It started with a few short-lived moments of joy, but it’s been downhill ever since. Manchester United announced that they were cutting their losses and David Moyes has been sacked as club manager. Sunday’s 2-0 loss at Everton was the final straw for the board of directors. Moyes’ tenure has been disappointing at almost every level, and if United’s fortunes aren’t set straight quickly, their fall from grace will be more daunting than that of Liverpool.
The decline started at a level above even the manager himself. Ed Woodward, the recently appointed chief executive following David Gill’s retirement in the summer, has proven directionless when tasked with improving United’s already aging squad. The summer transfer window saw United’s search for a midfielder to replace the peerless Paul Scholes met with no clear resolve and multiple rejections. While Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas would have been ideal replacements for the elderly playmaker, the likelihood of either joining was slim given the alternatives presented to both; join Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich or stay at your boyhood club.
Their search then turned to Ander Herrera of Atletico Bilbao, more of a box-to-box player, before settling for Moyes’ old favourite, Marouane Fellaini. Not only did their capture of the Belgian illustrate a badly calculated transfer policy, but it left them with a midfielder that would struggle to make a noticeable impact all season.
The scattergun approach to all-star, big name signings continued into January with the signing of Juan Mata from Chelsea for £38 million. While there are arguably few better number 10s in world football than Juan Mata, he was the wrong signing to invest so much money and faith in. Mata’s arrival has created even greater competition for a place already contested by both Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa (and even Adnan Januzaj to a lesser extent). Most managers live and die by their transfer dealings, and this is no exception to the rule.
Perhaps it’s only becoming clear in the cold light of day just how far behind United’s squad was in comparison to their title rivals in 2012. Their title victory that season came against the odds given the monumental spending of Manchester City and Chelsea. The difference between the clubs however was that United had an established team that knew the manager, widely regarded as one of the best ever. A good goalkeeper can win his team 10 points a season, but a good manager can win the title with a less than stellar squad, clearly. A lot has been made over the fact that Moyes lost a dressing room of star players, but it seems unlikely that they even believed in him from the start.
Finally, consider the change in situation for David Moyes himself. Managing Everton meant that they had a degree of consistency; with a limited budget, his teams were comfortably in the top seven more often than not, sometimes challenging for the elusive fourth place finish. Moyes went from a team that had not won a trophy in his 10 year history to a club that is expected to win, regardless of whoever was in charge, and win in style.
It all made for an unsettling start to the new post-Ferguson era at United. The result of it has proved damaging, not only for the club but also for a manager that less than a year ago was regarded as one of the most able in the Premier League. Supporters will be left wondering what might have happened had Ferguson nominated someone else to follow in his wake. Jose Mourinho would probably have continued that success, albeit for a limited tenure. Further abroad, Jurgen Klopp wouldn’t have left Borrussia Dortmund with unfinished business.
The sad reality is that while David Moyes’ tenure at Everton was admirable, the leap in expectation has proved too much for him. Very few would have been able to succeed given the circumstances.