Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Did Manchester United take wrong option?

Moyes out of his depth while Mourinho shines

Manchester United manager David Moyes leaves the pitch after the Barclays Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.
Manchester United manager David Moyes leaves the pitch after the Barclays Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.

The online commentary would have made dispiriting reading, post upon post of outraged dissent suggesting a new and worrying development in the Manchester United experience of David Moyes.

A feature of his tenure at Old Trafford has been the remarkable patience of the supporters, who had largely bought into his narrative of renewal, the idea that he had inherited a squad of numpties in need of radical overhaul despite claiming a record 20th title by 11 points last year.

That thread was OK when Robin van Persie was holed up in the Netherlands having his troublesome thigh massaged, when Wayne Rooney (below) was exiled in Egypt resting shattered groins, when Michael Carrick was nursing ankle ligament damage and when Juan Mata was a Chelsea player.

Moyes had all four on the pitch against Fulham on Sunday, plus junior superstar Adnan Januzaj, and still could not put away the Premier League's bottom club.

As bad as it gets, was his assessment. Wrong. That would be when he loses the fans, and that turning point might just be upon him. The nascent boos heard around Old Trafford were amplified massively in the post-match chat rooms, suggesting that an anti-Moyes sentiment is taking hold.

The discrepancy between what they had seen and the Scot's account of events was wider than Cheddar Gorge. When trust between fan and manager has gone, a new phase, one of anger and hostility, begins.

Moyes defended the crossing strategy he deployed against Fulham, arguing that wide men are a United staple, fundamental to the way the team plays.

The Fulham manager, Rene Meulensteen, once of the Old Trafford parish, said it was predictable and way too easy to defend. Dan Burn, the 6ft 7in central defender, dismissed the tactic as Conference football.

The 2-2 draw bore him out. The fans were less diplomatic. Pathetic, ancient football, brainless and aimless were some of the politer terms bandied around.

Moyes has certainly been the victim of a few freak storms this season; in the previous game Charlie Adam's wildly deflected goal in a hooley at Stoke, followed by the air-shot pass from Marko Arnautovic to Adam for the winner; Sunday's comedy equaliser from Darren Bent four minutes into added time was the fifth time this season United had surrendered points or cups to last-minute interventions.

Seven months into his reign this type of outcome begins to look less like bad luck and more like bad management.

Moyes is fundamentally a decent bloke and an honest, hard worker who cares deeply about what he does, but none of these qualities is a defence against the growing sense that he is a manager out of his depth at Old Trafford.

He owed his appointment entirely to the patronage of Sir Alex Ferguson, a fellow Glaswegian and long-time sympathiser, who wanted to appoint him to his coaching staff when he was learning the trade at Preston North End.

Fergie loved his work ethic and his integrity. He saw a fellow traveller who shared his values and beliefs. On that basis, and the widely accepted understanding he had done a commendable job at Goodison Park, he was invited to take over at United.

The warm glow about Moyes blunted critical thinking. It ignored the substantial point that Moyes did not leave behind at Everton a body of work that compelled on the basis of a recognisable footballing philosophy.

He was late to the passing game, during the majority of his reign at Everton opting for an attritional mix of grunt and punt, on the grounds that he did not have the players to develop an expansive template.

Isn't that the job of the coach, to improve players, to get them organised and productive in a cohesive way?

Did Brendan Rodgers have a king's ransom to turn Swansea into an approximation of Barcelona? Does Mauricio Pochettino have a bucketload of cash to throw at Southampton? Does Roberto Martinez have more than Moyes had to make Everton an aesthetic joy?

Or did they impose a style of football that was not only pleasing on the eye, but gained results beyond expectation?

United's discomfort must be exacerbated tenfold by events at Chelsea, where Jose Mourinho has demonstrated for the umpteenth time his credentials as a guru of the coaching art. He has ridden that "little horse" to the top of the Premier League, despite inheriting a squad thought to be in need of attention almost as much as United's.

He moved quickly to acquire André Schürrle, nicked Willian through a transfer window, reconstituted John Terry as England's pre-eminent centre-half, made a centre-forward once more of Samuel Eto'o, eased England's first-choice left-back into semi-retirement in favour of a right-footed Spaniard and flogged the club's player of the year two seasons running to a major rival.

You wonder whether the United ownership still view Mourinho as a corrosive, divisive figure, detrimental to the interests of a club.

You suspect they would take him now were they able to rewind the clock to the days last spring when he had his hand in the air inviting a conversation.

Because they have insufficient expertise in a game into which they bought more than a decade ago, the Glazers invested all in the judgement of Ferguson.

The Moyes regime is ultimately unsustainable on two levels should it continue along its present course. At the moment it is only points United are shipping.

Failure to qualify for the Champions League, as seems certain, will put an ugly dent in the balance sheet. It is understood the club might tolerate one bad year, but two?

Moyes takes his sinking ship to the Emirates tomorrow needing a result. It is just his luck that he runs into an Arsenal team desperate to reassert their own title credentials.

By the time Arsene Wenger is done, it might be a ninth Premier League defeat. That's West Brom territory and they are in the bottom three. Fergie never saw that coming.

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