WHAT TO DO WITH DAVID MOYES?
A large part of me is willing to give David Moyes a full summer transfer window and another season in which to fully stamp his authority on Manchester United on and off the pitch. But there is another part of me, an increasingly restless part, that wants him out of the club before he can do any more damage to the club’s history and reputation. Why? I’ve come up with eight reasons thus far:
1) His overall defensive mind-set
Since when have teams visiting Old Trafford been allowed to have the ball because United are only set up to play on the counter attack? The answer – since David Moyes took over. I don’t care what his personal footballing philosophies are: that is not the United way. The Reds should play possession football and look to dominate and tire teams forced into doing more leg-work. Instead, Moyes packs the red half with bodies to try and stifle the opposition.
Supposedly, such a negative outlook explains the unacceptable home form in the league this year, with losses to sides such as West Brom, Everton and Newcastle and similarly ridiculous draws against Southampton and Fulham. Add those thirteen lost points on to United’s current points total? They’d be level with City on 70 and four from top spot. Cup exits to Swansea and Sunderland can be attributed to similar reasons – both those sides had more of the ball according to the possession stats – and it is just not good enough. Fortress Old Trafford is crumbling day by day and this has to change, fast.
2) Playing individuals out of their positions
The below are just painful to watch on a regular basis. Chris Smalling and Antonio Valencia at right back. Danny Welbeck, Shinji Kagawa and Juan Mata out wide. Marouane Fellaini holding in front of the back four. Wayne Rooney and Phil Jones in central midfield. Yes, on occasion a player can be put somewhere specific to do a job and counter a certain threat. But it shouldn’t be a go-to solution and a regular feature of starting elevens.
The aforementioned players have had their best games this season when playing in their actual position. In case Moyes has forgotten, that’s Smalling and Jones at centre back, Valencia out wide hugging the right touchline, Kagawa and Mata in behind the striker and Rooney and Welbeck leading the line. Fellaini? In the stand, watching from afar. And if he has to feature, he can come on in injury time to hold the ball up in the corner (see Olympiakos at home). Magnificent.
3) General refusal to drop ‘bigger’ names regardless of form
The management has been cowardly this season. If Rooney or van Persie or Carrick are having a ‘mare – just take them off. If they are in a rough patch of form – a game or two out of the side cannot do any harm. So what if someone’s miffed? The individual obviously need to do better. Along these lines, Moyes has mis-managed United’s ‘flair’ players this season. The likes of Kagawa, Nani and Januzaj are prone to being hooked after just one bad half or game, whilst the likes of Carrick and van Persie, Ferdinand, Evra and Young (don’t get me started) have produced repeated dire showings and are rewarded with long runs in the side. Then take the most recent Bayern Munich game, where favouritism and fear of keeping Rooney happy cost United dear.
The second Moyes removed Darren Fletcher, Bayern totally overran the midfield. Yes, more potency was required up front but Rooney should have been the player to go since he had faltered all game and was clearly unfit. Moyes wasn’t big enough to make that call – just as he admitted with van Persie in the Newcastle game, when he was more concerned about the press and fans reaction to such a decision. He should be more ballsy with his selections and take a leaf from Fergie’s book if a message needs to be sent. But if not, he should at least be consistent with the treatment of the squad.
4) Persisting with average players, often ahead of better ones
Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and Tom Cleverley I’m looking at you. Many a United fan squeals in agony when the latter two in particular are featured in a starting line-up. They regularly take the places of others who, in stark contrast, can all create something out of nothing and are genuinely exciting to watch, but often Moyes will inexplicably opt for Valencia, Young and Cleverley, who are predictable, one dimensional, slow and unskilful.
As already suggested, Nani, Januzaj and Kagawa are all the exact opposite of that list of adjectives and at times this season would have been exactly what a ponderous and lethargic United display might have needed. In addition, Alex Buttner is a hard worker but a dire defender (granted he has to play on occasion to give Patrice Evra a rest), and Javier Hernandez is an excellent goalscorer but largely awful footballer. I wouldn’t be sad to see any of this lot go in the summer and hopefully Moyes has had adequate time to realise this in his persistence in playing them.
In 50 games so far this season, every single line-up has been different. There have been in excess of 25 different combinations at the back. No defensive consistency or stability has led to very little consistency and stability in terms of results, which have been up and down to say the least. Of course, as Moyes’s predecessor showed, rotation is key to maintaining a challenge on all fronts throughout a long season. But in the past, an appropriate balance was found – clearly, this year, one has been lacking.
6) Overly content with one-goal leads, and even draws
In fairness to Moyes, this trait began creeping into United in the latter Fergie years as well. But he has done nothing to eradicate its presence. Southampton, Cardiff, Sunderland – even Bayern Munich at home in the Champions League, where there was no real danger of a United second after Vidic’s first – all games that should have resulted in a red win.
There have been a startling lack of 1-0s which became a signature element of previous title winning seasons in games where they were not playing particularly well. United are no longer any good at ‘holding on’ to crucial results in any game, let alone big ones, and this mentality stems from the manager. It is not positive enough, and again, not good enough.
7) Emphasis on work-rate and ‘try-hard’ ethos among players and staff
Everybody loves a trier. But at Manchester United, there might just be too many of them right now. Again, I mention the likes of Buttner, Cleverley, Young, Hernandez – who will have a good game occasionally but will just run around for 90 minutes without much product or ultimate efficiency in most of the others. Or get the basics wrong and inexplicably fall over/miss a sitter/underhit a key pass/play another into trouble. It’s become all too common this season, and the problem is, such shortcomings are identifiable in the coaching staff as well – Round, Lumsden, Neville… and maybe Moyes himself.
The old English adage of he who gives his all, is good enough. It’s what is drilled into you from a young age at school and club level. But at the highest level – nay, at the Manchester United level – it most certainly is not. With Sir Alex, planning, effort and team awareness wasn’t good enough. Sheer quality was what mattered – if you weren’t up to scratch, you weren’t played, even if you were a new signing – just ask Taibi, Miller, Djemba-Djemba, Bellion et al. Then see Keane, Cantona, Cole, Giggs, van Nistelrooy and Ronaldo for model exemplars. Selfish, moody and often controversial – but they seldom missed a game for all the right reasons.
8) Negative press conferences and media engagements
Moyes tends to exude little confidence in all public commitments, and has done since day one. Within them, there’s the persistent erring on the side of caution, whilst forever using the word ‘try’ in pre- or post-match statements of ‘intent’, along with ‘we’ll do our best’. He freely talks up other clubs and their players but is only ponderous and tentative when mentioning his own. Reading between the lines and the headlines from the national newspapers, there’s clearly been some smatterings of unrest behind the scenes too.
We’ve heard various things concerning Ferdinand, Vidic, Giggs, Nani and Hernandez. None of them positive, and there’s usually no smoke without fire. Mismanagement? Who knows.
It’s a difficult decision for sure. There are also pros alongside all these cons of course – his promotion of Januzaj, refocusing of Rooney, tactical astuteness in Europe and the signing of Juan Mata to surmise the first few that come to mind. What do I think the United board will do? Stick with their man – for the time being, and at least until this time next summer. But I am certainly not alone in having increasingly strong doubts that Moyes is not the right man to lead Manchester United forward. For the club’s sake, I hope I am wrong. As ever in football, it is likely that time will tell.