The biggest decision in the history of the Premier League turned out to spell disaster in the most instinctive way for Manchester United. As Sir Alex’s 27 year tryst with Manchester United slowly phased out, the new boss failed to acquire the necessary firepower to carry the team.
The reason for a sudden descend into the mid-table has been falsely devoted to the retirement of a single man, while in reality the problem was far beyond the farewell of Sir Alex . Sir Alex’s retirement may have been the single major factor but the times have changed such that Manchester United is devoid of an experienced mentor who has been at the club for a long time.
All of these problems started at the time when Gary Neville retired. Great players, a category of which I’m sure Neville is one, often leave their imprints on the game in such a way that their departure would forever leave a void in the team. Zinedine Zidane would be a great example, for France were never the same after his retirement.
As part of the famous class of ’92, Neville was a consistent performer at the right side of defense who had been induced with Manchester United’s style of play. Although his final years didn’t present us with memories to cherish, his retirement turned out to be something no one would want. For so long, Neville had made the position his own and established himself but when he had to retire, everyone realized that no one was there to fill his spot.
John O’Shea and Wes Brown, two other players who had been used at right back in the absence of Neville left subsequently as they were nearing the twilight of their careers. Three experienced players who could play in one of the most important positions of the field had left and what next, the spot was left to the wolves.
Rafael da Silva, often misconstrued as the player who replaced Neville, is decent, but by no means a great one. He lacked consistency, he had yet to mature and the Brazilian tendency to attack became his biggest weakness. One reason why Brazilian full backs rarely excel in the Premier League is because of their inability to comprehend the needs of playing a physical game in England.
Neville had been a solid presence in the team for more than a decade, and out of the blue, an inexperienced 21-year old is playing. Rafael performed well for a whole season but that was under Sir Alex Ferguson, a man who could bring the best out of any player. When Moyes came to the fore, he gave in.
As you could see, the players failed to correlate with a person who was unfamiliar to them. Unlike replacing the players where experience was the problem, that wasn’t one with the manager. David Moyes was a highly experienced manager, spare for the Champions League. On any normal day, slotting in alongside him must have been easy.
But, what then made the team fall apart? It was the change. They were accustomed to seeing Sir Alex Ferguson on the bench chewing his bubblegum. They knew if they made a mistake, the hairdryer was always in store. Sir Alex was the boss. You listen to the boss at Manchester United. That had been the norm for so long.
And suddenly, when Moyes cut a devil-may-care figure on the touchline, the nerves eased, didn’t they? No more of hairdryer. The coaches weren’t nearly as good as the previous ones. The players inherently took an approach of “I do what I do” and the results were anything but fruitful.
Perhaps, if Paul Scholes had remained at the club, he would have respected the new manager. He was experienced and he knew the boundaries that defined Manchester United as a club. He had lived through the dynasty that Sir Alex built and he would have given every bone of his to ensure that remained unscathed.
But, does life always warrant a savior? In Manchester United’s case, the answer was a resounding ‘no’. Phil Neville for Rene Meulensteen, Steve Round for Mike Phelan, Jimmy Lundsen for Eric Steele and suddenly, there weren’t any traces of Manchester United in the backroom, it was all Merseyside.
The one thing in life that most humans fail to accommodate is a drastic change and Manchester United’s players were no different. There were widespread criticisms about Moyes bringing in his own staff, but he was the manager and he had every right to do so.
If he wasn’t at fault for doing that, were the players at one? No, again. As individual entities, both of them were far from fully acclimatized with the change while it ended. What the spectators and fans failed to discern was that Manchester United’s problems weren’t just rooted to David Moyes.
The team was in a transitional phase that was brilliantly handled by Sir Alex who carried the team on his shoulders. Judging by the past season, the fact that he made people believe Tom Cleverly was the next ‘Scholes’ is a testament to his abilities. David Moyes, in short, couldn’t cope with the demands of handling a transition, rather that he believed he could carry on Sir Alex’s ways without ever realizing that he needed to craft his own destiny, not borrow another’s.
Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick are the only players in Manchester United who have been at the club for a sizeable time as to understand the needs of playing at Old Trafford. The last few years have been so good to the fans that any form of shortcomings were resented right away.
The problem of inexperience in the squad was brewing for a long time, little by little. However, Sir Alex made quick remedies to tackle it for the short period. Buying Van Persie was one such thing. Manchester United already had Wayne Rooney to lead the line, but their attacking midfield was a problem and the center midfield was constantly declining.
Sir Alex sought out to make amends. By buying Van Persie, an experienced player in the Premier League he ensured that the frontline was secure and Rooney moving back brought some stability to their attack. In all essence, it was a well planned and well executed move but for one thing, time. Van Persie was aging up and Rooney wasn’t 20 years old.
Subsequently, Van Persie has started picking up injuries while Rooney has become quite inconsistent. In such a situation, the whole attack is to suffer, as evidenced by the past season. The defence is a similar case.
Johnny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. Three established center backs still in the squad. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have left. But then, why is the defence crumbling, more often than not? Once again, their inexperience coupled with injuries to the veterans played a vital role.
Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were used across the back as and when Moyes wished. Well, that’s where lies the problem. Constant change is something no one welcomes and I don’t expect these players to appreciate it either. It is well known that both of these players are center backs by trade, with other positions becoming secondary.
Yet, Moyes continued to tweak them which has ultimately led to the question of their best position. A proper manager never does such a thing. There are players who are meant to be versatile and to play around with them would make sense, not proper central defenders. Sir Alex played Jones is midfield, but that was at a time when he was needed to man-mark a player.
When such a situation arose, Moyes played Carrick. Thus, he got it entirely wrong with the defenders and that added to the misery. But, in the end, does he deserve to take home all the blame?
It’s simple, isn’t it? Manchester United’s manager was incapable and thus, the team failed. No, that should not be the conclusion. As is often the case in football, replacing a single man is much easier than replacing an entire team. Moyes could have changed things around in his second season, but it is not surprising why the American businessmen owned club administration thought against gambling on it.
Manchester United, on all fronts, from administration to backroom staff had been crumbling due to their increasing shortage of experience. Few men, however, held the team together and made a fair case. When they decided to step down in tandem, the flaws were mightily exposed.
Going forward, the situation seems to have been resolved with the appointment of Louis van Gaal, at least in the eyes of most peers. Van Gaal is at his wit’s end having managed in some of the top clubs in the world. However, a lack of hope is what prevailed in the team the past season. While on the pitch he may be a great manager, his work off the field would be essential in determining his efforts at Manchester United.
Sir Alex built the club brick by brick and restored Manchester United’s glory days under Matt Busby. Seemingly enough, it took him a long time after taking over an underwhelming set of players. However, Van Gaal inherits a team low on confidence and experience, two traits which were placed as the most important under Ferguson. He must use his vast footballing experience to mend the broken fences in Manchester United.
Neither winning nor producing results, but restoring Manchester United’s fallen philosophy shall be the greatest challenge Louis Van Gaal faces at the Theatre of Dreams.