“If Sir Alex was here it would be difficult for him as well, It could have been the case no matter what this season, but it has been so un-Man United, which is why we have to look to continue a policy of building, improving, getting better and that’s what we’ll try and do.” – David Moyes in March, 31 following their 3-0 win over West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League.
From an entirely Manchester United fan’s perspective, this statement came across as a feeble excuse from a manager who has repeatedly been outwitted by his domestic counterparts through the season, sometimes rather too convincingly that you may even call it an embarrassment. But when you remove the red-tinted glasses and judge this season purely from an analysts’ viewpoint, you will realize the enormity of the task that has been thrust upon him and why the Scot is not entirely wrong in seeking out more time to get the house in order.
Every United fan had been dreading of the day when Sir Alex Ferguson would hang up his boots (more appropriately, his hair-dryer) and despite the support endowed upon Moyes by the faithful, it was less out of confidence on the man’s credentials and more out of trust that they have developed for the man who turned them from a slack English club to the most successful one. But the unanimous support Moyes enjoyed initially, started wearing off with Manchester United falling off the pace and Champions League qualification looking increasingly unlikely. The new gaffer has been berated by the fans and critics’ alike for his uninspiring media addressing, failure during the summer transfer window and unmitigated failure to motivate the dressing room. But the fact that he inherited a title winning squad, which has been oft repeated by everyone like a broken record, is quite misleading and makes Moyes look far worse than he actually has been.
There is a vast difference between this squad and the one which were crowned champions in May last year for the 20th time putting some daylight between themselves and their nearest competitor Liverpool. Robin Van Persie, having pushed through his move to Old Trafford after the ‘little kid inside him’ asked him to, was the architect-en-chief of United’s dominance as he ended up scoring 26 goals in the season earning himself a long yearned for Premier League medal and a golden boot. The same Van Persie has struggled throughout this season, being in and out of the team with consistency through injuries, managing only 17 domestic appearances and scoring 11 goals. When Sir Alex decided to splurge on a striker in his late twenties with a fairly poor medical history, it was a gamble that the club was willing to make so to wrest back the title from their noisy neighbors. It was a decision made out of gut more than anything else; a perspicuous indication that the club was seeking expedited results clearly ignoring the larger picture. Was it the ignominy of surrendering the title to their city rivals or that the gaffer wanted to sign off on a winning note, whatever it may have been, Ferguson turned out lucky but Moyes did not. Missing out on your most potent goal scoring option for the majority of the season and to make-do with the likes of Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez can earn you a top half finish which United, to be fair to them, are well on course to achieve.
The biggest problem that Moyes was greeted with the day he entered Carrington training grounds was that of a rebellious Wayne Rooney wanting his way out. With Mourinho and Wenger hovering around like sharks clearly tempted at the prospect of signing the ‘White Pele’, Moyes faced a tricky challenge of surrendering to Rooney’s demands and subsequently make an example of his standpoint on rebel players. The manner, in which you treat one player, generally becomes the norm. Ferguson was unforgiving of his rebel players and never hesitated on showing them out; managing the dressing room and egos became relatively simpler. Moyes eventually agreed to Rooney’s wishes and it was incumbent on him to do so, a no-brainer. He dealt the episode pragmatically and ensured the number 10 returned entirely focused on the job at hand.
The Manchester manager was publicly castigated for his dealings or misdealings (whatever way you would like to call it) in the summer transfer window. Having desperately tried to court Cesc Fabregas into joining them, he eventually settled on Marouane Fellaini whose performances have hardly reflected the value United paid to secure his services. Despite his inability to lure either Fabregas or Alcantara to the club, United fans should have been happy about their manager being clearly aware of where their vulnerability lies. For years, Sir Alex has been effectively covering up for his lack of steel in the central midfield, which was left exposed by the ageing of Scholes and Fletcher’s long-term illness, by signing wingers and strikers to get the goals and win matches. From Kleberson to Eric Djemba Djemba, from Owen Hargreaves to Anderson, from allowing Pogba to leave the club to cutting Scholes’ retirement vacation short; Ferguson has been surprisingly overlooking the problem and not remedify the same. But with Scholes’ retirement, for the second and final time, Moyes had no failover option to work with and unlike his predecessor, rightly tried to strengthen his center of midfield.
Parallels have been drawn between the United boss and Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, both having worked with mid-table clubs before making the big move, have had much contrasting fortunes as the managers of their respective clubs. But what else in common do they have if you consider the jobs they were handed over? Rodgers’ appointment hardly involved media attention and detailing whereas David Moyes became every British tabloid’s favourite and the amount of media glare he had to painstakingly bear was unlike anything he had ever experienced before. Not depriving Rodgers of the respect that he deserves for turning Liverpool into a title contender, his first season was hardly an indicator of what we have witnessed in this one and their absence from European competitions helped his cause and the club’s. Moyes’ failure to help United qualify for the Champions League won’t be forgotten equally easily, but he can emulate Rodgers’ provided the transfer window works to his favor this time around. Rodgers’ and his Liverpool side are a perfect case study for Moyes and his men, only the Scot would have to deal with the expectations that come with being the ‘Chosen One’.