Sackings in football are almost a matter of routine, with even the top clubs not being afraid to ditch their managers for an alternative to meet their insatiable need for success. Man United weren’t really known for being a club with an itchy trigger finger, with Sir Alex Ferguson riding out some rough spells on the way to creating a footballing dynasty like no other, but they’ve proven their new mettle by sacking David Moyes after a season that has seen not just a fall but a dive-bomb from grace.
Moyes’ stock as a manager lies almost completely in tatters after this season. Brought in as “The Chosen One”, Ferguson’s expressly desired successor, the buzz was hard to escape about the new man in charge. He was certainly considered to be one of the best managers plying their trade in England at the time – taking Everton from being a team dicing with the relegation battle to being a consistently safe bet for the European spots. He even guided them to the promised land of the Champions League in 2005. Moyes was a safe pair of hands that should have guided Manchester United’s transition into a post-Fergie club with ease. It didn’t quite turn out that way. The team have fallen to being also-rans in the race for Europe, with the Champions League being mathematically out of reach for them for the first time in 19 years and Europa League competition looking increasingly as though it will require a favour from Moyes’ former club to work the scenario in their favour. The team’s fortress of Old Trafford has turned into a prime candidate for a smash-and-grab away win – with Man United winning only one more game than they have lost at home. There’s really no way of spinning the fact that Moyes has turned what was a team that had won the Premier League for the 20th time last May into a team who are almost as far behind the league leaders (23 points) as they are ahead of the relegation zone (27 points).
Sunday’s win for Everton against Man United was the final nail in the coffin for Moyes. The Blues looked as though they were strolling against bottom half opposition. Man United’s attack seemed to be operating on completely different wavelengths. Moyes was found tactically wanting again against a top-class side. Everton, Liverpool and Manchester City – three teams with something of a grudge to bear against the Red Devils – all took six points from them comfortably this season. The slick and fast-paced play of Uniteds past has evaporated. World-class players like Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney have failed to settle in to Moyes’ new approach, although Rooney has made a solid effort in his newly rebranded centre forward role. The solid centre-back pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand has been liquefied with the two only playing 9 games together in this campaign. Although some of Moyes’ team selection moves can be lauded, like his introduction of Adnan Janujaz to the side, it has to be noted that he did not field the same eleven players more than once – showing his inability to find a formula that sticks. Adjusting to a new system of football can take time for both players and the manager, but nine months is a trifle too much on the side of ineptitude rather than inexperience.
The Toffees’ replacement for Moyes has hardly painted him in a good light either. Moyes had done well at a club with a small budget and there wouldn’t be many football fans out there that wouldn’t recognise that achievement. But Roberto Martinez has come in to Everton and shown that Moyes’ efforts (in recent seasons, at least) weren’t plucky, but actually underachieving. This season Everton are on the brink of Champions League football, and aren’t all that far behind one of the strongest title races in years. They reached the FA Cup semi-final, something that Moyes only achieved twice in his eleven seasons at the club. The humiliation only deepens when you look at the way that Everton have dismantled Moyes’ side when they have clashed.
Moyes might feel unlucky to be let go so early into what was a six-year contract, and I’m sure that many felt that he would be given more time, but the decision by the United board has shown their disbelief at the job that Moyes has done. He had two transfer windows in which to bring in players to stamp his mark on the house that Fergie built, but failed to do anything of the sort. Marouane Fellaini was bought in the summer after a botched attempt by Moyes to snatch the two brightest stars from his former team (Fellaini and Baines) and it cost the club £27.5 million. Fellaini has been proven to be completely out of his depth this season, with nothing of the playmaking or goal scoring form that made him one of the players of the season last year. United’s only other major signing this year was the January panic buy of Juan Mata from Chelsea, who cost £37.1 million. While Mata has been better than Fellaini, he has not captured the form of his previous season under Chelsea and has certainly not provided value for money. Moyes could have brought in more players, but sat idly by with a team that has stuttered all season long. David Moyes’ poor efforts in the transfer market are a major contributor to his downfall.
Moyes’ successes were few and far between, but there were some signs that he could manage at the top level again someday. Their Champions League run was by no means a disaster, winning a relatively tough group unbeaten and losing narrowly to the juggernauts of Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals. Manchester United also reached the semi-finals of the League Cup for the first time in four seasons, although their defeat to bottom of the league Sunderland on penalties is perhaps one of the many rock bottom points of the season for the club.
Where Manchester United go from here is unclear. Appointing Ryan Giggs as caretaker manager in the meantime is just as uncertain a move as you could make, as it’s virtually unheard of for a player, even with as much experience as Giggs has at the club, to take the reins at one of the largest clubs in England, Europe and the World. A few names are already doing the rounds of the rumour mill such as Louis Van Gaal, Diego Simeone and Jurgen Klopp, but nothing concrete can be taken from this speculation at all – especially when Klopp’s already distanced himself from the job. Man United will have to put just as much effort into finding the right man for the job this time as they did just last year, as the new manager will have arguably more work to do than Moyes did. Fixing a team that is clearly broken is a lot harder than inheriting a team that just won the championship. There will be a trade-off, though, between a thorough process of finding a new manager and getting someone in quickly enough to make big moves in the transfer market. I’d expect the appointment to come towards the end of the World Cup, as that’s when the players that Man United will be looking at signing will appear. Whenever they appoint him, it will need to be a manager with experience at the top levels of the game, with winning titles and playing good, attractive football at the same time. Man United fans will not abide by another dour hack. The club need success again, and need to find someone who will bring that without question.
No matter who comes in, it’s hard to envisage that they will do any worse than David Moyes did in his solitary season in charge of Man United. The club will bounce back. There’s no doubt that a team of this magnitude, with the amount of wealth it has both in terms of funds and players, will not be left to rot in the depths of 7th place in the league.
The only thing that is certain at the moment for Manchester United, though, is that David Moyes will forever be in the history of the club as a sour footnote to Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign, proving the latter’s managerial prowess if not his recruitment talents.