David Moyes says that the latest setback in Manchester United’s season is ‘as bad as it gets’ but what if it’s not?
What if United slip even further down the Barclays Premier League table and go out of Europe to Olympiacos next month?
What if the company’s share price continues to drop on the New York Stock Exchange and the Glazer family’s patience runs out?
Sunday’s 2-2 draw with bottom-of-the-table Fulham marked a new low in Moyes’s troubled reign and, for the first time, there are murmurings within the corridors at Old Trafford and the club’s Carrington training ground that he might not make it beyond his first season at United.
For now, it’s just a rumour. Workplace gossip. It is understood that there is no immediate threat to Moyes’s job and the club are still looking at the long term.
But United’s resolve is being tested on an almost weekly basis.
Tomorrow, Moyes takes his team to Arsenal and he could not pick a better moment to register the first away win of his career against one of the traditional Big Four.
It will be his 49th attempt, and statistics like that only play into the hands of his critics.
After that game United will fly to Dubai for a warm-weather training break.
It is designed to be the kind of team-bonding exercise that worked so well for Moyes at Everton but, as he has realised very quickly, Manchester United are an altogether different club.
There are concerns the divisions that have appeared between different factions in his squad — a problem that went largely unnoticed under the iron rule of Sir Alex Ferguson — will be even more apparent when the players are together for five days at such a frustrating point in their season.
Captain Nemanja Vidic is by no means the only one heading for the exit this summer and having to keep so many bruised egos in check has added to the weight of problems on Moyes’s shoulders.
‘There are a few people questioning the wisdom of such a trip considering the mood swings of certain players,’ remarked one insider last night.
Moyes was said to be ‘down’ when he arrived at Carrington yesterday before holding a meeting with his coaching staff to sift through the Fulham disappointment.
After eight league defeats, Darren Bent’s stoppage-time equaliser at Old Trafford left Moyes’s side nine points behind fourth-placed Liverpool in the race for the final Champions League place.
Whereas Liverpool were quite breathtaking in their demolition of Arsenal at the weekend, United’s lack of creativity against Fulham caused widespread disbelief.
When the plan to bombard his opponents with high balls failed, Moyes simply threw more strikers into the mix with Juan Mata, signed for £37million to provide a creative spark, frequently shunted out on to the wing.
Amazingly, the OPTA statistics show that Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, United’s first-choice strike partnership, exchanged just six passes all game — and two of those came from the kick-off.
Andy Cole, the former United striker and now a club ambassador, commented: ‘We don’t attack the way we used to. We play a different way now. And the manager is clearly missed. He was the king. With him gone, teams have more confidence coming to Old Trafford.’
Not for the first time this season the announcement of added time — Fergie Time — brought a groan on Sunday. There is a palpable sense of anxiety about United’s ‘mental softness’, as Moyes put it — and it’s justified.
The champions have conceded a costly late goal at home no fewer than five times, and on this occasion their manager’s touchline celebrations proved to be horribly premature.
Moyes is a good man, a proud man. But right now it feels as though there are banana skins lying around every corner.
‘We thought it was going to turn,’ said Michael Carrick. ‘We’ve thought that all season and we still believe it will. But it seems like setback after setback at the moment.
‘We’ll pick ourselves up. We have a big game on Wednesday now and the only way to deal with it is to move on. The players care just as much, if not more, than anybody else. No-one wants to go through a spell when people are questioning you and things are going wrong.’
The usually partisan Manchester Evening News ran a front-page headline declaring ‘Sorry Moyes, this is just not good enough’, and there is a sense that the fans’ patience is beginning to wear thin.
The Glazers, meanwhile, make their judgments based on one thing only and the increasing likelihood that United will fail to finish in the top four would cost the club millions.
It could also have an impact on their ability to attract top players this summer — as well as persuade Rooney to sign a new £300,000-a-week deal — and the Americans must also decide if Moyes is still the man to oversee a £100million rebuilding job.
Worryingly for him, this might not be as bad as it gets. – Daily Mail