watching United play dazzling football and winning a trophy almost every single season since I’ve had a memory of football. I’d take seasons like last every year though, of course, but we hardly set the world alight.
In RoM’s preview of this season, the chapter looking at our rivals read:
Gore Vidal once mused: “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.” And fortunately, the reverse is also true: Just being terrible won’t be enough to knock us off our perch. Somebody has to be less terrible. In recent years, that simple fact has kept us at the top, and it may well do again.
Had Ferguson brought last season’s squad through to this season, what state would we be in? I’ve heard people arguing that we’d have signed Fabregas, or Ozil, or some other top talent, but it just makes me think they haven’t been paying attention. We’ve been crying out for a quality player in the centre of the park for years, yet Ferguson hasn’t signed one since 2007. We’ve since learnt that Ferguson wasn’t a fan of Owen Hargreaves since day one, if what he’s written in his autobiography is to be believed, yet the manager did nothing to address that obvious hole in midfield. But for whatever reason, there’s a belief that this summer, of all summers, suddenly the manager would have dropped £40m+ on a world beater.
The truth is we have no idea of the extent of the financial restrictions that are in place behind the scenes and how much pressure the manager of United is under to adhere to them. But with Fergie, and now Moyes, bleating on about what supportive owners the Glazers are, we’ll never get to find out. Maybe, as Jon Snow hinted yesterday, we’d have a different account from Ferguson about the last fourteen years if he wasn’t still employed by the club, but as it is, we’ll just have to settle for the insistence of whoever manages our club that the Glazers provide them with all the cash they need. If that’s true, why is our squad inferior to those of our title rivals?
Gary Neville couldn’t understand why last season’s champions didn’t start this season as favourites. Usually very astute, and maybe being purposefully oblivious, Neville is obviously ignoring the investment the teams around us have made. Spurs spent £104m (actually reinvesting the money made on selling a top player, and then some. Fancy that!), City spent £103m, Chelsea spent £63m, Liverpool spent £44m, Arsenal spent £42.5m and we spent £29m. Christ, even West Ham are giving us a run for our money with that kind of outlay.
We weren’t great last season but we were still better than everyone else. We’re still not great this season, but thanks to the fuck ups from Ed Woodward and the penny pinching from the Glazers, the squads of other teams have now easily overtaken us in terms of quality. Looking at the performances this season and last, there isn’t much, if any, difference. But it was painfully apparent that we needed strengthening in midfield, so why was nothing done about this? If United couldn’t attract a big name with Moyes as manager, why didn’t Ferguson ensure we got a superstar or two before he left?
Moyes has made mistakes that could and should have been avoided, but having just played eight games and having no experience of managing a top club, maybe he deserves some slack. After all, it is the club that saw him fit to take over from Ferguson, and who in their right mind would turn down the United job?
With 30 games left to play and Arsenal the only team to look really dangerous so far this season (and habit tends to persuade me they won’t last the course, like usual, with their players all starting to break and their weak mentality allowing them to crumble by February), who knows what will happen. Maybe Woodward will wave his magic wand in January and sign us the world class players we need to compete.
Or maybe we will just have to sit tight and get through this season. And next season. And maybe the one after. Maybe we will have a grim few years ahead. But after inheriting a team even Ferguson would unlikely be able to win the title with this season, how much could we reasonably expect of the new manager this season, whoever got the job?