David Moyes unable to grasp that it's HIS Manchester United team
Javier Hernandez has a habit of bringing sunshine after the storm for Manchester United, as he did on Wednesday night. It was also his solitary goal which sealed a redemptive win six days after the 6-1 defeat to Manchester City two years ago.
The manager on the receiving end that afternoon was one David Moyes, who watched Hernandez achieve from five yards at Goodison Park in October 2011 what he managed from even closer quarters at Old Trafford against Liverpool in the Capital One Cup third round.
All the more puzzling, therefore, that Hernandez's potency in the penalty area should have seemed such a source of surprise to Moyes after United had progressed to their fourth round encounter with Norwich City. "The movement is great; a real centre forward's movement. That's everything they've told me about him here," Moyes said after the 25-year-old had spun around the six -yard box and shifted the balance of his feet so expertly to score.
Is this quality in Hernandez – his trademark at the club where scored 15 Premier League goals in his first season – really such a revelation? "Like shelling peas," was Sir Alex Ferguson's description of how Hernandez operated through the eye of a needle from close quarters, and everyone has seen it, time and again. That expression of Ferguson's dated from the October night in Valencia in 2010 when the Mexican required nine minutes as a substitute to secure a decisive Champions League win, and few could deny that he has a big game mentality on these shores either. His goal after 37 seconds against Chelsea in May 2011 effectively sealed United's title, knocking out the side who could yet have sur-passed them.
Yet for all this, Moyes claims not yet to know some of the squad he has taken over, contributing to Hernandez getting 34 minutes of football before Wednesday night. "In many ways I am still getting to know some of the players," he said in his programme notes on Wednesday, repeating what has become an incantation from him in the past few weeks.
It's hard to believe that these players are as much of a mystery as he suggests – not least because Ferguson has regaled him with the inside track on them all. We know that much from his description of the day he was summoned from that now famous shopping trip in Altrincham to be told that he was to take over from Ferguson. Within half an hour of that meeting starting the 71-year-old "was talking about the squad and the players and the staff... I couldn't believe it," Moyes has related.
Perhaps his reluctance to invest any faith in these players against Chelsea and City belongs to the fact that rotation was an alien concept at Everton. Perhaps it belongs to his sense that he wants this to be his team. Adnan Januzaj, whom Ferguson did not have at his disposal, has been trusted. "They are a really good team," Moyes said of United late on Wednesday night, somehow still unable to get to grips with the fact that "they" are his squad now. "They won the Premier League last season. But we have to look to improve as well. We know we have to improve."
Not all of Moyes' hesitancy is illogical. Shinji Kagawa, a player like Hernandez in whom he has not displayed much trust, was played out of position against Liverpool, though that does not compensate for his dreadful first half. But others – Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling – did demonstrate capabilities he has not yet given them credit for. His reluctance to try out £15m Wilfried Zaha – Ferguson's last buy – is curious. He was an unused substitute in the opening Premier League match at Swansea City, again against his old club Crystal Palace and the sense from inside United is that Moyes does not yet trust him to keep to United's offensive game-plan. A pre-season friendly offers no real measure but Zaha's ebullience delighted supporters in his role against Sevilla at Old Trafford in early August.
The ground begins to flatten out now for United, with West Bromwich Albion's arrival on Saturday the first of five winnable games, and it is time for Moyes to display some trust – even blind trust – in some of his young players. That kind of concept has been at the core of United ever since a No 7 called Best ran rings around West Bromwich 50 years ago, leaving Sir Matt Busby to wonder aloud whether it had all been a dream.