Is David Moyes ready for Manchester United? More to the point, are United ready for Moyes?
As a Liverpool fan I couldn’t be happier. I may stand to be proved wrong in time, but then if I was afraid of that I wouldn’t publish my thoughts and views on this. But I cannot help thinking this is a gamble just waiting to implode. There are so many questions, big questions, that need answering and even the most devoted United follower must allow himself a period of introspection to consider an answer.
When Moyes took over at Everton in March 2002 they were only out of the relegation zone on goal difference. Moyes would eventually steer them clear of the drop and he set about building ‘his’ team. Over the past 10 years, Everton has become unmistakeably Moyes team. Combative, hard to beat, with players who get amongst the opposition and hassle them into making mistakes. He was one of the first managers to employ a 4-5-1 system, so loved by clubs keen to maintain their Premier League presence. A system which is as much about what you do when you don’t have the ball as when you do. He wouldn’t employ strikers in the conventional way, preferring a big man who would bustle defenders and be able to create knock-downs for attacking midfielders.
Is this the United way? Is this the style United fans want to see? When you’re competing against clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich do you just want to be ‘hard to beat’ or do you want to play attractive football? Is Van Persie willing to play the Yakubu or the Anichebe role?
One aspect Ferguson was very good at was squad management. He understood a player is rarely on form for nine months of the year, so he would rest them. You rarely had much fuss in the press about him leaving out players, yet other managers would be questioned when their star players spent time on the bench. United rarely lost too many games during the second half of the season, with Ferguson taunting rivals that they knew what it was like to win a title. One could argue Moyes only ever had a small squad to play with at Everton, so he had to juggle his resources as best he could to maintain their presence in the Premier League, but United have completely different ambitions to Everton, the pressure is greater and so is the spotlight.
Moyes could get away with seeking out ‘value’ in the transfer market and players like Tim Cahill, Nikica Jelavic, Marouane Fellaini are all examples of Moyes ability to pick out a ‘bargain’ in the transfer market and find a player who would fit his style of play. But he cannot look for those players anymore, United fans will not put up with ‘bargains’ they want the best. United fans will be expecting Moyes to compete for players like Lewandowski. But is Moyes comfortable with the type of personality which comes with big wages and big egos?
Possibly the biggest ego Moyes had to deal with was Duncan Ferguson but they had a training ground bust-up and one could argue, ‘Big Dunc’ was just glad to be at a club who would play him. Duncan Ferguson was much less important to Everton than people like Van Persie, Ferdinand or Giggs are to United.
One thing Moyes will have on his side is that United do not possess any real larger than life characters. This is mainly because Ferguson never put up with these players. Anyone showing those kind of tendencies were shipped out, such as Ince, Robson and McClair in the early years, to Beckham, Veron and Stam later on. But is Moyes able to maintain this element of the squad? Will he be able to resist a player who might upset the equilibrium just because the owners and/or the fans may want him? Would Moyes be able to convince players like Giggs or Scholes to stay on as Ferguson was able to?
Ferguson was able to get rid of big names at United but only after he’d won a couple of trophies and eventually ended the clubs 25 year search for a league title. Moyes doesn’t come in with that amount of kudos and you can hardly imagine even his most ardent fans defend him with the phrase “yeah but he’s a winner, isn’t he?”.
My feeling about Moyes is that he is a manager who has the ability to make average players into good ones. He has the ability to instill belief into a player for whom that may be lacking. But what about a player who is already good or even very good? If you’re Robin Van Persie and have just gone through the season he has, you’re called to the manager’s office during the summer and he tells you that you need to ‘up your game’ for the next season. If that manager was Ferguson you probably wouldn’t question it, when you consider all he has won in the game. But if that manager is Moyes, surely you might consider comparing cv’s? Moyes has lead a team out in a cup final once in his career, losing to Chelsea in 2009. Is he really a man for the big occasion? Does he really know what it takes for a quality player to perform on the highest level?
There will be many players within the United squad who will continue to play for the club because it’s United, but how long can that last? I watched Graeme Souness systematically take apart a legendary Liverpool side and replace it with players who were desperate to emulate their heroes but just never quite had the ability. Was Souness scared of the ‘big personality’? Graham Taylor was always regarded as a good club manager, having taken Watford from Division Four to Division One or getting Aston Villa back out of the Second Division. But he was found out at international level and proved himself to be very good at making average players believe they were good. With England he surrounded himself with the likes of Andy Sinton, Tony Dorigo, Carlton Palmer yet struggled with players like Gary Lineker, Paul Gascoigne and John Barnes.
Moyes is joining a global brand. This is one of the most prestigious jobs in world football. Is he ready for the scrutiny he will be under? Ironically, his first game in charge could be the Community Shield and if he wins that it will be his first piece of silverware since Preston won the Second Division in 2000. If he wins his first game at Old Trafford it will be the first time he has won there as a manager. In fact in 10 years he has yet to win at United, Liverpool, Chelsea or Arsenal. Yet many point to his ‘tactical nous’ as a manager. During his tenure at Goodison Park he has guided Everton to top ten finishes in each of the last 6 seasons. Their only Champions League place finish came in the same season Liverpool won the competition and were eventually installed by UEFA to defend their title at the expense of Everton. Moyes has never competed in a Champions League match, yet he is taking over a club who considers it their right to be there every single year. Have many people in Europe even heard of David Moyes?
In European games Moyes will now have to deal with teams coming to Old Trafford happy to defend, just like his Everton teams did. Now he’ll have to devise a way of breaking that down
Is Moyes ready for the press? Has he really got any idea of the spotlight which will now be on him and is he a strong enough character to deal with it? We will never see the like of Ferguson again as club management has changed beyond all recognition. Ferguson has been able to rule United for years in such a dictatorial manner because of what he has won in the game and the sheer force of his personality. The refusal to talk to the BBC after their documentary about one of his sons, the systematic banning of journalists from press conferences simply because they questioned his methods, these were all pleasures reserved only for Ferguson. But the press now has the chance to get their own back on United now he has moved upstairs. Moyes is unlikely to want Ferguson to be too visible for fear of undermining his authority. Few United fans will remember but the club had real problems when their last icon, Sir Matt Busby, stepped down in a manner similar to Ferguson. He too moved upstairs and within 5 years the club were relegated, despite Busby even taking back the management reins for a while.
As I have said, United should be one of the most prestigious jobs in world. But would you have been surprised if you read the morning headlines saying the new manager of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Juventus was going to be David Moyes? I suspect you would. When Bayern were seeking a replacement for Jupp Heynckes, do you think Moyes was on their list?
Perhaps the grand plan is for the owners to have more of a say in the way the club is run. They tried hawking the club around the world to get it registered on any stock market which would have them, before they found the New York Stock Exchange as the only takers. Perhaps they are looking at steering the club more in a direction Ferguson would never have sanctioned, and of course as Ferguson had the complete backing of the fans it was unlikely the owners were ever going to win a public tug-of-war. With Moyes things could be very different indeed. With the debt repayments secured against the club, Champions League qualification is imperative and so the pressure on Moyes will not just come from the fans if he cannot deliver this as a minimum.
It has long been debated the next man to take over from Ferguson has the toughest job of all. The club and squad just has his smell all over it, so will the next man get long enough to mould it into ‘his team’? Surely, Ferguson’s replacement would have to at least emulate his achievements just to be considered a success and so how many years without silverware would a loyal fanbase endure? Perhaps this is the tactic to lure a big name to replace Moyes? If you’re Guardiola you will have a much easier time taking over from a man like Moyes than you would replacing Ferguson as you would imagine the club/fans would be desperate for success again.
You could argue, as a Liverpool fan have I got any right to suggest these things and question them? I generally do not write about Manchester United as I am clearly biased against them and any article from me is unlikely to be balanced. But I watched my club get taken apart by Souness and then again by Benitez and Hodgson and it is tough to watch. If Liverpool had kicked-on from their 2nd place in 2009 they would be ideally placed to take advantage of this possible power vacuum. But the sad fact is they did not, and that is why a manager such as Brendan Rodgers is in place. If Liverpool were still very much a top four club Rodgers would be nowhere near Anfield, instead he is able to develop a project with the aim of returning to those heights.
Moyes was able to develop a project at Everton and achieved the aim of a top ten finish. He has now taken charge of a club with much higher aspirations and much less patience, where simply finishing above Liverpool is just not good enough.