So David Moyes has gone and to be honest it’s sad to see. He was a manager hired because of the manager he could be, not because of the manager he was and he hasn’t been given the opportunity to explore that potential. That said there is a good case to suggest this was a job to far for him, he failed to grasp a few key points about managing a big club. In a way he has made the same mistakes and in some ways his tenure will be remembered in the same vein as Roy Hodgson at Liverpool.
There’s an old saying in sport, particularly in the NFL, a market where United’s owners are familiar that says when you talk to the press you talk to your players. Players will listen to what you say in your press conferences; they’re professionals and will look to pick up on any narrative a manager may be spinning to help the team or to reiterate as required if asked. Managing expectation in the press means the pressure to perform is lifted from your players and that’s not OK. It creates excuses for them, pressure to perform and pressure to succeed is very different, you can take away the pressure to succeed and survive but not both. Ultimately the negativity exuded by the human handbrake that was press conference Moyes took away the pressure to perform. When a player goes into a game being told by the manager that they are under-dogs, they enter the game with a different mind-set, particularly if your squad are very decorated. If nothing is expected of you then there’s no pressure to deliver anything. Most Man United fans would have accepted not winning anything this season, but all wanted to see signs that this was the club was in good hands and that simply hasn’t been the case.
Managers at top clubs create a narrative around what they’re doing and stick to that narrative. When Brendan Rodgers first arrived at Liverpool the narrative was about style, there was no expectation in terms of wins or success but from the outset the line was that he was changing the way Liverpool play, it was clear what he wanted the players to do and how he wanted them to behave. Players who couldn’t do that were then moved on regardless of reputation or price tag. Mourhino at Chelsea this season has been on the we’re not favorites bandwagon, but the narrative at Chelsea has always been Mourhino and nothing else. He makes it about himself and that means the only pressure to succeed comes from within and the media tend to leave the players alone. Pochettino at Southampton has gone a different way, by delivering his post games and pressers in his native Spanish there is little narrative to create nothing to infer from what’s being said and it will have played some part in the fact Southampton have had a remarkable second season back in the Premier League.
Moyes has always maintained a certain level of dignity, kept his mouth shut when banners were flying over the stadium during a 4-1 thumping of Villa but class has never been his biggest problem. His rhetoric has been inconsistent and his performances uninspiring. When it comes to dealing with the Press its clue over class every time. Eye Gouging, player slagging, Ref Badgering and Media darling, Mourihno is testament to that!
That said, rampant short term-ism doesn’t help and I’d have liked to have seen him given more time, he may have annoyed a lot of the squad but a lot of this squad wont be there next season, even fewer in the following season. Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra will all go and Giggs will retire. At the start of next season Carrick will be 33 and Fletcher the wrong side of 30. Hernandez wants first team football, Lindegaard the same. I’d expect one of Nani, Young or Valencia to move on with the emergence of Januzaj and the addition of Mata, then there’s Danny Wellbeck who recently suggested he’d have to move on to play in his preferred role.
Van Persie is the biggest conundrum here, for my money I’d think about moving him on while he’s still worth something. The injuries are starting to mount again, he’s been vocally critical of his team mates for getting in his way and he’ll be 31 at the start of next season. The best United sides had pace as well as craft and directness and Van Persie lacks any real pace with which to build an attack around and with United’s frankly ridiculous commitment to Rooney the colours have been nailed to the mast in terms of which direction United want to go.
There are also parts of the squad that have failed to develop, Januzaj aside most of the younger players in the squad haven’t developed, Jones’s ability on the ball has seen him moved from pillar to post and as a result he’s neither nailed down the position of pillar or post. Chris Smalling and Tom Clevlerly aren’t showing the kind of development required to hold regular first team places or even places in the squad, and in an ideal world you’d like an upgrade on Rafael. All of this leaves a squad will suffer a talent drain in terms of players and has suffered a talent drain from poor coaching of it’s players, the latter can be rectified but the damage was done with the former long ago.
Moyes deserved more time because the club haven’t helped him, new chief executive Ed Woodward was a rabbit in headlights in the summer window adding just Fellani and making little more than kissy faces and beckoning gestures at the top talent moving around Europe at the time. When January came around the addition of Juan Mata, which will likely turn out to be a good move came at a time where the team were playing a style that by-passed him completely with wingers thumping crosses into the forlorn Robin Van Persie or Hernandez. Moyes has had to adapt his style to accommodate Mata which can be difficult to do mid-season.
The admin and the football side of the club needed to be on the same page and they simply weren’t. It’s easy to add players to a squad, it’s a lot harder to add the right players and United haven’t given Moyes a prayer in this regard. You can land some of that squarely at Moyes’s feet though for not communicating what the goal is but most of it lies with the club and its hierarchy. In terms of Net Spend, this will be the highest in United History with almost nothing made from Transfers over the summer, but there has been little value in that spend, Fellani was bought for 4.5 million over his already astronomical release clause and record signing Mata has yet to fully find his feet.
Director of Football is a token gesture at Man United Football Club but it may be time to revisit that approach during this difficult time, not perhaps going in a full European sense but somebody who helps establish coaching style, playing style and works with the manager to recruit staff and players accordingly. Alex Ferguson was a phenomenon and an overlord who papered over so many cracks during his tenure, but football moved on while United stayed the same and that consistency was a strength. Now it’s gone, United must make the same moves as the rest football. Ferguson will have done the job of 4 or 5 people including director of football, player development officer and psychologist.
This leads on to the final point. Ferguson was many things at United but a first class coach he was not. Barren spells followed immediately after the departure of Kidd, then McLaren, then Queiroz. There is a pretty decent pattern that follows the departure of an able assistant from Fergie’s side to a trophyless season. By letting the coaching staff go, Moyes ripped the years of accumulated know how out of the club and started everything afresh. He was the manager, he’s entitled to do what he wants and to be honest by adding Giggs and Phil Neville to his staff he made more than a token gesture at continuity. The fact that Phelan has not been picked up and Meulensteen was less than successful at Fulham suggests that they weren’t particularly special.
Where United went wrong is they failed to recognise what they lost. Fergie was a one man infrastructure and when he left that infrastructure went with him, the fact he was never adequately replaced is not the fault of David Moyes, it’s the fault of the United Board for not recognising what left and provisioning for it correctly. United are playing catch up for the first time in a very long time, and they also need to with the rest of football off the field before then can do so on the field. There’s more to football admin than sponsorship deals, United are going to have to figure that out like everybody else had too. Whoever replaces Moyes needs to be given a better infrastructure above him, or they will suffer the same fate.