Wonderful things, words. They’re often considered the best form of communication, they’re unquestionably the most efficient, but words are imperfect, always have been, always will be.
The arrival of January 2014 is significant in many ways, not least for the end of the festive period and the dawn of a new year. But in football circles, January and the ensuing window for transfer activity signals what in eventuality could prove a pivotal month. For Manchester United’s season, many fans believe the month could be make or break. Moreover, some argue (and credibly to) that the club’s business (or lack thereof) this month could impact the Old Trafford outfit’s long term future. Just a few days old all remains to be seen in this regard, but one thing that is certain is that the transfer window always brings with it a vast spectrum of expectations, from the optimistic and realistic to the pessimistic and down right ridiculous.
United’s poor league form during the first 6 months of Moyes’ reign, culminating in the Red Devils sitting a lowly 7th in the league table, has only heightened and agitated the already impatient atmosphere of expectancy. From managers to players and everything enveloped within the game of football the demand for quick fixes and instant success has become a rather unwelcome hallmark of the game. Given the situation, however, the calls for improvement emanating from most United fans is neither unexpected or unwarranted. But resisting the temptation to indulge in optimistic fantasies whilst equally refusing to delve into pessimistic nightmares, what are the realistic expectations this month?
Published in the Mirror in an article written by Steve Bates, Manchester United’s manager had this to say:
Asked if he would be making any signings, Moyes said: “I don’t think so. I think most of the business will be more towards the summer rather than January.”
That is disturbing news for United fans who believe either Moyes thinks the current squad is strong enough – or there is no January transfer kitty at Old Trafford.
The Scot confirmed that Italy midfielder Daniele de Rossi was among the men who got away last summer.
Moyes revealed: “We did certainly think about bringing him in the summer time. I don’t think it went as far as a bid.”
( Published January 4th 2014, accessed at: David Moyes admits Manchester United won’t be making any signings in January transfer window )
Regrettably but understandably, the latest quotes have sparked uproar amongst many of the United faithful. These words, read as they have to be in black print certainly appear to paint a less than encouraging outlook. But words are flawed; particularly when translated onto a page. All words are open to interpretation and scrutiny, that is the very nature of communication. But if one man says something to another, there are for more indicators to the true meaning of what has been conversed than the bare words themselves.
Alas, words are all that you get in print, no tone of the voice, no slight twitch or gaze to the ground in deliverance, no wry smile and pertinently, no guarantee that the exact words chosen were consciously selected. That’s the problem with print, all you have is flawed, fallible, imperfect words.
Nevertheless, with that caveat laid, the words chosen by Moyes are now consigned to history and for most associated with United, they demand reflection. Those imploring a plethora of activity may be disheartened to hear that the Scot does not “think” there will be much activity this month and that “most of the business will be more towards the summer”. “Think” is a rather safe choice of vocabulary, it’s precatory in nature like ‘may’ or ‘might’ and could go either way but analysis of this minutiae really is unnecessary pedanticism. That said, for those flying off the handle fearing the worst and hanging on every word it should be remembered that there is no real way of knowing if Moyes really meant what he said. It is undoubtedly far from uncommon for a manager to lie on these issues. To embrace this statement as gospel at this juncture is nothing short of idiocy.
In truth, there is a lot more that goes on at a football club than many would like to believe. It is certainly naïve to discount the notion that many of the words that leave a manager’s mouth are pre-calculated, and often for good reason. This is particularly true with regards to transfers. Although many ‘Football Manager’ warriors may like to believe otherwise, transfers are not as easy and definitely not as simple as throwing money at the club of the player you want. Away from the purist and poetic view of the beautiful game it is now more than ever a business more than a sport, and business principles apply. Any club’s bargaining position is compromised if they show their hand because value is always determined by demand. Refusing to divulge your desires is nothing new and most would agree highly preferable to the debacle experienced over the summer, where the name of the ultimately unattainable Fabregas was embarrassingly boasted and flaunted to all who would listen.
Perhaps slightly more startling was Moyes’ admission regarding United’s summer pursuit of De Rossi that he didn’t “think it went as far as a bid”. If taken literally the statement promotes the implication that Moyes was unaware as to whether United had or had not placed a bid, and if that’s true it is unquestionably highly concerning. The entailing inference would be that Moyes does not have full control of transfer affairs. Many clubs of recent times have embraced the European model encompassing all manor of ‘technical directors’ and the like, but United have always maintained that one man is in charge of the club, and that’s the manager.
Once more though, a call for calm. The choice of the particular vocabulary used may not have been a conscious one. It is not beyond reason that a question on De Rossi was somewhat unexpected and was in turn answered with an understandable flippancy. Conversely, it may be that Moyes is fully aware of the details regarding United’s pursuit of the Italian and simply declined to be fully transparent. Any admission of the club’s failure in the transfer market is hardly great PR after all.
So with that said, what are the realistic expectations this month? That question undoubtedly hinges on a number of factors, not least whether there is actually any money to spend. Many anti-Glazer campaigners would have you believe that it is the owners, not Moyes, restricting transfer activity. The cold facts though are that no-one really knows how much money is there and how far the Glazers are willing to support the club in that regard and it remains to be seen how that will pan out.
From a business sense, there are a number of facets that may be influencing the club’s hierarchy. With United sitting precariously below an adequate position, the absence of the finance encompassed within the Champions League should qualification fail to materialise will be a concern. But it should be remembered that bringing in new faces will bring no guarantee that qualification will occur in any case. Many point to the acquisitions of Evra and Vidic in January. Two outstanding servants to the club, but both struggled to adapt early in their United careers, and their impact as United players was far from instant.
Furthermore, January is notoriously a difficult time to buy. Why would clubs let their best players go now? Money will always talk, but is it worth gambling by paying over the odds in January chasing a revenue that has no guarantee of substantiating? With the inflated prices that a world cup summer will inevitably bring the answer may well be yes. But stars of the calibre demanded by the fans may simply be unavailable at any price. Would fans like to see a number of ‘make do’ signings brought in as a short-term fix? A big financial outlay for a player who will ‘have to do’ is unjustifiable, the loan system may yet prove invaluable.
The club, Moyes and not least the directors, then, have some pivotal decisions to make in the coming few weeks. For fans wanting to maintain a balanced perspective, there are a few things that should always be considered. Firstly, there must always be a trust that those at the club will always be trying to do their best to ensure what is best for Manchester United materialises. Secondly, there are a lot of business considerations involved and following the inception of the ‘statutory statement’ contained within ss.170-177 of the Companies Act 2006, the directors of the club are under a legal, let alone a moral obligation to promote the success of the club. There is a myth at times often born from the ashes of disappointment that those in control of the club loathe to see Manchester United succeed on and off the pitch.
Finally, there is no doubt that the successes and failures of the next two transfer windows will wield a great influence on the club moving forwards, not least the small matter of Wayne Rooney. But whatever happens, stand by the club. Far too many rash judgements and ill-advised assumptions are made regarding transfer business. As seen from the furore surrounding the latest quotes overreactions are commonplace and Moyes will need to watch his words from now on or face the wrath of the increasingly impatient supporters who are rapidly losing faith. United and Moyes’ PR to date around these issues have left a lot to be desired and are definitely in need of improvement. Nevertheless, be mindful that even the most imperative words can be devoid of meaning and be cautious not to overlook that the words of one man can often be intentionally orchestrated by many minds with different agendas.
Everyone likes to indulge in the rumour mill from time to time and dream of what might be. But a word to the wise for the social media elite; it’s a fools game to hang on every word you read. After all; if a stranger came up to you in the street and said that his name was Peter, would you believe him?
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