The latest home defeat to Swansea resulting in United’s exit at the first hurdle of the FA cup was a painful one, not least because of yet another abject and seemingly uninterested performance put on at Old Trafford. The Red Devils’ current troubles call for the kind of siege mentality so often instilled throughout the football club. It is time for the players, the club and the fans to pull together and fight back just as United so often have in the past when faced with adversity. But every battle needs a leader and Moyes, unfairly or otherwise, is rapidly losing the faith of those around him.
For many, Moyes was never the right man for the job and in many ways it is hard to argue against that logic. When Sir Alex Ferguson took the reigns of a struggling United the Scot had a host of domestic and European trophies to his name. The man who inherited the current champions and biggest club in England in the summer only boasted a Division 2 title with Preston North End of any note. Speculation regarding Ferguson’s meetings with Pep Guardiola in New York aside, there is no evidence that any other candidates were considered let alone shortlisted. A strange process for such an important appointment and one that would rarely be seen in any other commercial sector, but then football as a business has always been somewhat of an enigma.
Football considerations will often override commercial prudency and to those purists who simply love the sport and loathe the recent transformations brought about by the ever-increasing business considerations, rightly so. It is quite clear that the appointment of Moyes was a football decision, and patently one based on the single opinion of one man; his predecessor. Sir Alex Ferguson made many mistakes when making decisions predicated on gut instinct, just look at Bebe. But the former boss was trusted and eventually proved right when he moved on David Beckham and brought in a young, fresh-faced Cristiano Ronaldo. The progression anticipated took a few years but the trust and belief that one of the best players ever to grace the Old Trafford turf would develop was always there. It should not be forgotten that in all likelihood Sir Alex maintains a similar trust and belief in the man he chose as his successor.
Also of pertinence may be to consider who else was actually available? Mourinho was discounted by many, not least Sir Bobby Charlton if reports are to be believed, for his style and demeanour. The somewhat brief stints at the many clubs that litter Mourinho’s managerial record are certainly not aligned with the mantra for longevity. That said, the almost guaranteed success that Mourinho would have brought, even if just for a short period, would certainly have eased the transition and it is for that reason that many backed the Portuguese master. Jurgen Klopp perhaps fits the bill but one only has to look at the recent player exodus and slide down the table at Dortmund this season to think twice. There are certainly many whose credentials far exceed those of Moyes on paper, but whether there is a manager out there who is a better fit for the traditions of Manchester United is an interesting question.
At the end of the day, some may never believe that Moyes was the right appointment but, rightly or wrongly, the fact remains that the Scot has the job. For many who bemoan the lack of opportunities given to British managers the selection was a breath of fresh air. Despite the current troubles most would agree that Moyes deserves more time and even the most ardent of the “Moyes out” brigade would have to accept that a number of things have seemingly conspired against him and the full extent of blame cannot fairly be assumed by the former Everton man. In this regard it is certainly refreshing that the much maligned Glazers have so far resisted an Abramovich-esque knee-jerk sacking. There is seemingly a patience and understanding at the club and that should be commended.
Moreover, it is not all doom and gloom for David Moyes. This is a man who transformed a relegation threatened Preston into Division 2 champions and built up an increasingly impressive Everton side over a decade. Furthermore, barring a final defeat to a billionaire-backed Chelsea responsible for winning 4 FA cups in the last 8 years, along with a narrow 2-1 semi-final defeat at the hands of Liverpool in an always unpredictable derby, the boss may well have had that trophy on the CV that so many have demanded. Although not bristling and overflowing, there are signs that the man charged with the often dubbed “hardest job in football” might just have what it takes if given the time and resources to prove it.
Perhaps most worryingly of late, however, has been a perceived lack of authority and confidence from the manager in himself. Control and authority is paramount at a huge club like Manchester United. A lack of self-belief is infectious, particularly within football. Too many times now Moyes has expressed that he “thinks” this or that “we’ll try” that. The language is unforgivably precatory in nature and does nothing to inspire the confidence of all associated with the club, not least the players. Moyes needs to speak authoritatively and assertively and promote some self-confidence in his own abilities. It is hard to argue that Moyes has been anything but successful in his managerial tenures to date and it should be believed that he will be successful again.
But it is not just Moyes’ words that are demonstrating a lack of confidence. The manager cut a forlorn figure leaving the pitch after the cup exit and the absence of even a remote reaction to Chicharito’s equaliser was perhaps telling. Moyes is certainly not portraying the figure of a man who believes he deserves to be where he is at present. Nevertheless, football management, particularly at Manchester United, is no place to feel sorry for yourself, forgiveness and sympathy at this level will rarely be forthcoming. If Rio Ferdinand’s recent exile from the squad which followed comments complaining about Moyes’ selection tendencies is more than coincidence, then that is the sort of authoritative stamping of the foot that is required.
Regrettably, this has seemingly been an isolated demonstration of control. It should not be forgotten, however, that the impact of the current injury crisis is far reaching. One of, if not the most important tool at a manager’s disposal regarding influence is team selection. Unfortunately for Moyes, the injury crisis has necessitated a rather settled side of those normally considered to be squad players. Usually, if a manager wishes to make a point, be it that he is unhappy with performances or has issues with the work ethic being displayed, they can drop certain players from the team. It can act as motivation to drive those affected on to better things.
However, it is impossible to wield this authority if you only have a thread-bare squad available. Moreover, with so many key injuries competition for places has been virtually non-existent at times and that can undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on the overall level of performance. All that considered, it is hard to place the blame for everything at Moyes’ doorstep, particularly those aspects that are largely beyond the manager’s control. But other aspects under his stewardship have definitely been influential.
Football players are fans just like the rest of us, and there can be no doubt that a few eyebrows were raised at Carrington following the removal of a successful coaching setup in the summer. Unfortunately, the recent poor form will do nothing to allay concerns surrounding the wisdom of that decision and the effectiveness of the new model. Furthermore, the new training methods will have undoubtedly unsettled players who had become so accustomed to the previous setup.
Add this to the fears that the new methods are contributing heavily to the injury crisis and the environment is far from conducive to the growth of trust in the new manager. Once authority and trust is lost, it is notoriously hard to regain. The loss of authority as a football manager is perilous at every turn and at this juncture it is hard to argue against the notion that belief in Moyes is currently sitting precariously.
Assertive action, then, is needed. As seen in Andre Villas Boas’ ill-fated tenure at Chelsea once a dressing room is lost the manager is often not long for the job. In times of crisis it is all too easy for players to blame the manager and sit back and relax until they are moved on. Darren Fletcher’s recent post-match comments that the players need to assume responsibility and fight for the club and their manager were refreshing in this regard. But more is needed to show that Moyes is the man in charge and that he will remain in charge for years to come, and it needs to come from the scot himself.
The board of West Ham United have recently come out with a “vote of confidence” for their struggling manager Sam Allardyce, and that is certainly one way of attempting to instil trust in the man at the helm, but surely not the preferable one. A pat on the back from the directors sends a message to the playing staff of the club, but knowledge that the boardroom support the manager is largely immaterial to fans in regard to their own trust. The best way to build the belief of all associated with the club is for David Moyes himself to act authoritatively.
First and foremost, the club needs a decisive and coherent direction on the pitch. So far this season it is hard to argue that United have been akin to either Ferguson’s outfit or Moyes’ Everton on the field and that needs addressing quickly. The team needs a return to the brave, cavalier, attacking football for which it has become so famous. Fans will always be more forgiving of a 4-3 loss having had a go than the all too common 1-0 and 2-1 defeats of late. If that entails a new system and a new style of play, then so be it, Moyes needs to have courage in his convictions and make his mark.
A new style of play in the Moyes mould will of course necessitate additions to the squad and, whilst difficult, they are important for a number of reasons. New faces would bring in a new vibrancy and life to a squad that is currently stagnating. Further still, any new player brought in would be loyal to Moyes with no pre-conceptions or pre-dispositions based on a past era. Most importantly, however, it would bring a new hunger and drive to the side.
Having experienced great success, hunger for more is often difficult to maintain. It is the reason why so often Ferguson would move on players that the fans might have believed still good enough for the club. United would often bring in fresh faces, not because they were necessarily better than what was already at the club, but because it brought new desire and hunger for continued success along with a capacity to improve.
Of course, the need for new additions is one thing, the acquisition of them is another. Thoughts as to why January expectations should be cautious have already been expressed and only heightened by Moyes’ latest comments. According to Sky Sports News, senior figures at the club have indicated that:
Moyes will receive all the financial support he needs to make any moves.
“We would like to bring people in but are those players available?” Moyes asked after his club’s FA Cup defeat to Swansea on Sunday. “There is an urgency but there’s no point in me hyping it up because the players we would like to bring in are probably not available in January.”
( Accessed January 6th 2014 at: Transfer boost for Manchester United as David Moyes promised funds to target central midfielder )
Certain aspects of the latest remarks are troubling for Moyes. With the Board’s declaration that funds are available the pressure is very much placed on the shoulders of the manager to deliver. It is understandable, then, that this pressure was greeted with the cautious comments that followed.
The question of urgency is an important one. There is a fine balance to be struck between expressing the obvious need for reinforcements without disheartening those already at the club. Given the current predicament of the club, however, the demand for urgency is certainly not unwarranted. But it should be remembered that urgency can prove hard to demonstrate for a number of reasons. From the fan’s perspective, a host of reported bids, player interest and scout sightings are required for urgency to be tangible and this entails its own problems. It is important not to forget that a lack of reported activity from the club in no way equates to a lack of urgency from within. Fans aware of the embarrassing Fabregas saga over the summer will be only too aware that to perform everything in public simply to appease the supporters by appearing active is ill-advised.
That said, there is no doubt that a marquee signing sooner rather than later would be a welcome boost for all associated with Manchester United, not least David Moyes. To avoid even the remotest possibility of the highly undesirable fall from grace suffered by Liverpool and Arsenal the club needs to make a big statement in the transfer market. Paying over the odds now may just be the right thing to do if only to show clear intent that Manchester United aren’t going anywhere. In turn, it would also entice further prospective additions and demonstrate a big show of trust in the manager for all to see.
United are still the reigning champions after all and you should always build while you’re ahead. The modern game necessitates that a certain amount of money needs to be spent to maintain success. The club’s loss of Paul Pogba is a pertinent illustration that perhaps the stubbornness of tradition may have to decay and principles may have to change in the modern era. It is important to remain pioneers and not followers and unfortunately that entails spending money in contemporary football.
Bold statements of intent, then, are required throughout the club. The failings of the summer transfer window has been the single largest contributor to United’s toils so far this season. Ironically, the stamp of authority shown by bringing in his own staff in the summer is exactly the kind of demonstration of an attempt to establish control and imprint his own methods needed from David Moyes. This is the man who took his coaching badges at the age of 22 and was studious of coaching techniques throughout his career. It is time to throw caution to the wind and do things in his own manner and on his own terms.
Things will no doubt become easier as injuries subside but it is time to see David Moyes’ Manchester United take shape right from the roots of the football club. Old Trafford casts a large shadow but it is not there to hide in, the new manager will be given time and he now needs to embrace that challenge head on. Just how much time Moyes will be afforded is unclear but there are still plenty who back him and it should not be forgotten that even the detractors will be happy if he ultimately succeeds. The important thing now is for the club and the manager to step up with authority and if the ultimate fate is for Moyes to bow out, he must leave on his own terms doing things his way. Strong demonstrations of authority are needed to show that this is Manchester United and the manager is David Moyes, and neither are going anywhere anytime soon.
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