Oh how the injustices of last season’s Champions League seem so far away; the flash of red for Nani that riled the Old Trafford crowd whilst invigorating a star-studded Madrid team. The heroic resistance broken by a Luka Modric wonder strike seems but a vague memory. The sense of helplessness that inevitably one felt as Cristiano Ronaldo put Sir Alex Ferguson’s final European ambitions to bed is long gone. The pride and determination which characterised the performances of Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones are nowhere to be seen. They have been replaced by rigidity, complacency and a lack of desire. It is has been quite a fall. The fighting spirit and persistency of the United teams of yore which had been moulded so carefully and timeously by Sir Alex Ferguson has been replaced by a timidity which is alien to most Manchester United fans of a certain generation.
Now, the Greek champions, minus their top goalscorer Kostas Mitroglou who has jettisoned the chance of Champions League glory for the delights of a relegation scrap with Fulham, are gliding past Manchester United with ease. It is harrowing to watch. What has happened? Is it all down to Moyes or should the players take some responsibility? Is it Fergie’s fault? Did he leave his successor with a squad so aged and set in its ways that any new manager would have been beaten before taking a step in the front door? These are all very pertinent questions, but they are not the one on the lips of all those associated with football. Is David Moyes suitable to manage Manchester United? It is refreshing at least that nobody involved in the decision making process at Carrington or Old Trafford has wheeled out the old “Athens is a tough place to go” cliche. That would be the conclusive sign than the very fabric of the club had changed and not for the better.
In short, nobody knows. As men- tioned he has inherited an ageing team. Robin Van Persie (seemingly injured all the time this year), Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Michael Carrick are all the wrong side of 30 whilst Wayne Rooney is not a boy any more at 28. Regardless of the manager there are serious questions about these players’ physical state as well as their mentality. Murmurings of dressing room unrest have increased in recent weeks. Robin Van Persie report- edly blasted his team-mates for “play- ing in my spaces” whilst club captain Nemanja Vidic, who will be leaving Old Trafford in the summer, is reported
to now change separately from the rest of the group. Such indulgence and petulance would not have been tolerated by Moyes’ predecessor. Although the desire of Patrice Evra cannot be questioned, his defensive abilities can be. To be fair to David Moyes, when the spine of one of the most successful teams starts to break it is never easy, although has he done enough to earn their respect and unequivocal support?
However, there are more pressing problems that are well within his control. Transfer windows seem a good place to start. A June, July, August and January spent dithering like an old lady in a bakery is not what was needed. Conviction was a priority. Everybody knew at the very least a mobile, intelligent ball-winner was needed in midfield, yet he ended up overpaying for the big brute Fellaini. Yes he did chase world class players a la Cesc Fabregas as this club should, yet he didn’t make the best out of the fundamental use of the transfer window; improve your squad. There are many midfielders out there who may not be world class, but are certainly better at tackling than Tom Cleverley. This failure hurts all the more as Nemanja Matic has improved what was already a strong midfield at Chelsea. Oh, what might have been.
It should be said that while it might have been a bad summer for Moyes, the club’s new chief executive Ed Woodward exhibited a tremendous lack of skill or nous in working the market. If United’s infrastructure at boardroom level was strong enough to withstand the departure of such an important figure like David Gill then maybe things might have been a bit different.
A word of support for David Moyes is needed though. It is impossible to lambast him for a defence more fragile than a glass ball in a pin ball machine. Yes Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra aren’t the same players they were, but they are still better than most in the Premier League, or so we thought. Add to that the emergence of Phil Jones and Jonny Evans last time round and it is easy to understand why that area of the pitch was not improved.
The acquisition of Mata was a coup, if an expensive one that proved the Glazers are prepared to spend money backing the new man, but his perform- ances speak volumes for the major de- ficiencies of Moyes the tactician.
A playmaker with the creativity of a hyper-active child with a sharpie has been stifled by inflexibility. Being shoved out on the right-wing in a rigid 4-4-2 has limited his influence. Without a free-role he is too easy to mark and on occasion when he drifts in-field the full back, normally Rafael, has been exposed to a 2 vs. 1 scenario. Changing the shape of the team to work Mata into the middle would enhance Mata’s influence whilst solidifying the flanks.
The major problem though is not player revolts, transfers or his handling of Mata. It is the feeble way in which Manchester United play the game of football. Boring. Predictable. Easy to defend against. One dimensional. Repetitive. Need I go on? No, I didn’t think so, you get the picture. Manchester United are not playing the Manchester United way. This is, as the French would say, une double tranchant; in other words, a double edged sword. When playing against weaker opposition United are too laborious in possession, they play in front of the opposition merely trying to work the ball out to the flanks for aimless crosses to be thrown in. I won’t bore you with the stat about the quantity of crosses from the Fulham game, as I’m sure it’s been rammed down your throat enough, but the sentiment remains. It is easy to defend against. This is borne out of necessity though, a lack of invention and creativity down the middle, highlighted by Mata’s absence, means the only place the ball can go is wide.
The team is also completely misguided when away from home against tough opposition. When a counter-attacking style of football is required, it is not forthcoming.
I myself am a big advocate of giving Moyes time. To paraphrase a famous quote, Rome wasn’t built in a day and nor shall it be rebuilt in a day, but as fans we want to see improvement. We never expected a strong season this year, but this is far worse than could have been predicted. Over the summer, the rumours are that Moyes will have almost £200 million to spend on building his team whilst old-timers like Ferdinand and Vidic will be on their way out. There is no denying that next season will be a different Manchester United. If you believe tabloid chatter and the BBC gossip column, the club are apparently sending scouts across Europe and beyond to find the best players to force United back to the top.
Yet, doubts remain. The crux of the matter is the absence of a perceived plan. When Rodgers took over at Anfield, even when languishing in the lower echelons of the Barclays Premier League there was a plan, a vision in place on how he wanted his team to play. It was obvious for all to see. Yet, at the moment that is not applicable to David Moyes.
He seems insistent on playing the ‘Manchester United way’ yet he seems clueless as to what it is. An over-reliance on wingers was never the be all and end all, merely Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo made it fundamental to the club’s success. Last gasp winners were a staple of the club’s success but it wasn’t achieved through throwing all attacking players on the pitch at once in the hope that something will happen. Take note Moyes, a central midfield of Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa is not classed as adventurous, merely desperate.
Manchester United fans will be patient, they will be supportive and deep down they really hope David Moyes will succeed. Yet, they want something in return. Exciting football and clear plan would be good enough, but as yet David Moyes hasn’t provided them. Nor has he shown even the slightest hint of showing them. Should this worrying trend continue, then the anti- Moyes sentiments will grow and resonate around the Stretford end.
We’re not asking for Moyes to be sacked, but blind faith alone shouldn’t suffice. Questions need to be asked. Now is the time to answer them while you still have the power, Moyes.