Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The man they couldn't replace

Poor old Davie Moyes - a good man, a good manager, one of those rare things 'a true football man' - but one who has been consumed by the cult of Ferguson.

Most managers would have been eaten alive by this job. It is no great surprise Moyes has been and his only sin was to take the job - a job, of course, which he couldn't turn down without blotting his copybook forever. As we have learned he was bust whether he stuck or twisted.

This was always going to happen and would have happened to many of the names that avoided the job last summer. 

It might have been avoided if - and I stress might - Manchester United had picked one of the great warhorses of the European game. That small band of men who could withstand the pressure of living in Ferguson's shadow and, instead, cast a shadow of their own..
In December I wrote that four men sprung to mind - Jupp Heynckes, Marcello Lippi, Ottmar Hitzfeld, and Guus Hiddink. To that list one could add the new front runner - Louis van Gaal (or, for that matter, Johan Cruyff but let's not even countenance that. Cruyff joining my boyhood rivals would be enough to send me to grab a pistol and a large bottle of Scotch. If Del Bosque wasn't managing Spain then perhaps that old rogue too.

If United are sensible they will go after van Gaal - a man who runs on arrogance - to replace Moyes. Moyes, too often, appeared as though he expected a tap on the shoulder from someone explaining they'd given him the wrong job. He seemed to shrink at Manchester United. I doubt van Gaal would. 

When Moyes dealt with senior players - senior players who have been round the block and have the ego to match - they could ask what he had won? He could point to not very much. Try that with van Gaal. The questioner would likely be out the club faster than a New York Minute. 

Had Van Gaal been appointed he wouldn't have suffered van Persie's strop about people playing in his space, may well have shipped out Rooney, would likely have torn a strip off Evra for his trying hard comments, and, well, what he'd have done to Ferdinand is unpublishable. Moyes was too often a doormat who seemed pleased to be being walked on.

Those men - van Gaal and co - are everything Moyes is not. Each has considerable European success behind them. Each has won championships. Each has managed a club of comparable size, history and expectation to that of Manchester United. Each one already has pages in the history books devoted to them. Each one would, I imagine, relish the challenge of a job like Manchester United. If they fail, they can walk off knowing that the game rates them. Another big job will come knocking. Look at the names of clubs Moyes is being linked with - Norwich, Aston Villa, West Brom, Newcastle. All fine clubs but, well, they aren't Manchester United.

Given the rebuilding job, given the dominance of Ferguson at the club, given the size of the role I'd have gone for one of the greats of the game for a few years to 'de-Ferguson' the club, bring through the talented youngsters, rid the squad of those who had seen better days and build anew. Then, in two or three years time, bring in a younger man. van Gaal seems to distrust older players and specialises in building attacking teams based around young talent. Yes, that might work.

I've already written about this three times: Farewell to an adversary: A Liverpool fan on FergusonDreaming the impossible dream and, most recently, The Pride of All Europe? The Cock of the North? in which I described Moyes as the Souness of Manchester United. Alas, alas.

But the man they couldn't replace? 

Well, Ferguson was a genius - one of the all-time greats. The aforementioned history of the game? He'll have chapters not pages. Ultimately though, Ferguson was stumped by the same riddle as Moyes. Both tried to solve it. Both failed.  Neither could work out how to replace Scholes. Ferguson tried, failed, and found the only man who replace Scholes was, in fact, Paul Scholes.

Over the years, Ferguson tried to sign - amongst others - Xavi (2007), Defour (2009 and 2012), Schweinsteiger in 2010, Sneijder in 2011, and de Rossi in 2011.

Moyes tried and failed to get Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara, Herrera, Ozil and de Rossi. He brought in Fellaini and, later, Mata. Neither, yet, has shown that they can be Scholes.

Many an English football fan has lamented over the years the years that England should have built a team around Scholes. One team did for the best part of two decades and, boy, did they fly.

Great players and managers swooned over Scholes. Xavi called him a 'spectacular player who has everything' and Iniesta concurred. Zidane viewed him as 'the complete midfielder'.  Viera noted he was the player he admired the most. In his pomp, Davids said 'I'm not the best, Paul Scholes is'. Guardiola called him 'the best midfielder of his generation'. Mourinho couldn't believe he wasn't playing for England. Lippi raved and said he would have been the one player he would have bought. Fabregas called him the best player in the league, Henry didn't understand why he hadn't won player of the years awards. All of them - the true experts not internet blowhards like me - know the game inside out.

He was fundamental to the team, the style of the team and the club. In my view, Ferguson was the difference last year in delivering the 20th title (not RvP as many claim) but the loss of Scholes, even an aged Scholes, has hurt United. Fellaini isn't a bad player but he isn't in the same league as Scholes. Ferguson had tried - bringing in a few players that have done reasonably well or not - but never got the one. If he had succeeded with one of those signings or if Moyes had somehow got a stellar name last summer, perhaps, then perhaps things would have been different. Then again, with Moyes and all the baggage and flaws, even that wouldn't have been enough. Such is the sting of life.



dearieme said...

Allow me to repeat myself: the ill-chosen one.

dearieme said...

I must say I was surprised that he did so badly.

First, the lackadaisical pace of taking up the job. Then the shambolic attempts to recruit new players last summer. Then Fellaini, successful at Everton recently as an idiosyncratic #10, but bought to play God-knows-what Moreover I hadn't expected just how poorly they played. The old boys looked more than a year older than last season but the younger men seemingly hadn't matured at all. It's not just that the team didn't attack with verve, but they defended weakly too.

As for the agreement to keep Rooney in return, allegedly, for £300k per week, and the right to be consulted on transfers - what fresh hell was that?

And finally the decision to stockpile #10s by buying Mata, and then conspiring to make him look commonplace. I'd thought that Moyes might improve through the season and then spend summer 2014 overhauling his squad. I can see why they sacked him, I've enjoyed their embarrassment - entitled buggers, eh? -but it's still a sobering tale.

Rob Marrs said...

The only way he could have succeeded was by performing a footballing equivalent of the red wedding.

(a) He shouldn't have sacked the backroom staff and shouldn't have brought in his own men. I think this ended up being huge.

(b) He should have privately requested that Ferguson attended fewer games (perhaps he did?).

(c) He should have done what he did at Everton when he arrived and got rid of a number of players. I think they should have included: Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra (potentially), Rooney, and Young.

(d) If he didn't get rid of Rooney, the new contract should not have been negotiated.

(e) Just shut up. Some of his stuff to the press was insane.

That said, buying Mata and performing like they did at Fulham suggests this was a fool's errand. He was unlucky at points (failing in his attempt to buy genuine class players to the club last summer) but I think if he had been bolder with the squad he might have been more successful. I still think he'd have been screwed.


Metatone said...

I agree in parts and disagree in parts.

1) You can read the statistics - the loss of Fergie has led to a loss of "Fergie Time." Those extra minutes are the most obvious marker of all the other refereeing decisions that Fergie got that Moyes didn't.

2) Yet, RvP's injury was crucial - not for Moyes winning a championship, but for staying in the top 4 and keeping his job and having time to grow into it. I don't like a lot of "The Numbers Game" by Anderson/Sally, but their analysis of the rarity and value of true goalscorers is very good and those stats show some truth to the idea that Fergie won his last championship in part by buying RvP - at the cost of the future, because RvP was always going to fall back into injury.

3) More than anything Moyes failure (and you wonder if it was actually the board's) was to buy big in the summer. There should have been a replacement for Ferdinand, who was clearly ageing. Maybe Scholes was irreplaceable, but Feillani wasn't the right buy. Backup for RvP might have been wise too ( see also A. Wenger of Arsenal for this particular blind spot…)

And the question is, if it was really the board and the Chief Executive, could even one of the big beasts fixed that unwillingness/incompetence around transfers? If not, they probably could have been in the top 4, but still not likely Champion challengers...

Metatone said...

Regarding replacing Scholes - the first thing is that sometimes you can't buy like-for-like. There aren't that many players out there with Scholes physical presence (from growing up in the EPL) and his skill.

Probably I'd conclude that Moyes should have looked to make Kagawa the creator and buy some strong complementary midfielders of a ball-winning/lung-busting/defensive nature. Feillani's desire to play further forward was a real danger sign, he should not have been bought for this team.

(Likewise, Moyes looked at Ozil, but it's the same story as with Kagawa, the lack of complementary midfielders would have been a problem.)

I do think it's telling however that there's a long list of great midfielders that Ferguson and Moyes looked at, but didn't buy. Whether it was their own parsimony or the board's Man Utd failed themselves by not buying big. And I know it went wrong with Veron, but Scholes shoes were too big to fill without putting a lot of money down.

I'd also wonder if the Man Utd history of wing play was getting in the way of some tactical (and squad) readjustments...

Sean said...


"(a) He shouldn't have sacked the backroom staff and shouldn't have brought in his own men. I think this ended up being huge."

Would the counterpoint to that have been Moyes keeping the backroom staff and then being told "That isn't how Alex would have done it" "Alex used to do this"

I think he was damned if he did and damned if he didn't - the curse of following on from someone like Ferguson

Rob Marrs said...

I think that's probably true, Sean, but I think he'd have benefitted from their knowledge of competing on numerous fronts. I take your point but think that was an error.

That said, the next man needs to rid himself of the 1992 Committee. Giggs, Scholes, Butt, Neville - out, all out. They'll be useful to the end of the season but an absolute menace for the next guy.


dearieme said...

Forgive me for laughing, Rob, but Gerrard's Rooneyesque ball control, followed by his swallow dive, was priceless. Sad in its way, but priceless.