David Moyes came into the job with the blessing of Sir Alex Ferguson, having eleven admirable years as manager of Everton behind him. He has only had five months to build his legacy, while the great man before him had twenty-seven years. Surely he is deserving of a lot more time to improve results?
Well, my answer to that question is in fact no. The truth is, when he took over, David Moyes was overwhelmed with the task of replacing arguably the best manager in the history of world football. An early decision which highlights this, was to move on three key members of the coaching team. Mike Phelan, Rene Meulensteen and Eric Steele all departed, so Moyes could bring in familiar faces Steve Round and Jimmy Lumsden from his Everton career. One must question the message this puts across to the players. A lot of managers in this situation would be keen to minimize the transition as much as possible, and change very little of the setup which has proved so successful. However, Moyes decided to make changes, meaning his process of assessing the squad is that bit more difficult.
When David Moyes was first appointed, people were pointing towards the similarities between him and Sir Alex Ferguson. Another disciplinarian, another Glaswegian, Moyes is ‘cut from the same cloth’. Despite appearing like similar characters, the two men are in fact very different.
Ferguson was strict with the majority of his players, yet he had a knack for treating certain people differently and recognizing indispensable talent. When Eric Cantona signed in 1992, the team was full of perfectly hardworking players, but they were struggling to score goals. They needed that flash of inspiration and touch of quality. Ferguson could see this. He made allowances for Cantona in terms of his physical training and work rate, because he was a luxury player who was integral to the team’s attacking play. When Cristiano Ronaldo signed and started showing off his trademark stepovers, he was criticized for being too much of ‘show pony’, not being strong enough and not competing in the air. Ironically, when his time at Old Trafford came to an end, he was notorious for being the opposite of this. He had become the ultimate team player, regarded as an athlete, and he scored countless headed goals. Ferguson, alongside the coaching staff, had built the team around Ronaldo’s skill and moulded him into a complete player.
Let’s apply those two key scenarios to David Moyes. Would Moyes have been clever enough to treat Eric Cantona differently to other players? Would Moyes have had the long-sightedness to see the value in Ronaldo’s stepovers? If I picture David Moyes in either of those situations, I see him berating Cantona for not working hard enough. I see him stamping out Ronaldo’s stepovers and forcing him to cross from deep instead. It is difficult to imagine Moyes getting the most out of his best players.
That is not to say that Moyes is a bad manager. On a relatively low budget, he managed to establish Everton as one of the top seven teams in England over eleven years. Nobody who is able to do that can be called a bad manager, and I was one of the first people to praise the work he did at Everton. However, taking charge of Manchester United is a completely different ball game. Alright, it’s the same ball game, but a very different task.
Moyes had achieved everything he did at Everton, not by being a wise, tactical genius or by being a psychologist who knows exactly how to motivate every individual. Rather, he did it by installing an egalitarian, no ego mentality in the Everton dressing room. Because of chairman Bill Kenwright’s refusal to risk overspending, Moyes tended to bring in players quite cheaply, and mould them all into a team which could perform above the sum of its parts. Moyes would make sure that every single player would graft for the team.
However, for managing a top club, you need a slightly more diplomatic approach. First of all, Champions League games mean that the team is playing in four competitions. The manager cannot rely on a settled eleven due to risks of fatigue and injury. Therefore, all twenty five players in the squad need to be motivated, given game time and rewarded for good performances. Also, because it is the highest level, the players the manager is working with tend to have the more inflated egos. An ultra-strict approach will not necessarily work with these types of players, because if they are not happy, inevitably they will want to leave.
Ferguson has ingrained a hardworking mentality into his players, and he has disposed of a lot of important players once their ego got the better of them. However, Sir Alex is perhaps an exception to the rule. He has gotten away with sticking to a roundly strict approach in the modern era, because he has been at the club for so long and achieved so much, no player would want to cross him. Moyes is yet to earn himself that level of respect.
Over the last ten years, Manchester United have spent £380 million on players. In comparison, David Moyes has spent £131 million in ten years at Everton, and in five of those ten seasons, the club made a net profit. I Moyes is operating in a different market, with much bigger funds available to him, meaning there is more pressure in terms of who he signs.
The issue of transfers this summer is not his fault. Thiago, Fabregas, Khedira, De Rossi, Herrera,
Moyes cannot be blamed for the poor planning in the failure to land other targets. Much of that had to do with the change upstairs, David Gill retired as chairman, and giving the job to Ed Woodward, who was previously in charge of club branding. However, reportedly, Fellaini was Moyes’s number one transfer target when he was appointed as manager. The fact that the club paid £4 million over his release clause, and on transfer deadline day is irrelevant. From Moyes’s perspective, you must question the tactical planning behind the signing.
Last season, Fellaini played in an attacking midfield role at Everton, where he would receive direct balls to his shoulder, hold the ball up and bring others into play. However, Manchester United already had Shinji Kagawa and Wayne Rooney, the latter Moyes was determined to keep, who played in the same position. Therefore, this season Fellaini has been forced to drop deep into central midfield, and that is not his natural position. The club have spent nearly £27.5 million on a player who is being played out of position. It is poor financial handling from Woodward, yet the tactical thinking from David Moyes is questionable too.
Tactically, Moyes has struggled. At Everton, his teams always played with two banks of four. However, this system does not suit Manchester United’s squad. When midfielders such as Tom Cleverley, Marouane Fellaini and Ryan Giggs are played either together, or alongside Michael Carrick, they are not good enough to dominate midfields as a duo. They lack pace and strength, and are a long way away from the old partnership of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, both of whom used to strike fear into any opponent.
Control of the midfield is becoming a key aspect of the modern game. Most successful teams play with two recognized midfielders, and a variety of attacking players, either of whom can drop into midfield at any given time. That way, the team is not overrun in the centre. However, Wayne Rooney is the only man who does that for Manchester United, because David Moyes always looks to use wingers.
If wingers are the way forward for United, a good idea would be to drop Rooney or van Persie for one match and play three in midfield. That way, the wingers have more attacking freedom to support the striker. A midfield trio provides more flexibility. It helps to guard against counter attacks and protect the fullback, and allows for more spontaneous late runs into the box, which are difficult to mark.
However, very rarely has Moyes not played two strikers, and even then it has been by force rather than tactical planning. It seems Van Persie and Rooney have always had a safe place in the team, which creates a worrying lack of competition. He mentioned in his post-match interview for the Newcastle game, that had he taken van Persie off for fitness reasons, everybody would have lambasted the decision. Although in some ways you can sympathise with a manager, under a degree of pressure given United’s poor start, not wanting to put his neck on the line. However, it continues a concerning cycle whereby Moyes is saying and doing things to curry favour, rather than what is simply best for the team.
As Manchester United’s distance from the top four increases, they are now without a win in four, Moyes will only grow more desperate. His job will become less about long-term planning and building healthy competition within the squad, more about doing whatever it takes to appease the fans and get short-term results. United fans, many of whom are used to nothing but success under Sir Alex Ferguson, have dwindling faith in their new Scot. If this continues, Moyes will eventually lose the respect of the dressing room. The fact that the club is ninth in December suggests he must have already to some extent.
Manchester United are known to be a club that stands by the manager, and seeing David Moyes’s loyalty to Everton, the theory was that he would continue the tradition. However, I disagree that loyalty is what defines Manchester United as a club. More so, it is constant success. Matt Busby managed the club for twenty-four years, however, he guided them to finish runners-up in his first three seasons in charge before winning the FA Cup. The board back then hardly needed any loyalty to stick with Busby as manager.
Alex Ferguson was under pressure from fans in 1990, and it took a single decision from the board to not sack him. That season they went on to win the FA Cup – the rest is history. During the two decades afterwards when United were winning title after title, I’m not sure how much loyalty was really required from the club.
I do not believe in stability, purely for stability’s sake. Standing by David Moyes would eventually see a slow, backward decline for the club, much like Liverpool after Kenny Dalglish first left in the early ‘90s. With a defensive-minded manager, it is difficult to see Manchester United having a chance of competing against the likes of Man City and Chelsea, who have so much more quality in their team.
David Moyes might seem similar to Ferguson, however, he doesn’t share the key ingredient of being able to man manage individuals. In some ways, the traits that Moyes does share with Ferguson work against him. The fact that he is also a Glaswegian leads to more comparisons between the two men, and of course Moyes will always appear unfavourably in the light of one of the greatest managers of all time. He is a bit like the second Mrs de Winter from the film Rebecca – stuck in the shadow of his predecessor.
Manchester United are in a mess. They are ninth, and seven points away from the Champions League places. It is not good enough for a club of their stature, and getting into the Champions League is vital to the club’s health. The Glazers are funding the club from money that is not theirs, through huge loan deals which need to be paid back. The Americans bank, quite literally, on Champions League TV money to pay off the debt. Last summer, despite having won the league title and reached the Champions League knockout rounds, Manchester United were in around £300 million worth of long-term debt. That would be a massive chunk to pay off without extra TV money. If the club failed to reach the Champions League this season, it would be more difficult to afford, and attract, a marquee signing, and some players may begin to seek better offers elsewhere.
Suffice to say, it is vital that the club stay in the top four this season. Rather than blindly stand by a man who is trying desperately to emulate the real McCoy, the best thing for the Manchester United board to do is swallow their pride and cut their losses. Yes, everybody expected the transition to life after Fergie for the club to be tough, yet surely not this tough. Sir Alex got the maximum out of some otherwise ordinary players at Old Trafford, but the club should not accept that just because there is a change of manager, the team drops in standards so dramatically.
If anything, one might think that the players would be even more determined to prove that the club can still win trophies without Sir Alex, in the early stages of Moyes’s tenure. From what I have seen, there is no determination there. The drive, the passion, the energy is missing, and when you lose that mentality, it can be difficult to regain it. In Man United’s performance against Newcastle, there were players hitting misplaced passes, the teammate would not run for it, and they would each shrug their shoulders. You cannot legislate for this.
By standing by David Moyes, some Manchester United fans might get a sense of satisfaction that the club is sticking to its ‘ethos’ of giving a manager time. The club may pride itself on being different from the likes of Chelsea and Real Madrid, who sack managers shamefully at the drop of a hat. It is one thing to stand by the manager; it is another to stand by the right manager. In this current climate, like it or not, money rules everything and short-term success is key. If you’re not getting the results, player power takes over. The harmony in the squad goes, you can lose your best players and the club runs the risk of moving backwards.
My instinct would be to terminate David Moyes’s contract. To be so far behind the elite at this stage is a massive underachievement, standing by Moyes creates too much of a risk of the team stagnating. Personally, I would look to appoint Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp, who is unlikely to win anything in Germany with Bayern Munich dominating. He managed Dortmund to the Champions League final, is a very good man manager, can speak English well, and he is also a great developer of talent. Sticking with David Moyes would be, quite frankly, a red herring for Manchester United.
As always on The Score, I am open to debate. Feel free to ping me a tweet @_thescore