David Moyes strolled into Carrington on Monday, keys to a sponsored Chevrolet gripped tight in the right hand, BlackBerry in the other; every bit the modern Manchester United manager. The new man toured United’s ever burgeoning complex, posed for photographs and, with his players not due to arrive before Tuesday, casually chatted to catering staff.
He has, we learn from a series of staged photographs, a predilection for hand-crafted suits and expensive slip-on shoes, an office adorned with PC and official United mouse mat, and a subscription to the ever-ubiquitous Sky television. Rumours than Moyes snacked on Mr. Potato crisps, washed down with a cool bottle of Singha beer are yet to be confirmed.
Monday was the Scot’s first official day on the job – and Moyes begins his role with the best wishes of millions, an apparently reportedly substantial transfer budget – to be confirmed – and the safety of a six-year contract. More immediately, Moyes has a host of complicated issues to navigate. The rejoinder: Moyes is a man seemingly at ease in his new surroundings.
Yet, among an overflowing in-box Moyes has at least a dozen critical issue to overcome at Old Trafford; some more pivotal to United’s success and failure than others. But each has the propensity to make or break the Scot’s first season in charge.
Rant has 10 in mind...
The Rooney question
Should he stay or should he go? Sir Alex Ferguson’s assertion, following the Scot’s final match at Old Trafford last May, that Rooney made a second transfer request in three years has provoked a summer of speculation about the Scouser’s future. In briefing and counter briefing each side has played out another drama in the nation’s media over the past six weeks.
The club, sticking with Sir Alex’ line, asserts that Rooney’s transfer request was denied. Rooney’s people argue that no such request was ever made. In truth each is playing a tedious game of chess; sounding out the other before negotiations begin over Rooney’s next contract, or next move. United has already sought prospective buyers on continental Europe. Rooney’s entourage has made no secret of the player’s availability. Moyes’ ability to quickly resolve the drama by placating or replacing the striker could set the tone for United’s season ahead.
Clearing out the dead wood
United completed a stunning Premier League victory in May vanquishing Manchester City in securing the title by 11 points. There are few greater triumphs on which Ferguson could end more than 40 years in the game. Yet, an albeit unfortunate defeat to Real Madrid, together with domestic cup exit at Chelsea’s hands, exposed many of United’s weaknesses. Injuries and age in defence, inconsistency in attack and a criminally threadbare midfield to name but three.
More worrying than the general observation, however, is the form of half-a-dozen seemingly key players, with Anderson, Nani, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, among others, suffering seasons that player and fans alike might rather forget. The former pair will surely leave old Trafford this summer, unless Moyes believes that he can find a consistency in an erratic duo that Sir Alex could not. Young and Valencia, together with Tom Cleverley and Fabio da Silva have much to prove. It is probably too late for Federico Macheda and Bébé.
Integrating a new backroom
“I have worked with Steve, Chris and Jimmy for a number of years and I am delighted they have decided to join me,” said the new manager in a prepared statement as United welcomed Steve Round, Chris Woods and Jimmy Lumsden to the club. Round joins the club as Moyes’ assistant after working at Everton for the past five years. Meanwhile, Woods leaves Everton after 15 years at the club. The former international went to four tournaments in succession with England during the late 1980s and early ’90s. Veteran coach Lumsden has worked with Moyes since the pair worked at Preston North End.
However, the challenge, no matter how talented the new employees, is whether the players will miss Ferguson’s trusted ally Mike Phelan, together with technical mastermind Rene Meulenstein and goalkeeping coach Eric Steele. Indeed, Moyes decision to make wholesale changes is both a statement of confidence, and a significant risk.
Building on David de Gea’s progression
Steele’s departure is perhaps the most curious, with Spaniard de Gea making significant strides during United’s title-winning campaign. No longer the guileless waif, de Gea’s confidence under the high-ball, allied to outstanding reflexes with both hands and feet, seed a ‘world-class’ goalkeeping in the making.
The 22-year-old’s selection as PFA Goalkeeper of the year was perhaps a surprise, but reward nonetheless for progress hard-earned. What then the effect of Wood’s ingress at Carrington? The former England stopper has, after all, made little of Tim Howard, with the American suffering an uncertain season at Goodison Park. Steele’s exit may well be a change too far.
Getting the best out of Javier Hernández and Shinji Kagawa
Five goals this summer take the little Mexican’s international tally to 35 in 53 appearances for El Tricolor. It is an outstanding chronicle that in a little under four years has taken Chicharito to within a dozen goals of the national record; he will surely break it within the year.
And yet Hernández was seemingly further away from a regular United starting berth at the end of Ferguson’s tenure than on the day that he strolled into Old Trafford in summer 2010. True, Robin van Persie’s acquisition impacted heavily on his younger team-mate, but with Rooney out-of-form and Danny Welbeck continuously shot-shy, Hernández might have expected more opportunities. Can Moyes find space in his United team for the Mexican, and with it a guaranteed of goals?
Meanwhile, Kagawa’s progress as United’s leading playmaker depends largely on Rooney’s departure. Should the Englishman stay at Old Trafford then he will almost certainly be deployed in the same deep role that Kagawa prefers to occupy.
Nani, Valencia, Young – a triumvirate of United wingers who seemed anything but in 2012/13. While Nani may yet leave the club this summer, Valencia and Young certainly will not. But can Moyes get more out of the trio than Ferguson could in the season past? Nani’s inconsistency, and sky-high wage demands, is likely to see the Portuguese leave, but Valencia is just a year on from an outstanding campaign in 2011/12. Meanwhile, Young will benefit from greater fitness as much eking the most out of limited talent. Wilfried Zaha could take advantage and quick-step his way straight into Moyes’ first team. But will Moyes afford the former Crystal Palace youngster an opportunity to impress?
On paper United possesses outstanding options in the back-four. Rio Ferdinand enjoyed a fine campaign last season, while Nemanja Vidić has lost none of the competitive edge, even if the Serbian’s fitness is sometimes wanting. In Chris Smalling and Phil Jones the club boasts two of the finest young defensive talents, while Jonny Evans has progressed hugely in the past 18 months. The same is true of Rafael da Silva.
Yet each is also a concern. Time is no friend of Ferdinand, Vidić and Patrice Evra; Smalling, Jones and Evans are of dubious fitness, and Rafael still naïve at times.
Moyes’ response is seemingly to draft in a former colleague in Leighton Baines, with Evra the likely victim. Speculation about a forthcoming bid for Benfica’s Argentinian defender Ezequiel Garay says much for the uncertainty in central positions.
It’s the midfield, stupid
Moyes get’s it. Right?
Relationship with the Glazers
Sir Alex’ complex relationship with the carpetbagging Americans coloured much of the great Scot’s legacy. Here was a man of working roots unedifying in his repeatedly aggressive public support for capitalism’s darker arts. Yet, in that Ferguson retained some ability to manipulate the family, squeezing a debt-burdened corporate bank account for more than £24 million to acquire van Persie last summer.
By contrast Moyes holds none of the power in his relationship with the Glazers. He will work at their whim, whether it is to fund a hugely unlikely deal for Cristiano Ronaldo, or by contrast to stick with Edward Woodward’s pre-IPO assertion that transfer spending would not stretch ‘beyond historical norms’ of around £20 million per season.
Winning over the fans
In truth Moyes’ relationship with Old Trafford’s faithful is dependent on two simple factors: success and style. Indeed, United’s supporters tolerated a far more conservative brand of football in Ferguson’s final decade at the club than the Scot proffered up to and including the 1999 Champions League triumph.
And while United’s support is some of the most patient in England – see exhibit 1, Anderson, for evidence – it is a willingness to endure that has rarely been fully tested in the past quarter-century. Should a summer of significant change, together with heavy investment at City and Chelsea, lead United to a difficult first season under Moyes then patience will indeed be a virtue.