There comes a point when admirable loyalty to a cause becomes blind naivety. Those United fans still standing by David Moyes in the belief that he will be a success at Old Trafford anytime soon are now finding themselves firmly in the latter category. Every week more and more adopt the viewpoint I’ve had since early December, that David Moyes is no longer fit to be Manchester United manager.
In late 1989 a group of fans infamously called for Fergie’s head, growing impatient on the back of a couple of barren seasons, only to look rather foolish with the unprecedented heights he went on to bring the club too. This case is very different from that. United were simply nowhere when Ferguson took over mid-season in 1986. Football was very different back then before the dawn of the Premier League and Champions League era. Success wasn’t mandatory for a club to survive financially and managers would often be given time to build a future squad, forsaking the present in doing so. It took Ferguson four years for his project to bear fruit but United reaped such juicy rewards when it did. In 2013 David Moyes inherited a team that had just won the league title for the fifth time in seven seasons. He certainly wasn’t starting from scratch, this squad is good enough to win this league but instead they find themselves struggling in a lowly 7th place, battling with his old club Everton and Newcastle for the Europa League spots.
United lost for the fifth time in 2014 on Saturday, a year that is not yet six weeks old. It was September before they had amassed as much defeats in 2013. This week it was Stoke’s turn to end a winless run against United that stretches back multiple decades. They join West Brom, Everton, Newcastle, Sunderland and Swansea, all of whom have ended similar sequences of misfortunate against the champions.
From a fan’s point of view, the game against Stoke is up there with the visit of Spurs on New Year’s Day as being one of the most painful to watch in recent memory. United approached both games with an identical mentality and garnished identical results. Play the ball out wide. Cross ball. Watch ball cleared by dominant centre half. Repeat. Lose 2-1.
It is ridiculous how one-dimensional and easy to play against this team is. United attempted a total of 32 crosses against Stoke on Saturday. Of these, 5 found United players in the box, 3 led to chances and none led to goals. Ironically, in both of the aforementioned defeats, United’s goals came from rare occasions when they did actually pass the ball through the middle.
Whatever about the player’s lack of commitment, effort and even talent in some cases, tactics and getting the best out of the players are the responsibility of the manager and his coaching staff. These are areas where David Moyes and the backroom team he has brought with him from Everton look totally inept.
His refusal to deviate from the ineffective tactic of getting the ball out to the wingers and putting crosses in has cost United dearly already this season and it’s unlikely that teams will stop being able to defend against it and the philosophy will suddenly bear fruit anytime soon. It’s easy to play against, and they’ve got no alternative. United have gone behind in half of their league games this season so there’s no excuse for a plan B not being in place.
Mentality is another big part of it. One of Moyes’s biggest crimes in this department so far this season was in his programme notes for the home tie with Newcastle in December when he claimed they were going to ‘make it tough for Newcastle today’. This is a ridiculously negative approach for a Manchester United to take going into a home game with a mid-table side, particularly as they were coming off the back of a home defeat to Everton midweek and in dire need of a strong showing. Predictably, United lost the game. Similarly before the return leg of the League Cup semi-final with Sunderland he said in his pre-match interview that they needed to make sure they win 1-0 to get it to extra time. Sure enough they managed it but a United manager talking about taking Sunderland to extra time is worrying.
I can’t remember going into a game with as little optimism as the away game with Chelsea in January and based on the performances it seems that many of the players shared this view. Under Ferguson they would not have dared return to the dressing room having given such a meagre performance. As it happens there’s a perfect example to demonstrate this. A United side managed by Sir Alex went 3-0 down to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in February 2012, the third Chelsea goal in both games being scored in virtually the same minute. Fergie’s United, containing players such as Welbeck, Young and Valencia who also appeared in the second game, fought back to snatch a 3-3 nearly went on to win the game. Moyes’s side this year just seemed to roll over an accept defeat as their destiny.
Ensuring results on the pitch are good is not the managers only job. He’s also the face of the club and the media representative of the team in press conferences and interviews. Here, Moyes has turned United into a laughing stock. Mourinho represents Chelsea wonderfully in his interviews. Everything he says has an intended purpose to benefit his squad and he will never show any chinks in his armour. David Moyes admitted after the Stoke game that he doesn’t know what they have to do to win a game. Can you imagine Ferguson or Mourinho flaunting such weakness in public after a defeat?
As for the players, they must of course shoulder some of the blame but it’s the manager who will have to bear the brunt. The squad has lost no players who made more than ten starts last season (Paul Scholes is the only 2012/13 first teamer absent this year) and have added Marouane Fellaini, brought through Adnan Januzaj and now bought Juan Mata. This squad under Moyes has lost once in every three games in the league this season and now sits in 7th place, fifteen points off the summit and a worrying seven points off the bare minimum requirement of 4th place and a spot in next seasons Champions League.
While supporters are the lifeblood of any club, in the case of Manchester United it’s the various multinational sponsors who provide the muscle and the ability to grow stronger by means of finance. The supporters commitment should never wane, regardless of the team’s fortunes on the pitch. The same loyalty does not apply to sponsors who will take their business elsewhere if you aren’t an attractive prospect anymore. United, despite being one of the most recognisable brands on the planet, cannot afford to spend time slumming it in the Europa League, not if they want to continue to prosper.
Out of his depth, overawed by the role, tactically inept, a negative thinker and, simply put, just not cut out for the highest level of football management. Manchester United would do well to dispense with the services of David Moyes before he can do any further damage to the club.