It has, without hint of hyperbole, been the most disastrous season at Manchester United in a quarter-century. Transition from Sir Alex Ferguson may have proven difficult whomever was appointed at the club, but in David Moyes there is an increasing body of evidence that the club’s executive has made a serious mistake.
After all “transition” is a word that can be applied to Manchester City, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Chelsea to different levels of success or failure this season.
But Moyes it is – and the Scot has undoubtedly made mistakes across his 50 games in charge. From pre-season planning, to transfer farce, coaching methodology and those oh so very odd press conferences – Rant takes a look. In no particular order of importance.
1. Pre-season purgatory
When Rant argued back in August that United’s pre-season focused too strongly on marketing, with too few quality opponents scheduled, the prevailing wisdom appeared to be, ‘this is always the way’. Yet, with a tough start to the season the Reds began the campaign undercooked on the ball and over-baked without it. Little wonder, with Moyes’ boot camp consisting of long-running aerobic drills and very little ball work.
2. Ruining Kagawa’s preparation
Kagawa has suffered for almost constant football over the past five seasons, yet Moyes’ split the Japanese player’s summer break in two, disrupting what should have been a carefully managed programme. Kagawa was recalled early to join a series of marketing events on the Japan leg of United’s summer tour – appearing first at an extended press-conference in Tokyo, then playing 45 minutes of a tepid friendly. Kagawa was then sent back on holiday again. Sensible it was not.
3. Summer transfer market madness
Cesc Fabregas, Ander Herrera, Gareth Bale, Leighton Baines, Sami Khedira, Daniele De Rossi, Thiago Alcântara – and the aforementioned Fellaini. FELLAINI!! It seems as if the only impostor attempting to muscle in on a hitherto smooth, if under-funded, transfer machine was Moyes himself. After all, if the ‘word-on-the-street’ is accurate Moyes simply didn’t want Alcântara – available for a bargain £17 million – when the club had put in much of the groundwork. What the very f*ck.
4. Fellaini farce
The Belgian’s transfer was a farce unworthy of far lesser clubs than United, but one foisted on an outfit previously proud of its professionalism. That United paid £4 million over Fellaini’s buy-out clause is embarrassment enough. That the midfielder should prove wholly unworthy of a place in the Reds’ squad simply adds salt to a gaping wound.
5. iPad idiocy
It’s all very good installing a “high tech scouting system” at Carrington, including iPads and analytics, but if the outcome is ‘Dithering Dave’ failing to deliver quality acquisitions then little improvement has occurred. Evidence that Alcântara was lined-up for a transfer before Moyes delayed on the deal is strong, while no tablet technology can save Moyes from the disaster that has been Fellaini’s acquisition.
6. Pandering to Wayne Rooney
It started in the summer: Moyes’ sycophantic and desperate need to place the Scouser on a pedestal rarely deserved. Not only had Rooney spent a summer desperate to engineer a transfer out of Old Trafford, but as Ferguson’s time drew to a close the striker suffered his worst campaign as a United player. In the intervening months Rooney has occasionally sparkled, but all too often simply been flattered by a manager desperate to please. It is, as the old phrase concludes, little more than a deception.
7. Not picking to form
There were times during United’s 3-0 victory at West Bromwich Albion in March that striker Robin van Persie appeared to be staring at his own shoes – sulking as if a teenager bared from attending a late-night party. It was perhaps the nadir, injuries aside, of van Persie’s season; one in which the Dutchman has made it blatantly obvious he is no longer happy. Yet, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernández have spent most of the season on the sidelines.
8. Backroom turmoil
There has been much debate around Moyes’ decision to sack former assistant manager Mike Phelan along with goalkeeping coach Eric Steele. The Scot’s failure to retain Rene Meulensteen has also been the subject of many column inches. Whatever the reason, the loss of knowledge, experience and link between management and players has proven to be devastating to United’s cause. Moyes should have done better.
9. Giggs sidelined
Moyes and Giggs did not have a dressing room confrontation, but the Welshman’s limited involvement in coaching this seasons is reportedly in no small part due to differences in philosophy. Rumour has it that Giggs will not only retire this summer, but do so unwillingly. Unless Moyes goes, concludes the rumour mill, the Welshman will be gleefully employed away from Old Trafford in the summer.
10. Coaching methodology
On the topic, while some players expressed early season approval of Moyes’ boot-camp methodology, few in the sports science community concur. Is it a co-incidence that United’s injuries have been so devastating this season? Perhaps, but then there is more than a pause for thought. Giggs and Moyes reportedly fell out over the manager’s insistence on lengthy defensive training sessions too. This is, after all, not the United way.
11. Rotation policy
Or lack thereof. Moyes’ use of a large squad is a contradiction. In 50 games as manager Moyes has rotated each time. Yet, as the season began the Scot over-used veteran Rio Ferdinand to such an extent that the 34-year-old was burnt out by October and seemingly heading for retirement. It has become clear Moyes has little idea how to manage a large and diverse squad.
12. Poor use of substitutes
Moyes’ negativity has become the punchline to a very bad joke, but the manager’s bizarre decision to substitute Rooney for Chris Smalling on 88 minutes as United led Southampton at Old Trafford last October seems a good précis. There was no injury to counter, simply a tactical switch to get “more height into the box”. The irony – a very sad one at that – is that United conceded from a corner. One could not, as the saying goes, make this up.
13. Lack of proactivity
It was always antithetical to hope Moyes might become the kind of dynamic, proactive, coach that many supporters believe United missed out on when passing over José Mourinho and Pep Guardola for the main job. The Scot has not disappointed his critics – so rarely changing a game in United’s favour through, for example, substitutions. The Reds’ loss to Bayern last week is a case in point, with Moyes making required changes at least 15 minutes too late.
MEDIA AND FANS
14. Trying – a lot!
He’s trying, oh so very trying. Moyes’ peripatetic use of the word “try” has become a social media meme and a definitive sign of the manager’s weakness. After all, Ferguson simply did – no trying required.
15. Aspiring to be City
The Blues are “at the sort of level we are aspiring to,” said Moyes after Manuel Pellegrini’s men ran out 3-0 winners at Old Trafford. It is the first time in the club’s history anybody has aspired to be like City. Just stop it. Now.
16. Not knowing what he has to do
“I don’t know what we have to do to win,” Moyes confessed after United’s loss at Stoke City in February. The Scot didn’t understand quite how literal the statement would become. Fortunately, while the team has disintegrated under Moyes, there are enough individuals of quality to ensure United’s record against mediocre opposition impresses.
17 & 18. Laying the blame everywhere but at his own doorstep…
Bad luck, injuries, individual mistakes, age profile, Ferguson, a lack of squad depth, a lack of talent – name it and Moyes has blamed it. Just not himself – ever – for the unholy mess that has become United’s season.
… and then point the finger at referees
On that theme, while all managers lay the blame for poor results at officialdom’s doorstep, Moyes has a habit of pointing the finger at the Premier League’s referees more than most. “We’re actually beginning to laugh at them, that’s the thing. It’s really terrible, it really is,” said the Scot after Fabio Borini’s 64th minute penalty in United’s Capital One Cup defeat to Sunderland. United has certainly been no more wronged than any other this season.
19. Talking down the players
“To win the Champions League, you need five or six world-class players,” Moyes said back in September. “That’s the level you have to be at to win it. We’ve not got that.” He was right, of course, but the statement fits a pattern of negativity. “I actually think if Sir Alex was here this year it would be difficult for Sir Alex as well,” he added in March. How supporters laughed. Oh, that’s right – we didn’t.
20. “We enjoyed it…”
… said Moyes after United’s defeat to Munich in the Champions League. The fans didn’t. It gave the impression Moyes has still not grown into the job – a manager permanently on a tourist’s high.
… told Moyes a lot, didn’t they? Except how to manage the club it seems.
22. Lack of ambition
After defeat to mid-table Swansea City in the FA Cup Moyes bemoaned the fact that his side was not “hard to play against.” In response he promised that United would “make it difficult” for mid-table Newcastle United. There’s nothing quite like ambition, or lack of it – a philosophy that has defined a season, to the point that the Scot had two plans in the Reds’ pivotal Champions League fixture with Bayern Munich: to not lose, but if defeat was inevitable, to not lose too badly.
23. Never being far away
“We’ve not got the Champions League next season, but I believe it is not far away,” said Moyes after United tumbled out of Europe last week. About seven points at last count. There is always the promise of jam tomorrow.
24. Pulling the wool over supporters eyes
“It is a work in progress and it will take time to get it exactly how we want it,” said Moyes this season. While a period of transition may be part of the football lexicon, and cyclical changes are frequent at the top, few expected United’s fall to be so hard. After all there are new managers at City, Chelsea, Bayern, Real Madrid and Barcelona this season. None has suffered like United.
25. Over training van Persie
Back in July Moyes admitted that he had “overtrained” van Persie “to build up his fitness” with the Dutchman joining the pre-season camp in Australia late. After two injury-free seasons in succession the striker has missed more than half of United’s games this season. “The only way to solve this problem in Jurassic Park,” said rent-a-gob Dutch fitness coach Raymond Verheijen on Twitter, “is to improve education of these dinosaur coaches, fitness clowns and scientific cowboys.” In hindsight, it’s hard to argue with him.
26. Risking Rooney’s health
There was never a doubt; not a single moment when United’s manager considered not playing Rooney against Bayern in Germany. Less than 30 minutes into the fixture and it was obvious the Scouser was much the worse for his “bruised” – probably broken – toe. By then Rooney was simply hobbling around the centre circle, an inhibitor to United’s performance let alone an aid to an unlikely comeback. “I thought at times he was having a struggle striking the ball.” Well DUH.
27. Risking van Persie’s health
“I think if I’d brought him off (against Newcastle) some people would say ‘What are you doing? You are 1-0 down and you’re taking off your top goalscorer,’” said Moyes back in January. The Dutchman, fresh from a month out, played the full 90 as United lost to the Geordies at Old Trafford. The striker would sit out yet more time in the aftermath, and Moyes would continue to moan about injuries.
USING THE SQUAD
28. Ignoring the next generation
Adnan Januzaj has made an outstanding fist of his debut season in United’s first team, although many supporters argue that the Belgian-Kosovan player would have made it under any management. Yet, the 19-year-old aside, Moyes has offered little playing time to a rash of youngsters who have otherwise been sent out on loan. Winger Jesse Lingard, as one example, could hardly have done more to earn a shot at a place in Moyes’ team. He has spent the season excelling at Birmingham City and Brighton & Hove Albion.
29. “I wanted to give everybody a chance to play”
… said United’s manager more than once this season. Except, of course, he hasn’t – Wilfried Zaha, Fabio da Silva, Anderson, Nani, Shinji Kagawa, and Hernández will attest. You get the picture.
DERBY DAY THRASHINGS
30. Thrashed by Liverpool – twice
“We did a lot of things right,” said the Scot after United’s tame 1-0 defeat at Anfield last autumn. Except score a goal – or even threaten to. Even Moyes did not have the brass balls to make a similar claim as United conceded three to the same opponents at Old Trafford last month. Defeat to major rivals might be worth a P45 in its own right at many clubs throughout Europe.
31. Thrashed be Manchester City – twice
“It is one game,” said Moyes after Manchester City thrashed United 4-1 at Eastlands in September. “There are plenty more to come and plenty of time to fix it.” Except it wasn’t one game, not even nearly, with United losing more than a dozen games across the season, including all four against City and Liverpool.
STRATEGY AND TACTICS
32. Negative tactics
Parking. The. Bus. It’s just not the United way. Nor did it work against Bayern unless, unlike Rant, you witnessed a United victory in this season’s Champions League quarter-final. Yet, it is not just the two-legged defense-minded strategy employed against the German champions that has frustrated – Moyes has sought a safety-first approach all season. It has brought United just 56 goals in the Premier League – 19 fewer than at the same stage last season.
33. Playing football by accident
At Newcastle, Januzaj, Juan Mata and Kagawa combined to provide a flexible, vibrant attacking performance rarely seen under Moyes. It was a fluke. Not that the trio lack talent – far from it – but that they were deployed in tandem at all. Januzaj was overlooked for Ashley Young at the start, while Kagawa and Mata enjoyed more central roles only because Rooney and van Persie sat out the game. There was a similar pattern at Crystal Palace and West Ham United.
34. So few goals
It is a facet of Moyes’ negative approach, United’s direct style, injuries to key strikers or a combination? Either way the blame lays squarely at Moyes’ door, with United failing to match rivals scoring patterns this season. Liverpool has scored 34 more goals in the Premier League, and City 28. At Old Trafford the Reds have scored just 22 times – that’s as many as Stoke, and fewer than West Ham or Swansea City.
35. Long ball nonsense
There have been times when United’s approach this season has mirrored the classic long ball sides of the 1980s – Wimbledon, Cambridge United and Sheffield United. True, Moyes has not instructed Old Trafford’s ground staff to grow the grass longer, nor lay sand in the corners, but direct United undoubtedly has become. In defeat to Stoke at the Britannia, as one example, United launched 47 long balls forward into the swirling Potteries wind. Just 13 found their target.
36. Lack of entertainment
It’s not just about goals though. United’s style under Moyes has rarely brought supporters to their feet. Save for those few matches where United’s more creative players have been unleashed, the Reds functional style rarely seems to excite. Will it improve if Moyes remains at the helm? History and logic dictates this is unlikely.
37. Under-using Hernández
The little Mexican has his critics and plenty of limitations, but the striker is the most ‘natural’ goal-scorer in Moyes’ squad. In a season when United has struggled to score and the Reds’ forward line has often been static, Chicharito’s under-use borders on the bizarre. Hernández will likely leave in the summer to compound Moyes’ failure.
38. Criminal misuse of Kagawa
“They tell me he’s a good player,” declared the manager of Kagawa back in August. ‘They’ apparently didn’t let Moyes know how, or when, to use the Japanese playmaker who has spent much of the season on the bench or stuck on the left-wing. Only in the Spring, with Kagawa and Mata combining to great effect, has the former Borussia Dortmund player been used in a fashion anywhere near optimal. Only for the Japanese to be shunted back to the left in United’s biggest game of the season against Bayern in Germany.
39. Attempting to destroy Juan Mata
“It is like putting a learner in a Ferrari,” said one great Italian coach of Gianluca Vialli’s appointment as Chelsea manager in 1998. In a similar vein Moyes’ early use of the Spanish maestro on the right wing was akin to using an F1 car for the milk round. It might work, but you’re not receiving the full benefit. Once Rooney returns to fitness next season expect the Spaniard to be hanging around the wing once again.
40. Placing Giggs the player in exile
The Welshman may be 40, but he remains the most creative central midfielder on United’s books. The decision to exclude Giggs from so many games this season has, in the context of a potential breakdown in the relationship between player-coach and manager, appeared rather personal.
41. Failing to deal with Ashley Young
Young is not only patently of sub-prime quality, but a serial diver too. Real Sociedad, Wigan Athletic and Crystal Palace can attest to Young’s penchant for taking a tumble, yet Moyes has been unrepentant. “The referee was two yards away from it and gave a penalty,” said Moyes after the Sociedad fixture. “If you need to talk to anybody, you should ask the referee. I didn’t see an issue at all.”
42. Dressing room leaks
Sir Alex locked down internal leaks with such vigour that media and supporters alike could rarely tell insider gossip from deliberate misinformation. Not so under Moyes, where not only have certain players regularly briefed the fourth estate on team news, but political factions can be easily calculated.
On that subject the numbers don’t weigh in Moyes’ favour. In one camp, so the rumour goes, the ‘Everton mob’ of Steve Round, Jimmy Lumsden, Phil Neville and Fellaini, together with Patrice Evra and Wayne Rooney. In the other a large group of disaffected players, player-coaches, and former greats. You do the math!
44. That ridiculous Dubai trip
On the subject of leaks, the word on the street pegs United’s mid-season ‘warm weather training’ camp as little more than marketing activity by day and bar hopping at night. Did Moyes plan the trip? Perhaps not. But the Scot certainly sanctioned it and then empowered the lunatics to take over the asylum.
BEING DAVID MOYES
45. A little boy lost
It is an ephemeral observation, but there’s little about Moyes that inspires confidence. From United’s insipid tactics, to all those desperately strange press conferences. He is a man that appears criminally out of his depth.
46. Dividing the fans
When a small plane carrying the message “Wrong One – Moyes Out” darted over Old Trafford last month it received jeers from United’s match going public. Moyes 1 – 0 protesters. Yet, every poll conducted, from those in the mass media, to fanzines and one on Rant too, concludes that supporters are universally critical of the job Moyes has done.
47. He’s a closet ginger
Enough said, really.
48. That banner
He wasn’t chosen, at least not by the fans – and not by a process that any corporate on the planet would accept. That’s not Moyes’ fault of course, but he has lapped up “support” offered and given very little back.
49. Presiding over more than a dozen defeats
10 defeats in the Premier League, one in the FA Cup, one in the Capital One Cup, two in European competition.
50. Achieving all those records!
- The worst home league form for over a decade
- Knocked out of the FA Cup in the third round – it occurred once under Fergie
- Three defeats in a row for the first time since 2001
- First home defeat to Newcastle United since 1972
- First league defeat to Stoke since 1984
- First ever home defeat to Swansea City
- First home defeat to West Bromwich Albion since 1978
- First time United have conceded a first minute goal at home in the Premier League
- First time City and Liverpool have beaten United home and away in the Premier League era
- United will finish with the lowest points tally in the Premier League era
… and yet there’s bound to be so many more. Add your ideas to the list below!