David Moyes is looking increasingly like one of the few mistakes Fergie’s made over the years although this appears to be the most painful yet.
Moyes has shown so far that he is unable to step up tactically to the elite level. Whilst the fact that the squad Fergie left for Moyes isn’t of vintage quality has been rehashed severally in the media this season, the squad is definitely still a top 4 squad. This is a squad with Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Juan Mata, Adnan Januzaj, Shinji Kagawa, Michael Carrick, Javier Hernandez, Luis Nani, Darren Fletcher, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Rafael da Silva, David De Gea, Anders Lindegaard even if we are to sideline those deemed aged or ageing, flailing or failing.
I find it extremely shocking that, man for man, player for player, on paper, Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs or Everton don’t have better players than United but on current form and throughout the season so far are all miles ahead of United with Moyes breaking new bad records almost every other home game. We are talking about players that over the years have developed the good habit of winning a trophy at least every other season. These are players that have dominated not only domestically but also continentally. These are players that don’t just know what it takes to get to the top, but to also stay at the top. These players don’t need to be changed, they just need their already very good habits to be perfected and magnified and any bad habits or weaknesses minimised or eradicated. For example, Rio and Evra’s occasional lapse in concentration, Valencia’s inability to do anything with his left leg other than stand, Rafael’s occasional over-eagerness in tackle etc.
In contrast, Moyes’ managerial history is yet to deliver any trophy at the top level. His managerial and coaching history can only be deemed to be not “a winning one” and average at best. To be fair, Moyes already has some of the good habits of an elite coach/manager – mainly work ethic and dedication. What remains lacking is his tactical astuteness, a winning philosophy and the ability to cross the finishing line. So with Moyes selection (read imposition) as manager post Fergie, he got a very rare opportunity to observe at close quarters how United trained, worked and prepared the team…basically he had the opportunity to observe what made them dominate and/or tick. Of course he could only do this if he retained majority of Fergie’s backroom staff and watched them work on the players. Sadly, Moyes gave up on this opportunity by not retaining any of Fergie’s coaching staff, especially Rene Meulensteen, despite Fergie’s advice to the contrary. He preferred to insist (not unreasonably) on having a hands-on approach and involvement in the coaching side – something Rene had almost complete autonomy over for five years prior to Fergie’s retirement.
By doing this, Moyes gave up on the opportunity to see where he’d been failing as a coach whilst at Everton as they were a team that could never hope to break into the top 3 and learn from those that know better especially at the elite level. This may appear to be an unfair assessment but what Roberto Martinez has done at Everton since taking over from Moyes with the same players, albeit with some good loan signings, suggest I may be right and that Moyes tactics and mentality was what held Everton back. Indeed, interviews with Tim Howard and Ross Barkley (Everton’s 20 year old sensation) confirm this. This seems to correspond with what appears to be an obvious restriction on United’s playing mentality and tactics so far this season. The players seem to be confused about what they’re meant to be doing on the pitch (read Fellaini), or asked to play in roles unfamiliar to them or in direct contradiction to their abilities. Whilst in the past United swarm over teams at OT and served annihilation to some opponents, this season they seem to be waiting for the opponent to play the football whilst they remain rigid and in Moyes’ words “harder to beat”. We are talking about Manchester United here. Serial champions.
Those that are more sympathetic to Moyes than I am keep saying Moyes needs time to know his players and that he still doesn’t know what his best team is. I find this excuse completely befuddling. Prior to assuming the mantle at Old Trafford, David Moyes had been manager of a premier league football club for 11 years. Besides, Adnan Januzaj, no member of United’s first team should be unknown to him (Mata, Fellaini and Zaha being the new additions but should still be known to him). Moyes would have as a matter of course scouted United over the years whenever his Everton team was to play against United. We are talking about at least 22 league matches if one ignores cup matches/competitions. Indeed, some of these players have been at United for almost as long as and if not longer than Moyes’ time at Everton so he should definitely know enough about them. Wouldn’t his scouting reports on United have detailed the strength and weaknesses of the players individually and as a team? Should the scouting reports, if comprehensive, not highlight the little area that United needed to work on to be even more formidable? Surely the scouting report wouldn’t suggest wholesale changes were necessary for perennial trophy winners? So why then has Moyes imposed sub-elite tactical changes on elite players?
Further, how much time does Moyes actually need to get a grip on an elite tactic that exploits the best attributes of his players and produces a team that is greater than the sum of all its parts? Tony Pulis at Crystal Palace took only 3 games to impose astute tactics on his team, at their level, that looks like will keep them in the EPL. It has taken Mark Hughes a few games to impose astute tactics on Stoke that they are now playing some form of expansive football, expansive enough to defeat Moyes and his United team. How long did it take Roberto Martinez at Everton or Tim Sherwood at Spurs to start delivering? Ok, so these managers don’t manage top 4 teams so may be the lack of top 4 pressure gave them some breathing space. What then shall we say about Jose Mourinho at Chelsea or Manuel Pellegrini at Man City, Laurent Blanc at PSG, Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid, Tata Martino at Barcelona or Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich? These are all elite managers managing elite players and delivering the business in their first season at their clubs. What these managers are doing at their clubs is perfecting the already good habits their players have and making small tactical changes to help mitigate any weaknesses. None of them is making wholesale changes to their team but fine tuning where necessary. Case in point, Mourinho is contesting the league with almost no decent striker.
Moyes’ negativity and tactical ineptitude is always on display, week in week out. He seems to struggle with the fact that he can have several “false nines” or “number 10s” starting at the same time in a team. What he struggles to accept or adapt to is constantly being deployed by Barcelona, Bayern Munich even Man City etc week in week out. Barca frequently play Messi, Neymar, Iniesta, Cesc and Xavi in the same starting XI just as Bayern often play Gotze, Robben, Ribery, Kroos, Thiago in the same starting XI to very devastating effect. So the idea that Mata, Rooney and Kagawa cannot start and combine well in a Starting XI for United is not only preposterous but further proofs that Moyes is a man with very limited elite tactical ideas.
Whilst it’s true that some players do not have a future at United and that the team is in need of a world class CM and up to four new players, I struggle to see how the amount of money needed to invest in the team can be trusted with David Moyes. If Moyes can struggle to produce good performances and consistently so by using elite tactics and modern football philosophy with players like Rooney, RvP, Kagawa, Mata, Carrick and Januzaj, surely he’ll struggle to produce it with players like Toni Kroos, Marco Reus, Ilkay Gundogan and a host of top players recently linked with United too. If after 11 years at Everton and a year with United, Moyes cannot produce a team that can play highly technical and expansive football, what will make him magically produce it with these very expensive players being coveted, that’s even if United manage to procure them? United’s current players have in the past produced the type of football the Club’s history demands, what then is stopping them from producing it now? We can look no further than David Moyes and his coaches.
David Moyes judging by his own words does not believe that he is a Manchester United manager. During numerous press conferences to discuss United, he continually refers to the Club in the third person as “they” almost as if he has little to no connection with the Club. No Manchester United manager will ever refer to Liverpool as favourites at Old Trafford at the pre-game press conference of the United vs Liverpool match, neither will they aspire to be like their local rivals in a post-match press conference immediately following a comprehensive defeat by the local rivals at Old Trafford. Even if United were in league one, I cannot for the life of me ever imagine Fergie referring to Liverpool as favourites at Old Trafford or referring to Man City other than bin dippers.
Most United fans were disappointed that the Club did not sufficiently back the manager during last summer’s transfer window. But if one looks at how terrible the season has gone for United, maybe we now know the reason why. Perhaps the Glazers couldn’t trust Moyes with significant money but wanted to show respect to Fergie (perhaps a little too much) by allowing him choose who would replace him as manager. The Glazers after all know very little about football. Whilst it makes no sense to not back your manager after handing him a six year contract, the Glazers should trust their original instinct and instigate the necessary changes needed to the coaching and playing staff.
The main thing that needs changing this summer is the manager. The Glazers, Board and Fergie should have conducted a proper recruitment exercise last summer. The mis-appointment of David Moyes should be treated just like any other business mistake is, nothing more. There’s no need to be headstrong or to sensationalise it. United need to move on quickly. Fergie more importantly need not feel like he won’t be dictated to by the media on whether Moyes should remain as manager. Throwing money at the problem wouldn’t solve it. The facts are there for all to see. Surely Fergie must know that the team cannot train one way and perfectly during the week, and deliver something completely inept on match day. Something is wrong somewhere and the players have delivered too much over the years for the problem to lie with them. Case in point, in 2010, Rooney raised concerns about the quality of the United team and the direction the Club was going, that same season, they got to the final of the champions league losing to Barcelona in the final. Such is the mettle of these players.
The Glazers must decide now, how they hope to concretise the Club’s philosophy, identity and stem any possibility of touring the trophy less (league) wilderness like Liverpool continue to do. The Club must recruit a new manager this summer. All applicants must answer at least these 3 key questions:
– What is your football philosophy?
– How does it align with the Club’s history?
– How do you plan to implement it and over what time frame?
The answers to these questions should help identify who should manage United going forward. Finally, the new manager must be someone that has won trophies and knows how to win.