at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
AS a sombre Manchester United party flew home from Greece, the hope among those who matter was that Tuesday’s Champions League humbling at Olympiacos would prove to be as bad as it will get. If David Moyes is still to be around to spearhead a £100million-plus Old Trafford revolution this summer, he must hope they are right.
Football surprises you, whoever you are. Last season, for example, United officials thought Sir Alex Ferguson had a team good enough to finish third in the Barclays Premier League. That team won it by 11 points.
Conversely, this time around nobody at England’s biggest football club expected this. A season of transition spent in the shadow of improving forces from Manchester City and Chelsea was always likely. No one at Old Trafford predicted the campaign would stand on the brink of competitive extinction by the end of February.
At United, only the Glazer family know if they are harbouring any doubts over Moyes’ suitability for his role as manager. As ever, media access lines to the club’s American owners remain closed. However, around the fringes of the United machine — among those a little closer to the action — there is a growing concern today not just that things are not right under Moyes but that they are getting worse. Certainly Tuesday night’s humbling at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium in Athens has hardened this anxiety.
United chief executive Ed Woodward remains supportive of Moyes. He does not believe the club erred in appointing him or in handing him a six-year contract.
What happens over the next few months, however, will have an enormous impact on the health and prosperity of this football club for years to come. As such, it would appear that a very big call indeed will have to be made between now and the season’s end.
United plan to invest significantly in new players this summer. Although they are aware that a huge turnover of players in and out could be unsettling, they are prepared to do whatever is necessary in the transfer market not just to propel the team into the top four but also to win back the Barclays Premier League title. That is the stated aim.
Much of this work will be done before the summer World Cup. Preparing to do business in Spain and Germany, United are ready to follow traditional trends in those countries that generally dictate players are bought and sold early in the off-season.
Therefore, if the problems under Moyes continue then Woodward, his predecessor David Gill, Ferguson and the Glazers will face an enormous decision. Do they allow Moyes to spearhead this ambitious, carefully planned revolution? Do they gamble on the hope that his team will make the necessary steps forward once they are populated by his own players? Or do they simply tear up the six-year blueprint recommended last summer by Ferguson and start the whole thing again under someone new?
Prior to Tuesday’s capitulation in Greece, Moyes’ position was not being discussed by the United board and one awful result during a poor season should not be allowed to change everything.
However, this week’s performance was watched with horror by the United contingent in the directors’ box. The lack of pattern and apparent method was noted. Much more of this and the sands will start to shift significantly beneath the manager’s feet. United have a weekend off now — perhaps just as well given that they were due to face Capital One Cup finalists Manchester City in the league.
In 10 days, however, Moyes and his players go to West Bromwich Albion to start a run of games tough enough to edge United further towards Premier League no-man’s land if improvement isn’t apparent.
Within the Moyes camp, there is no bullishness. The United manager and his staff saw signs on Tuesday that their messages are not getting through to many of the players. That has obviously worried them. Moyes, for example, talked up the partnership between Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie on Monday but it is a union only in name. During Tuesday’s game they exchanged passes only five times while United goalkeeper David de Gea received the ball from a team-mate on 20 occasions, once more than Van Persie.
If he is retained beyond the season — and it remains most likely that he will be — Moyes has his plans mapped out.
He and Woodward know which players they wish to buy and which they wish to move on. It will be a remarkable summer — almost unprecedented — at Old Trafford from that point of view.
The lessons of last summer have been learned. Talk to people at United and they will admit that Woodward and Moyes were relatively unprepared for what they needed to do when Ferguson stood down and also that they chased players like Barcelona’s Cesc Fabregas for far too long.
This time, Moyes is aware that he needs to be sharper, more decisive, when it comes to players. He cannot dawdle at the finish line as he did over Barcelona midfielder Thiago Alcantara. As somebody who knows Moyes has pointed out, his thoroughness, while usually an advantage, can sometimes prove a hindrance.
To this end, shrewd alterations have already been made at United’s Carrington training base. The rather archaic scouting system left behind by Ferguson has been expanded, refined and bolstered by technology and new staff. Moyes has brought in Robbie Cooke, his former chief scout at Everton, and John Murtough, from the Premier League, as Head of Elite Performance. United’s database of players is already much deeper than it was a year ago.
Woodward is also doing his bit to move United forward on other levels. He seems to be growing into his role. In football, though, results will always define you and United know they need to have the right man pressing the buttons on their fancy new machines.
As strange as it sounds, Moyes actually has more to prove now than he did when he succeeded Ferguson last summer. He, like any manager, will only be given so much time. – Daily Mail