Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The Pride of all Europe? The cock of the North?

For twenty long years, the words Manchester United have struck fear in the hearts and souls of opposing fans. Fans of other clubs would worry about playing them. Stomachs would churn on the morning of the match wondering what might occur. Wins at home against them were occasional. Wins at Old Trafford rarer still. Even if you managed to best them on the day it was likely they would beat you in that long marathon to May.

Those matches in the early months of the new year were their stomping ground. They would either churn out routine wins against teams their rivals thought as banana skins or pull off astonishing reverses. Find yourself 2-0 up against Manchester United? You've sown the wind, now reap the hurricane. The early months of the calendar year were where they marched off in front or reeled in the leader. This was their time of year.

How has it come to this? Their descent to mediocrity has been dizzying. Teams are no longer fearful going to Old Trafford. Indeed, Liverpool at the weekend looked like they were playing at home. Five years ago, in a dizzying run to second, Liverpool beat United 4-1 in front of the Stretford End but that result flattered the Reds. Sunday was a subjugation.

The reigning champions of England sit in seventh place in the league with 9 games to play. At present, it seems more likely they will be overtaken by Southampton rather than catch Everton or Spurs.

In December I wrote this piece on Moyes. I stand by it all. Moyes is now living, not dreaming, the impossible dream. He has made errors, he has been dealt a bad hand (the squad was hauled to the championship by Ferguson's genius) but not as bad a hand as he is currently playing.

Last summer, he tried to fill a hole that Ferguson failed to fill in central midfield. Moyes' intentions were good. He tried to sign Fabregas, Thiago, Herrera, Ozil and de Rossi. He failed to land any of those big fish. He landed - at an inflated price - Marouane Fellaini.

Fellaini is not as bad a player as some try to make out nor is he the carthorse that too many United fans think. He has become a scapegoat and emblematic Moyes' travails at the club. 

Fellaini is in fact a very fine player, one who has played consistently well at a decent level in the English Premier League, and one who will likely be an integral part of an exquisite Belgian team at this year's World Cup. He is not, for me, in the class of the other players that Manchester United were trying to sign last year. Nor is he the answer to their problems in central midfield. Hell, Mata is playing considerably worse than Fellaini but this is largely attributed to Moyes rather than the Spaniard.

There are rumours in the press of an unprecedented transfer war chest. Moyes will sign, apparently, Barkley, Shaw, William Carvalho, Kroos, Gundogan and others besides. The board has backed Moyes already. If he lasts till the summer it is likely they will back him again.  

The problem is simple. If the new manager of Manchester United - safely in the Champions League and champions of England - couldn't convince high calibre players to move to Alderley Edge then how will he manage it this summer?

There are only three ways.

The first is that Moyes could convince these players about some long term goal or vision he has for the club. Other managers, over the years, have convinced talented players to come to a team outside the Champions League because of some better future they are building. They get in the player's ear. They get in his head. 'You'll be the star, son. The number one. The Capto tut di Capi. Come to Manchester, son. You won't regret it. We'll be the making of each other. Your name will be in fucking lights. They'll build a statue one day'. This was common in the days of Shankly, Clough and Review but is less common in these mercenary days. Moreover, it doesn't seem to be the sort of role where Moyes is likely to succeed in.


If he can't charm them, he could pay them - stuff their mouths with gold. 
Paris Saint-Germain, Anzhi Makhachkala, Manchester City and Chelsea have all bought superstar players on the promise that one day the medals will follow the money. United could do that.

The third - and this is rabbit out of the hat stuff - is to somehow win the Champions League. Fourth now looks a long way away for Manchester United. The only way back into the European elite is to win Big Ears. They could - if they manage to overturn a two goal deficit tonight - go down the Benitez's Liverpool or di Matteo's Chelsea route. That, looking at the other teams, looks unlikely.

Liverpool will tell you that glorious histories do not always help. Very few players want to play for a club that used to be good. You have to become creative in the market. You have to pay more. You have to hope that those in the Champions League look elsewhere.


It seems to me if he is to rebuild Manchester United this summer that either he will have to stuff the player's mouths with gold or look outwith the usual suspects. I doubt that the Manchester United faithful will accept sub-par players. They may have to do so.

There are some Moyes apologists out there. Good on them but there is a difference between supporting the manager blindly and not admitting his mistakes or pointing out his flaws.

This isn't some work experience cabin boy left in charge of the ocean liner temporarily. This is a highly experienced manger essentially hand picked by arguably the greatest manager in the history of the game. A man who has been trusted to spend over £65m on two players. A man with a six year contract. A man who was allowed to sack his backroom staff and bring in his own men.

We should hold him to account over his signings. His bizarre tactics at points. His hapless efforts with the media. His inability to solve the riddle that stumped Ferguson (how do you replace Scholes)? His inability to get Mata playing and, in fact, playing him out of position. His inability to get van Persie flying. His inability to drop big players His decision to sack the backroom team that served Ferguson so well. That isn't to say he must be sacked but we shouldn't give him an easy ride because we want British managers to succeed.

My guess is they wouldn't be so keen to rush to his defence if he were Portuguese or Spanish. British managers generally get an easier ride. We would be pointing out the above and more besides if he were a foreigner.

United have a lot going for it. There are world-class players. It is a club of global magnitude. The wages are high. The Premier League is attractive. There are hyper talented youngsters. But there are significant doubts that Moyes is the manager who can clear out the dreck from the squad and rebuild it to anywhere near its recent glory. If he cannot do that, the club will struggle long-term. If he can do that that will be a remarkable turn of events.

In 1992, Manchester United came to Anfield and were beaten. Liverpool fans chanted ''You lost the league on Merseyside'. The tide of history had turned. Liverpool fans so used to singing 'Championes' at their hated rivals from the other end of the East Lancs Road were unknowingly acknowledging that they had been overtaken.

This weekend when I crowed Liverpool's victory Manchester United fans tweeted me 'we've won the league twenty times'. That, if I am honest, has been Liverpool's role over recent years - to remind United of their glorious past.

It seems to me that Moyes is not Manchester United's Paisley nor is he the equivalent of Clough at Leeds United. Rather he is Manchester United's Souness. The man who isn't a bad manager but who cannot stem decline and, instead, accelerates it. Last year, it looked impossible to replace Ferguson. There were better choices but now Manchester United are in a hell of a bind - stick with a man who will likely fail or go down the route of managerial churn.

RCM

6 comments:

Metatone said...

A good post - and it's worth noting that it's unlikely that transfer negotiations were solely in Moyes lap. I think the rest of the club management clearly had a part in messing up the Herrera transfer.

Fellaini however was a major misjudgement, because you only bring "one of your players" along if you're sure they can do the job and sure they will back you.

It seems clear that Fellaini instead has a long running disagreement with Moyes about Fellaini's best position and if we're honest, good as he is, the price tag was never going to be easy to wear.

Personally, I think it's less about replacing Scholes in midfield as doing something about Carrick's decline…

dearieme said...

RvP did well in that EUFA shopwindow tie. Now it's possible that he'll be out until the FIFA Shopwindow World Cup.

Poor old Moyes.

dearieme said...

My morning paper says that Moyes is going to sell Fletcher, and that Evra will be going (in addition to Vidic, of course). Who else should he clear out so that he can have his own squad? Giggs?

dearieme said...

Maybe Mourinho should offer to lend him Lukaku just to express his belief that ManU will not be a challenger next year.

Or to Arsenal, perhaps?

Of course, another season like the present one and people will start to ignore ManU instead of enjoying pitying them.

dearieme said...

Well there's a yarn.
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