Moving On From Moyes
It’s been a bit of a frantic week at Old Trafford to say the least. Following widespread speculation a day earlier, David Moyes was relieved of his post as manager of Manchester United on the morning of Tuesday 22nd April. Looking at United’s league position and results throughout the campaign, its hard to argue against the decision.
The accountability for such a disappointing season does not sit solely on the Scot’s shoulders, there were a number of other contributing factors, but it’s always the man at the top who must ultimately take responsibility. The football was negative and uninspiring, the results indifferent and inconsistent but, most of all, far too many performances were inexcusable. Few were expecting the league title, but make no mistake, the depths to which United have plunged has been unimaginable.
The aftermath has certainly only added to the already lamentable portrait of the former Everton man’s ill-fated tenure. Reports of player unrest and poor man-management have been too plentiful to be cast aside as pure conjecture; David Moyes lost the dressing room.
With that said, questions must turn to the wisdom of the Scot’s appointment in the first place, and not least the philosophy behind it. A 6-year contract for a man whose CV, in truth, barely warranted consideration was quite a statement.
The selection was one undoubtedly made almost exclusively by Moyes’ predecessor, Sir Alex Ferguson. There was no due diligence, no proper process, simply a reliance on one man’s instinct. Nevertheless, to absolve a manager who steadily built up Everton over a decade of any redeeming qualities would be misguided. There was a method and a message to hiring David Moyes, and both centred around longevity.
The Scot had successfully maintained standards for over 10 years at one football club, overseeing numerous transitions of the squad and giving fair opportunity to young players. Those are some of the virtues that most associated with United hold very dearly.
Moreover, most accepted that quite possibly the hardest job in the history of football would prove a challenging task even for the most qualified of contenders, and the man tasked would need time, patience and support; but there is always a cut off point.
For David Moyes, that point came on the back of a woeful performance at Goodison Park against his former club. Cynics will point to the fact that the result finally mathematically confirmed the Red Devils’ absence from Europe’s elite next season, triggering a clause in the Scot’s contract. But in truth, the timing is largely immaterial, and a plethora of reports have suggested that it had been a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ for some time.
For some, the sacking comes with a tinge of hypocrisy, with a manager brought in with assurances of time and on the premise of longevity cut adrift less than a year into his reign. But the club always has to come first, and away from the romance and the purists, the regrettable state of modern football means that results will always outweigh philosophy.
For Moyes himself, he will have undoubtedly departed with a barrage of regrets and ‘what ifs’. It’s hard not to harbour a certain amount of sympathy for a man who simply took on a job that was too big for him, and was then ruthlessly beheaded when disappointment turned to despair. Nevertheless, there is seldom room for sentiment in football, and regardless of whether the Scot deserved more time, results had ultimately been so poor that the club were left with little option.
David Moyes is a very good manager, he proved it at Everton and he’ll no doubt prove it again somewhere down the line. Manchester United were perhaps just too much, too soon, and the question as to whether the Scot would have turned things around will remain unanswered. Once the players were lost (if he ever had some of them to begin with), the position was untenable. He leaves with the best wishes of most associated with the club, if not the respect.
Thoughts must now inevitably turn to Moyes’ replacement. Football is an unrelenting constant and standing still is invariably tantamount to falling behind. The decision should not be rushed, but equally with an important summer approaching, the board must act decisively. Images of the regrettable fates suffered by fallen foes Liverpool and Arsenal in recent years hover ominously on the horizon, it is now more than ever that the club have to get it right.
There is of course no divine right to success, many opposing fans would even argue that United a due a prolonged period in the shadows. However, misgivings and disgruntlements regarding the Glazers’ ownership aside, the finances and resources at the club’s disposal are inescapable. Whilst it is manifestly wrong to believe victories and triumphs are owed to any club, it is not wrong that there is such expectancy surrounding Manchester United.
The club’s wage bill, it’s prestige, it’s facilities and resources all facilitate and to an extent demand success. The elitist view that Manchester United possess a divine right to win trophies is misguided, but an expectancy to compete is not. That is where David Moyes fell so woefully short, and where the new manager must provide rapid improvement.
As discussed, the process of Moyes’ selection was perhaps as regrettable as the appointment itself has materialised to be. If United are to pursue a mantra of longevity, one would think that age and not least the ability and desire to stay at one football club for long periods would be considerations. Conversely, however, there is no reason to pursue a long-term philosophy if the result is the wrong appointment.
In reality, there is very little evidence to suggest that managers with sustained periods in charge deliver any more success than brief 3-4 year stints; Ferguson was a phenomenon in this regard. Football moves in cycles, and each great side invariably produces for 3-4 years before needing to be rejuvenated. In that sense, a change of manager every 3-4 years is not necessarily a bad thing. It can refresh and reinvigorate a football club that may have stagnated and gone stale.
With that said, it is important that United simply get the right man for this very moment in time, looking to the future, for now at least, should probably take a back seat. This season has proved to be comfortably the worst the club has experienced in well over two decades. With fears growing as to a sustained period in the shadows, and the ghosts of Arsenal and Liverpool lurking menacingly, the club needs stabilising, and right now.
Most of the football world predicted difficulties when Sir Alex finally stepped aside. It was the reason that, despite a number of lamentable qualities, many advocated Mourinho as a perfect candidate. It may not have been pretty, it may not have reflected the traditions and the ideals of the football club, but it would almost certainly have guaranteed stability and success.
Nevertheless, Manchester United stand for so much more than simply winning trophies. It’s the characteristics, the ideals and the traditions of the football club that many fans hold far more dearly than a trophy come the end of the season. David Moyes struggled because he didn’t know United, and he dispensed of the services of most who did. An understanding of United and how to manage a truly colossal football club is imperative.
So who are the options? Many names have been mentioned but, in truth, there aren’t many candidates available that truly fit the bill. One name bandied around is that of Jurgen Klopp. The eccentric German guided Borussia Dortmund to back-to-back league titles as well as the 2013 Champions League final playing an exciting brand of football. There are certainly parallels with Sir Alex Ferguson in the way that he has re-built the football club from its very roots and youth is often afforded fair opportunity. At 46, Klopp is also young enough to provide the longevity that so many desire.
Regrettably, one of the German’s most admirable qualities is the reason that he is probably out of reach. Klopp is fiercely loyal to Dortmund and so whilst many believe he fits the bill, it appears an unlikely appointment.
Despite running away with this season’s Bundesliga title, Pep Guardiola’s name has also been touted once again, perhaps strengthened by Bayern Munich’s humiliating exit from the Champion’s League at the hands of Real Madrid. Guardiola is young and shares many of the virtues and philosophies that envelope Manchester United.
Nevertheless, whilst the Spaniard has experienced unrivalled success in recent years, there are fears that his style of football has become one-dimensional, stale and outdated. It will be fascinating to see if the former Barcelona man will adapt moving forwards as so many great coaches have over the years. As things stand, the former midfielder’s style of play would almost certainly necessitate a greater turnover of playing staff than any other candidate, and it is unlikely that he will depart Bayern after just one season at the club.
Another man highly thought of is Carlo Ancelotti. He is younger than many think at 54 and certainly boasts a CV more than worthy of consideration. The Italian has managed successfully in the Premier League before and has achieved success at every club he has been to. He plays an attacking style and one only has to look at the way he has worked with Zinedine Zidane at Madrid to know that he may provide a fantastic foil for Ryan Giggs to further his experience.
In a moment of self-indulgence, Ancelotti would be this author’s choice. He has galvanised Real Madrid and conquered all with AC Milan. Many may point to the plethora of world-class talent at his disposal, but despite such a collection of individuals, the Italian has truly turned Madrid into a team this season. Regrettably, the former Milan man is probably out of reach, but it is hard to find fault with his credentials for the job.
A slightly more left-field suggestion has been Steve Bruce. The former centre-half has done an admirable job at Hull City and may well walk away with an FA-cup to his name in a month’s time. Moreover, Hull have played some very attractive football at times and, pertinently, often in the 3-5-2 formation that many believe could prove a good fit for United’s current playing staff.
Bruce has no experience of managing a club of United’s magnitude, but as a former captain the Geordie undoubtedly knows the club. It is highly unlikely that the former Wigan manager will even be considered and he is certainly not the big name that many crave. Nevertheless, there is a growing feeling and certainly ample grounds to suggest that Bruce would do a good job.
All of the above have good credentials, but with the exception of Steve Bruce, most are almost certainly unavailable, which brings us to the front-runners for the job.
Ryan Giggs has taken charge on an interim basis until the end of the season and it seems popular to say that the ‘clamour’ for his permanent appointment is loud and growing. In the 4-0 victory against Norwich, United secured their biggest home win of the season and had more shots on target than in any other game thus far. Signs of the brave, cavalier, attacking football that characterised the Red Devils under Sir Alex Ferguson were apparent and there is no doubt that the Welshman would prove a popular choice with the fans.
Giggs may have no managerial experience, but his experience of United as a football club is practically second to none. In reality, it may be slightly too soon for United’s number 11, but whatever happens he appears almost certain to remain on the coaching staff.
That leaves the favourite, Louis Van Gaal. The Dutchman is widely expected to be announced as the new Manchester United manager imminently. The former Ajax man boasts an impressive CV and the type of attacking philosophy that many crave. Renowned as someone who takes no prisoners, his iron fist approach may well prove what’s needed for a squad who undoubtedly threw their previous manager under the bus.
If reports are to be believed there may be a few issues regarding the coaching staff that would work under him, with the club keen for the ‘class of 92’ to remain part of the setup. Nevertheless, these are expected to be minor teething problems and the Dutchman is clearly keen on the job. At 62, Van Gaal is the oldest of the touted contenders and his appointment may signal a departure from the desire to appoint a man who will spend a decade at the club. With that said, however, many advocate that perhaps 3 years of Van Gaal with Giggs as his understudy ready to take the reigns could prove a dream scenario.
In the next few weeks the appointment will surely be made, and regardless of who is chosen, it is important to remember that Manchester United as a club, not just David Moyes, have let themselves down this season. There will unquestionably be further changes beyond the managerial appointment, but fans should be excited for the start of a new era.
Interestingly, of all the candidates mentioned, only Giggs (and albeit in just one game), and Bruce at times, traditionally play with two strikers. Whilst there are systems that will accommodate all three, it is becoming increasingly apparent that perhaps Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata are fighting for just two places moving forwards. Louis Van Gaal’s favoured formation is very much a 4-3-3, as he believes the formation affords more lines of play than any other. Should the Dutchman take the reigns, his fondness of Van Persie may provide an interesting sub-plot moving forwards.
The same would be true of most candidates, however, with modern football gravitating towards systems predicated on a lone striker. It should be remembered, though, that football is always waiting for the next system to be pioneered, and perhaps a new formation that can accommodate the talent at United’s disposal could deliver an exciting new era for the Old Trafford faithful.
Time will tell, and it would be interesting to hear the thoughts of the Stretford End Arising readership as to who they would like to take the reigns. Rapid improvement will almost certainly not be readily forthcoming, it’s important to remember that it will still take time for United to find their feet and their rhythm once more. But the fans were outstanding in their support of David Moyes, and its time has arrived again. Whoever they may be, it’s time to get behind our new manager.