BY MARK GODFREY
The clamour for the head of David Moyes reached a crescendo after Sunday’s wretched surrender to their fiercest of rivals, Liverpool. The 3-0 defeat, nay capitulation, which could so easily have been even more embarrassing (if that were possible), perfectly encapsulated all that has gone wrong with the former Everton manager’s first turbulent season at Old Trafford.
The debate, of course, rages on; Moyes in or Moyes out?
United fans are split; many who recall, or at least appreciate, the time afforded to Sir Alex Ferguson in his early days in charge are fully aware of the rebuilding task ahead for whoever had replaced British football’s greatest manager. That patience in the face of one calamity after another this campaign can also be interpreted as an acknowledgement of the scale of Ferguson’s achievement to get virtually this same group of players to comfortably wrestle last season’s Premier League title from the clutches of the sky blue half of Manchester.
On the other side, the knee-jerk reactionists have had the knives out from as far back as September; seizing on every slip and fall as their opportunity to lobby for the removal of the man made king by his abdicated predecessor.
What seems likely is that the powers-that-be at Old Trafford will not relent to the hecklers any time soon and that Moyes will be given the time he desperately needs to revamp the playing staff at United, and in turn, save his much-slighted reputation.
Moyes’ modus operandi during his 11 years at Goodison Park was simple; avoid defeat and everything else is a bonus. OK, perhaps that’s a tad cruel. Everton progressed from perennial relegation strugglers to habitual top 6 contenders under his guidance, and while the style gradually improved with the raising of expectations, there is a world of difference between Manchester United and Everton.
Ferguson chose a man in his own image to continue his legacy and now Moyes has to follow that lead on and off the pitch if he is to survive and succeed.
One does not have to be a FIFA-qualified coaching expert to know that performances and tactics have been poor. The ghosts of Busby and Ferguson’s swashbuckling sides of yore haunt and taunt Moyes’ every move, and if he is to avoid becoming the new Wilf McGuinness, adaptation and abandonment must replace consistency and caution as the new watch words.
Behind the scenes, Moyes must follow the example set by Ferguson when dealing with the players who, so far, have patently not signed up to the new regime. We repeatedly hear that a large part of a manager’s job is to motivate his players to give 100% effort and commitment to the cause. This, of course, will remain a fundamental truth of football management, but these professionals who pull on the shirt twice a week for tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds per week, shouldn’t need to be cajoled or molly-coddled into raising more than a leisurely gallop on the pitch.
Personal pride and responsibility were traits demonstrated in spades by United under Ferguson and something that Moyes needs to recapture with those players whose commitment remains steadfast. Unfortunately for Moyes, their number seems to have diminished steadily from the word go.
I’ve said on Twitter and in the Man On The Post midweek podcast that many of United’s players’ on-field behaviour is reminiscent of a sulky teenager whose parents have divorced and when the mother has re-married, the disgruntled teenager has failed to accept their new stepfather.
The dressing room disharmony is clearly visible every time United go out to play and the commitment of many must be called into question. This summer is a watershed moment, not only for Moyes, but for United as a club. They have failed to adequately replace the ageing and departed in time for the cracks in the armour to appear and open rapidly.
The loss of Paul Scholes was crucial and is something that needs to be addressed immediately the transfer window opens this summer. Suitable replacements will be needed for the soon to be gone Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Rio Ferdinand – three quarters of a once formidable back four.
Perhaps even more pressing for Moyes would be to weed out the imposters from his squad; those who are conning a living out of the Manchester United empire. Antonio Valencia, Nani, Tom Cleverley, Rafael, Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez to name but a few who are either not good enough to restore the 20-times champions back to their former glories, or who seem to have downed tools since the switch of managers.
More worryingly, the body language of United’s two prized assests – Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie – do not suggest that all is well in the camp of both men. What is becoming increasingly apparent, especially since the arrival of Juan Mata, is that their partnership looks disjointed and disharmonious. This conundrum of how to fit these three into a team where only two would naturally fit could prove the making or breaking of Moyes at Manchester United.
Rooney is armed with his new Â£300,000 a week deal after months of passive-aggressive silence regarding his long-term future. United felt pressured enough not to let the England man go fearing a PR disaster if he had waltzed off to Stamford Bridge and into the welcoming arms of Jose Mourinho. Now, they’re saddled with a player whose form and fitness is inconsistent and whose best days are already behind him.
Van Persie came out last week to reiterate his happiness at the club and that he has no intention of leaving (where have we heard that before, Robin?). Indeed, he spoke of signing a new contract to keep him at Old Trafford for the remainder of his career. Just like with Rooney, you can’t help feeling that all those words are a smokescreen aimed at deflecting any future criticism away from the Dutchman and onto his manager should he decide that he can’t work under Moyes any longer.
Even if Manchester United fail to progress past Olympiakos in the Champions League, the deafening call for Moyes to be removed will likely fall on deaf ears. However, Moyes must impose himself on the dressing room this summer, removing the cancerous elements and replacing them with healthy influences if he is to take full advantage of the generosity of spirit being shown by the Old Trafford directors.