Tuesday, 25 February 2014

We are not a-Moyes-d

Forgive the weak pun in the title.  When I was growing up, I learnt that 'a weak pun is better than no pun at all' - it isn't, but never mind.

I'm writing this with half an eye on the BBC Sport Champions' League Live Text, giving updates on Manchester United's progress against Greek Champions Olympiakos in the first leg of the Champions' League Last 16 tie.

Despite being the favourites to go through to the Last 8, the Premier League side are currently losing 2-0, and that's causing considerable consternation amongst their (many) fans.  Much of the anger, of course, is directed at new manager David Moyes - whose debut season in Manchester, I think it's fair to say, hasn't exactly gone off without a hitch.

I think it's pretty clear that, after the glory of the Sir Alex Ferguson era, Moyes would have come in for criticism no matter how his first season at Old Trafford had gone.  But the longer this season goes on, the clearer it becomes that something is definitely wrong in the red half of Manchester right now - and even those fans who sensibly decided to give Moyes a chance, instead of damning him before a ball was kicked, are starting to have second thoughts.

But how much trouble are United really in?

BBC Sport pundit Robbie Savage is certainly not the first to espouse this view.  I'm sorry Robbie, but just like your prediction that Norwich City will be relegated from the Premier League this season, this is complete nonsense!  This may be 'the same team' that won the League last year, but that overly-simplistic view fails to take into account that they were an ageing team even last year (and therefore are even older now); they have been hit by injuries to key players (such as Robin Van Persie) this season, which last year they were not; their main domestic rivals have strengthened around them while United largely kept the same squad - if you stand still, you go backwards; and a new manager - any new manager - is going to take a little while to get settled in the shoes of the exceptional Sir Alex Ferguson (the likes of whom it is unlikely football in this country will ever see again).

Having said that, Moyes' approach often seems slapdash and haphazard.  OK, he inherited a squad of players used to playing under one manager - many of whom are in the twilights of their careers by now, and others simply don't look up to the task - and he has (for whatever reason) not really put his own stamp on the squad since arriving in the job.  But it remains unclear what his vision for Manchester United is, and how he wants his team to play.

An interesting comparison to make would be Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool.  Liverpool is a club with a rich and successful history and passionate supporters all over the world - a club which expects success.  Rodgers was brought in from Swansea after his first season in the Premier League with them, and was largely unproven at the highest level.  Many fans were sceptical of the appointment, and quickly became disgruntled when Liverpool only managed seventh in the table in their first season under Rodgers.

However, a year on, Liverpool currently sit in the Top Four with an outside shot at winning the title and a real chance of Champions' League qualification next season.  They have had the most potent attack in the Premier League so far this year, and pundits wax lyrical about their style of play.  Liverpool fans are seeing that sticking with Rodgers even after a shaky first season is paying dividends - and that he is fast establishing himself as a very promising manager with a distinctive style, capable of coping with the pressures of managing a 'big' club in the Premier League.

In contrast, Moyes seems to be crumpling under the pressure of being in charge of Manchester United (although, admittedly, this is far larger than any pressure Rodgers has been under at Liverpool), and he doesn't seem to have a vision for his team, or for the club.  Praised with doing an excellent job with very limited resources for many years at Everton (who, conversely, actually look a better team now under Roberto Martinez than they did last season, and are currently above Manchester United in the table), Moyes has yet to show that he is able to adapt to the step up in expectation which comes with managing arguably the biggest and most famous football club in the world.

Personally, I think Manchester United would be absolutely mad to sack Moyes now.  The changeover from the Sir Alex Ferguson period was always going to take time, and Moyes deserves a chance to put his own stamp on things at the club - but he needs to decide what that stamp will look like, and act on it!

Manchester United will still be an attractive, desirable destination for top players during the summer transfer window; a club of that stature, with that record of success, doesn't lose its appeal after just one dodgy season.  But Moyes needs to throw his weight around in the transfer window, and start to shape the team he wants to see at Old Trafford, because another season like this one probably won't be tolerated by a club so used to winning trophies.

The word 'crisis' is bandied around far too much, these days.  Manchester United are not a club 'in crisis'.  As a Norwich City fan, I would be delighted to be sixth in the Premier League.  As an (adoptive) Viktoria Plzeň supporter, I would've loved to reach the Last 16 of the Champions' League, instead of going out in the Group Stages.  In the grand scheme of things, Manchester United fans still have it pretty good; getting knocked out of cup competitions and scrapping for mid-table finishes is day-to-day life for the majority of football fans, season after season.


Kim Smith said...

The title is interesting but it is not a weak pun in the title because you discuss the story in detailed and with passion that's the point as well as you give us ideas.

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