Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Poorly Chosen One: The Disaster That Was The David Moyes Era

The Poorly Chosen One, Moyes has lasted less than one season

It's over. 295 days that are captured perfectly by this incredibly useful three second video clip.

The ill-fated reign of David Moyes as Manchester United manager early in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Despite calls for his head from as early as October time, I think the general consensus was that he would be given till at least the end of this season and perhaps the start of next before his future came under threat. Ed Woodward and The Glazers however have decided with just four league games remaining and United doomed to their worst ever Premier League season, the axe could not wait any longer, it had to fall and it did.

Whatever about the way the sacking was handled by the club (poorly and without much class), there can be no denying that this was 100% justified. If anything, it says a lot about the attitude of the club towards managers that they gave him virtually a whole year to turn things around. Hodgson at Liverpool went in January of his first year. Scolari and Villas-Boas both only lasted till February at Stamford Bridge. However when a manager takes over a team that won the title by 12 point last season and within one year has them 23 points off the pace, it's quite obvious that there is something fundamentally wrong with how he is doing his job. Yes the players didn't perform but the manager always must take the fall for this. There's no way the notoriously 'ageing' squad Ferguson had left Moyes with could have naturally deteriorated this much. A manager's job is to get the best out of his players, it seems Moyes got just about the worst.

David Moyes recalls the day in May 2013 when he was told he would be the next Manchester United manager saying "The blood drained from my face" as he realised the enormity of the role he was suddenly being thrust into. With the fear he showed then, it should have been clear that the job was too big for him, as the last ten months have proved. He would have been mad to refuse of course but it never have been offered to him in the first place. The idea of simply telling someone they are getting a job they haven't applied for seems strange to me. I agree that Ferguson deserved some input into choosing his successor but the hiring process seemed a bit bizarre.

The alarm bells began ringing in the summer when it became evident the transition into the post-Ferguson era at the club was not going to be a smooth one. The club made a mess of several transfer dealings in the summer and ended up with panic-buy Marouane Fellaini from Moyes's former club as the sole new face at the club. Fellaini's failure as a Manchester United player really nullifies the argument that Moyes needed time to bring in his own players and build his own team. He was appointed on May 9th and began work July 1st. He had two months to try and bring in the players he wanted and all he managed was Fellaini who signed at 11:40pm on September 1st.

The Old Trafford faithful are a loyal bunch and they were willing to give the manager time during a difficult bedding-in period in the hope that things would improve. The 4-1 defeat to Manchester City in September proved to be the first of many humiliating defeats they would have to endure throughout season. West Brom became the first of many sides to end a winless streak against United when they triumphed at Old Trafford the following week but following this set-back things did actually seem to improve and United went on a decent unbeaten run that included an impressive 5-0 win in Leverkusen and a 'plucky' victory at home to league leaders Arsenal, Moyes's only victory over a top 8 side as United boss.

It was over the winter that things began to take a downward spiral from which they would never recover. December opened with back to back home defeats to Everton and Newcastle. The Newcastle game being the one in which Moyes declared in his program notes that United would "make life difficult for Newcastle today". Making life difficult for clubs was what his Everton side did when they were scrapping around the lower echelons of the top half, what his Preston side did as they punched well above their weight in the Football League. It's what Stoke have done for years, what Crystal Palace do so well now. It's not what Manchester United do. Not ever. Imagine a Real Madrid or Barcelona manager saying before kick-off that they were going to 'make life difficult' for Real Sociedad when they come to the Bernabeau or the Camp Nou. I don't think he'd still be in charge by kick-off.

Having proved incapable of making his mark in the transfer market and completely out of his depth mentally, Tottenham's trip to Old Trafford on New Years Day exposed Moyes as a complete tactical dunce. His gameplan was simple and comically uneffective. Get the ball wide, cross the ball at no-one in particular, see ball cleared by centre halves, try again, lose the game. Painful to watch. The pattern was repeated against Stoke whose centre-halves have an average height of about 8 foot with similarly poor results. A week later at home to Fulham, United managed to set a record for most attempted crosses as they struggled to draw 2-2 with the league's whipping boys. It seemed that getting the ball wide and crossing, even in the absence of a target-man, was the only way he knew how to play. Flair players like Mata and Kagawa would never flourish under Moyes.

"We have to make sure we win 1-0" was Moyes's pre-match soundbite before United headed into a League Cup semi-final second leg against Sunderland in January, trailing 2-1 following a dismal first leg performance. United took the 1-0 and sat back, apparently content to soak up pressure at Old Trafford against a side in the Premier League relegation zone. Under Ferguson, I'm sure United would have gone out and won 4-0. Moyes had been Everton manager for eleven years. 1-0 and 2-1 are the only way he really knows how to win. Scraping it. These players were used to being sent out to dominate games. Needless to say, Sunderland ended up progressing  to the final, via the worst penalty shoot-out in history.

January also saw Swansea enjoy what used to be a once-in-a-lifetime moment for players, a win at Old Trafford, as they dumped United out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle. The arrival of Juan Mata for a club record £37m created a brief feeling of optimism among fans. Hope evaporated within weeks however. Mata, a fantastic player, was not the kind of midfielder United were lacking. They needed an enforcer but got anything but. He was shoehorned in as a right winger. Moyes being given Mata was likened to a grandmother being given an iPhone. He didn't know how to use him and this state of the art piece of kit was being put to waste.

An embarrassing 0-2 defeat to Champions League minnows Olympiakos and further Old Trafford humblings by Liverpool and Manchester City, sealing league doubles for both of them, brought Moyes past the point of no return in the eyes of many fans and, apparently, the directors at the club too. It wasn't just the performances on the field, it was the manager's approach and attitude off it. The manager at any club is their main media outlet, it's face if you will. Moyes was proving to be a poor ambassador for Man United. Describing Liverpool as favourites before they came to Old Trafford portrays the club as weak. Saying that they should aspire to be like City did exactly the same thing. This was gross naivety on the part of Moyes. His job may have changed but he had kept his old Everton mentality. He saw United as plucky underdogs rather than the colossal superpower he had been assigned to lead. Being a good mayor of a small town does not mean you're fit to be the President of America.

A 'brave' defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League was not good enough. If anything, the story of this tie highlighted just how far United had fallen under the new regime. Twelve months ago the same group of players had Mourinho's Real Madrid on the ropes before a controversial red card changed the game. This year, when Bayern came to Old Trafford, it was obvious the only way they would get anything other than a hammering would be to sit back and park the bus. That they did. A 1-1 draw at home was looked upon like a massive victory. Moyes's grin after the game could be seen from space. The second leg was much the same but Bayern's class eventually told and they progressed, winning 3-1 in Munich.

Ironically, Moyes's United reign ended at the home of his former club Everton where he suffered yet another chastening dose of reality. At no stage on Sunday did it look like United were going to beat Everton or even score against them. In the past, a Ferguson team would have gone to David Moyes's Everton expecting to win, anything else was simply unthinkable. David Moyes's Man United went there as hopeless outsiders who never seemed to believe they had a chance. Everton were the better side and deserved to win. It was truly amazing how the two clubs had virtually swapped mentalities in the space of a year. The result mathematically consigned United to the unfamiliar position of having no Champions League football to look forward to next season, surely the bare minimum expected of Moyes in his first season, and he lost his job within two days.

He had to go. There's no doubt about it. If there had been at least some signs that things would improve then I would say give him time but things were only getting worse and worse. Given the rebuilding job that needs to be done over the summer and the investment required, it didn't make sense to have him there. A manager who can turn a team from runaway champions to a mid-table side is clearly doing something wrong. Yes the players let him down but the buck stops with the manager. It always has and always will.

The perilous task of walking in Fergie's footsteps is over and done with now and to just about no-one's surprise, 'The Chosen One' has failed. The next manager will not have such an enormous shadow hanging over him as he succeeds David Moyes, it would take someone very incompetent to do a worse job than this.

Ancelotti, van Gaal, Blanc.. or Ryan Giggs leading a Class of 92 coaching team? Whoever gets the job faces an easier task than Moyes but a monster one nonetheless.

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