David Moyes, Sir Alex Ferguson, the Glazer, the players – where are United now?
Author: Karate Jesus
Follow Karate Jesus on Twitter – @KarateJesus82
Given the increasingly desperate form of the team, United are proving to be fertile ground at the moment for journalists, bloggers or, frankly, anyone, be they of a United persuasion or not. So, if you can’t beat them, join them.
Some of this analysis is poor and I want to quickly address one moot point that highlights how confused many people have become; namely that Ferguson being in the stands is casting a dark shadow over Moyes’ attempts to manage the club.
Ferguson, aside from jumping through the publisher hoops following his autobiography, has remained pretty much silent on football related matters since retiring. If the new man can’t handle him being at games, he shouldn’t be in the job and there is no evidence at all that Moyes is effected by this.
It’s a non-issue that is only being seen as one because people keep repeating it. If Ferguson now stopped going to games, that too would become an issue. It’s lazy thinking, considering the multitude of other issues that are currently causing the club problems.
Anyway, moving on, the obvious place to really begin is with the manager. David Moyes would not have been my choice as manager. This wasn’t because I believed him to be a bad manager or the negative, Neanderthal tactician that many are currently portraying him as. Instead, my fear was that, should United suffer a dip in fortunes during his early period as a manager (and this was always a possibility in the post-Ferguson world), he wouldn’t have the aura of somebody like Mourinho or Guardiola and as such, his ability to lead would be more vulnerable. This is a fear that is now being realised.
This vulnerability has resulted in the manager being unable, so far, to address United’s primary concern; namely the lack of belief that the players have, especially at Old Trafford. (On a side note, I’ve seen people comment that Old Trafford is nervy this season and, as with the Ferguson being at matches issue highlighted above, I find this to be a really lazy opinion – Old Trafford has been louder and better this season than for years.) Under Ferguson, if United were level, or even behind, with 20 minutes to go, the players would still believe the win was there for the taking. Equally as important, the opposition would believe that to be the case as well.
The roles have been reversed this season and if United are level going into the final third of a game, our players become anxious and the opposition become encouraged. This psychological swing has manifested itself clearly in league defeats to WBA, Everton and Newcastle and the draw with Southampton, as well as the FA Cup tie against Swansea. This kind of crisis in confidence is disastrous in sport and it’s not necessarily something Moyes has direct control of – he just has to hope he can ride it out.
There’s a lot of criticism of Moyes’ tactics at the moment and, whilst some of it is justified, much of it is exaggerated. Moyes may not lean towards the kind of expansive football that is currently held up as the only way successful teams should play, but his record at Everton was excellent, despite some unbelievable revisionism from their fans over the last six months. I’d happily wager £100 that Martinez never takes Everton to a higher finish than Moyes did and it’s also been easily forgotten that he has won three LMA Manager of the Year awards. In short, he isn’t a mug and I don’t believe that United’s current position is a true testament of his abilities. There’s a genuine debate to be had as to whether Moyes can win United titles and I don’t think anyone can be sure either way at this stage, but our home form this season will be an exception rather than the rule.
The danger for Moyes, of course, is if he is unable to produce a major improvement in the next twelve months. I personally don’t believe United will sack him, regardless of their eventual league position, at any point in 2014. Cutting their losses at this stage would do more harm than good and he should be given the summer to implement any changes he wants to make. Those changes are likely to be vast and I believe, and hope, that as many as ten of the current first team squad will be culled. It’s a bloated squad and, whilst this suited Ferguson, it doesn’t suit Moyes.
The old (Giggs, Evra, Ferdinand and Vidic), the average (Anderson, Buttner, Fabio) and the too often ineffective (Kagawa, Hernandez) could all be gone, together with at least one or even two from Young, Nani and Valencia, in addition to dead wood such as Macheda and Bebe. All in all, I’d expect the club to generate £50m from losing these players (mainly through Kagawa and Hernandez) and this should hopefully supplement a reasonable transfer fund already in place. If things do continue to go badly, there’s obviously the risk that players you don’t want to leave will push for a move, namely Rooney and Van Persie.
Despite their wishes, I think the club would rather run Rooney’s contract down than sell him and Van Persie hadn’t got much room for negotiation so it would be a surprise if either left this summer.
The clear out of the squad will enable Moyes to make the team his own and one of the silver linings at the moment is that the club have a strong spine of players. The team really only needs three or four players to go into the first XI; a left back, a central midfielder and a forward. In addition, should Vidic leave, I think another centre back will be necessary, together with further cover for both full backs. If United want to be realistic title challengers with Moyes at the helm then the club will need to let him spend £120m+ (gross) on 4-5 players. Fortunately for all parties, Ferguson’s management allowed the Glazer’s to get away with spending a fraction that comparable big clubs spend. This is no longer the case and the Glazer’s will have to spend substantial amounts or see the value of the club dwindle having seen exceptional growth (in terms of their profit) in recent years.
With regard to the players, it has been disappointing to see the lack of courage from so many this season. Although I don’t believe it is a case of players not trying, there are too many players who aren’t stepping up when needed this season. Injuries to Carrick and Van Persie haven’t helped but, Rooney and Januzaj apart, it’s hard to pick a player out who has regularly made things happen this season.
The effects of Ferguson leaving have been far stronger than anticipated but it is equally disheartening to hear suggestions that some players (particular the senior players) are spitting their dummies out. These players have enjoyed huge success at United and whilst the club owe them a lot, they owe the club a lot too. If any player believes they are more important than the manager then they should be shown the door or be firmly put back in their place. It appears a lot of supporters have discarded Ferguson’s main mantra – the manager is the most important person at the club. I believe that the majority of fans would back Van Persie, for example, if they had to choose between him or Moyes. The club would be in huge trouble if they allowed that to happen although, given the presence of Ferguson and Charlton on the board, I don’t think they’d allow a manager to be removed purely because the players push for it.
For all that Moyes needs his players to fight for him, he must also begin to help himself. The time has now come for him to recognise the honeymoon period is over and for him to manage the players as he would have at Everton. It’s understandable that he couldn’t go into the dressing room straight away and manage the players, who don’t know him, in the same way that Ferguson did but there has to be a point where he stops treading on egg shells and that point has undoubtedly been reached. Reports in the press suggested this may have happened after the game against Swansea. Time will tell.
Despite the results and, more importantly, the terrible form in terms of performance, there are some indications that Moyes is making correct decisions, at least in terms of personnel. His first choice centre back is, correctly, Evans and he has shown with Januzaj that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. I get the impression that Moyes is learning who his best team is, it’s just a case of having key players fit. He also appears to have identified the areas in which the club need to strengthen and, whilst last summer was frustrating, it’s encouraging that he is aware of the areas of the squad where improvement is needed.
It’s also no bad thing that the club as a whole have had this wake up call. Ferguson’s teams since 2008 may have been successful but they were primarily functional and the club’s transfer policy has reflected this. It may well be a case of sink or swim this summer and if that leads to better players at the club, it may result in greater entertainment.
It also doesn’t do anybody any harm, be it the players players, fans or owners, to realise that success is not a given. The players will become better, hungrier players having had this experience or they well move on. The fans will enjoy the next success (if they live to see it…) with greater vigour having had a, hopefully small, taste of the sour. Finally, the owners will have to spend a lot of pennies, or get off the potty,
It may be a frustrating, disheartening season but it’s fascinating at the same time and if United fans think they have it bad they should just remember that Arsenal haven’t won anything for 8 (eight) years and Liverpool haven’t won the league for coming up 24. In fact, the last time Liverpool were champions, United hadn’t won the league for 23 years. I’ll leave you with that slightly unnerving statistic. If Liverpool win the league this year, it could be a long quarter of a century.