Moyes given a situation he couldn't handle
Unfortunately for him, despite the claims that they were cut from the same cloth by virtue of both being Scottish, and nothing else, that is where the similarities ended. Alex Ferguson took over a struggling Manchester United and quickly proved he had the talent, and also had the credentials from his days at Aberdeen. David Moyes quickly proved that he didn’t have the talent to mitigate United’s inevitable post-Ferguson decline, however unlucky he might have been. He also had nothing in the past to point to for his new players to trust his leadership.
He did, however, have Phil Jagielka to alienate senior players. By asking Rio Ferdinand - never knowingly undersold by the player himself - to model part of his game on Jagielka, he demonstrated that he simply did not have what it took to extract the most from this particular squad. Ferguson could eek the most out of them with encouragement, soft hands and discipline when required. Moyes showed that by insulting Ferdinand’s sense of pride, he was insulting the last thing the central defender still had plenty of. At a stroke, he lost a senior player he could not afford to cut adrift.
That was because he had failed to embrace other important figures. Nemanja Vidic was so impressed he arranged an exit to Inter Milan. Michael Carrick and Robin van Persie both expressed disquiet at the training, and both of the players’ form suggests they were either right, or simply can’t be bothered to try anymore for a man they don’t care for. That might be to their discredit, but for United, it doesn’t matter either way. Moyes probably misspoke when he talked earlier of ‘overtraining’ Van Persie, but the consistent conceding of late goals, and flat performances when other United sides would be scoring two or three in the second half, suggests there has been no improvement in fitness.
These problems, partly, might have been caused by Moyes’ decision to lose the backroom staff. Mike Phelan’s and Rene Meulensteen’s media and management performances since they left United suggest they might have overstated their role in the success under Fergie, but it doesn’t change the fact that the previous regime’s set-up worked far better than Moyes’. Of the class of ‘92, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs all stayed at the top, and Phil Neville went to Everton - so what suggests he should be giving the instructions now?
That goes for the rest of the backroom staff, with Jimmy Lumsden and Steve Round proving as much use as Mike Phelan’s shorts. Moyes, too. None of the coaching staff or management, Giggs apart, could point to any past achievement that would inspire confidence. It might stick in the craw that the players rejected Moyes’ instructions rather than followed them as they are paid to do, but it can hardly be a surprise. Even Giggs appears to have been ostracised, either by himself or the rest of the coaching staff.
There were other mistakes. In the summer, it really did seem like he didn’t start thinking about the job until he arrived at the club before July 1st. He apparently had not considered what he was going to do when he got there. All well and good for Everton, but probably unwise considering the reality. Transfer targets were weighed up, weighed up, weighed up, and then discarded or messed up in a state of high farce, with intermediaries or sports lawyers turning up. When it came to it, the possibly unwanted Marouane Fellaini turned up at the end of a day of Ander Herrera, Sami Khedira, Fabio Coentrao and panic, for well over his earlier release clause. That partly excuses Moyes - it is not his fault that Edward Woodward made such a hash of transfer, but imagine Jose Mourinho, and whether he’d have let the farce drag on, especially given his relationship with Jorge Mendes.
At Everton, he was known for his tactical cowardice and often ponderous approach to the game, seeking a draw rather than victory. Fans at United might remark that aiming for a draw would have made for a nice change under Moyes, given some of the defeat-seeking performances against Liverpool and others. For example, his preference for the static and scared Chris Smalling over the regularly excellent Rafael suggested that he preferred a literally flat back four rather than any sense of risk and reward. His nickname, Dithering Dave, might have referred mainly to the fact that he would take upwards of seventeen centuries to identify and then sign a player, but equally it applies for the amount of time that it would take for him to make substitutions. Sometimes he wouldn’t bother at all, though, saying that he’d be criticised if he ever took Van Persie off, however badly he’d play. It wasn’t quite the point he was making, but it made him look scared, and it made him look like he didn’t know how to talk to the public.
There were other mistakes in public. He’d talk about trying, and about working hard, and of making it difficult. He’d talk about not knowing where the problems were. He’d say bad performances were actually good. He’d look scared when he should look bullish. Essentially, he looked overwhelmed. The only way to get out of the hand he was dealt was to be an excellent manager, possibly a genius. It turned out that he was neither, simply a very good Everton one. There was one classic, saying that the ‘average person’ would have admitted that Liverpool were favourites in the game at Old Trafford. As Daniel Harris pointed out, ‘Indeed.’ David Moyes never gave the impression he was anything other than average.
When it comes down to it, the footnotes of United’s history will note that David Moyes was useful. He set the next man up as best he could. Whoever followed him won’t be as bad. Whoever followed him won’t be as placid. Whoever followed him won’t possibly be as badly served by Edward Woodward and the board. Whoever followed him can’t be less respected by the players. In order to do that, the next man just has to be Not David Moyes. With the exception of David Moyes or anyone else with the name David Moyes, that is easily achieved.
In terms of planning, Moyes was open to criticism. He had three players sign long-term contracts. Adnan Januzaj - fair enough, he’s the next coming of a deity, perhaps the manifestation of a new one. But with Luis Nani and Wayne Rooney, he tied down two of the most disappointing Manchester United players for the last few years. With the exception of Anderson, there are not two United players who have done less to deserve the rewards of assured wealth in exchange for utter rot on the football pitch. There is no explicit reward for effort or achievement anymore.
In terms of creative players, like Nani and Rooney, he’s let himself down and wilfully made mistakes. Rooney careers around like some kind of giddy bed-blocking Tory MP, passably effective but holding up progress, and Nani gets photographed in training. But with Shinji Kagawa, who Moyes once covered with the phrase, ‘people keep telling me how good he is,’ when he should know already, and Juan Mata, one of Chelsea’s best players, he has shunted them to the wings or not played them at all. You can have misgivings over both players, but to ignore them or misuse them so obviously hints at the fact that Moyes either doesn’t know how to use talent and flair, or simply doesn’t trust it at all. Worse than that - he hasn’t been willing to learn. Perhaps they couldn’t just get to the wings and cross it aimlessly as often as he wanted.
Manchester United conspired to give Moyes a situation he simply couldn’t handle: an ageing squad, an unresolved Rooney and no help in transfers. But Moyes played a poor hand badly, so badly that there was no point in giving him a chance with a fresh pack. It’s not all his fault, but right now he will carry all the blame. That’s wrong, and that may in fact be just what Ferguson and the Glazers wanted all along. They are most to blame for United’s decline, and Moyes was their patsy. Now he’s their sacrifice.
To read more news and columns, log on to www.starsports.com