There is a risk in analysing this most disappointing season that supporters become trapped in the accusation of infantile complaint. After all, Manchester United’s fans have enjoyed two decades of almost unbroken success. Now is not the time to become churlish. That success was enjoyed until Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, the Glazer family’s parsimony and David Moyes’ incompetence combined to take the club down.
Still, it has been – as a matter of record – United’s worst season since the 1980s. More than results alone, it was a campaign in which the football was rarely enjoyable and the manager came to dominate in such a negative fashion that the overwhelming emotion on David Moyes’ departure was relief – and hope that the old United might return again. It is a damning assessment of Moyes’ reign; he is a man patently unsuited to the club whatever his previous record with Everton.
In truth the season is wrapped up in an assessment of Moyes: negative tactics, anemic thought processes, and a stunningly adverse reaction from United’s multi-millionaires players to the former Everton manager. That United’s board retained faith in the 51-year-old until the spring is perhaps the only surprise in Moyes’ eventual departure.
In retrospect it is hard to reconcile United’s thought process last summer with a club that depicts an image of ultra-professionalism. There was simply no due diligence undertaken on the Scot’s appointment – and United has paid a heavy price for it. Indeed, that price is around £50 million over the next year and untold damage to a reputation hard earned.
Yet, failure is apportioned not only to the now departed manager. Years of underinvestment left a squad shy of Sir Alex Ferguson’s best, no matter Ed Woodward’s belief that United needed “no major retooling” last summer. And where United did chase new players the club did so to comical fashion. Even Juan Mata’s winter purchase was one of expediency over strategy. The approach left Moyes short of players and his masters bereft of credibility.
Still, there is little left to say about Moyes that has not already been written. United’s decision to end the Scot’s reign has empowered the club and fans to move on from a campaign that most hope is a one-off.
Yet, failure has also brought into sharp relief the rebuilding challenge in the coming weeks. United’s test is to ensure that the process is managed correctly this time around. 3/10
– – –
The Scot wasn’t everybody’s choice as United manager. In retrospect it was an appointment in which Moyes was ill-equipped to succeed and one, at least, in which he failed reasonably fast. Foot-in-mouth public relations, a pre-historic tactical approach, an omnishambles of a summer – the campaign could hardly have been worse, nor the Scot’s humiliation greater. Moyes will learn from this, if nothing more than his level is not among the continent’s élite. That is no real criticism. Moyes has many positives, just none of them suited to United, a club too big, too ambitious, and far too political for the Scot’s limited skill set. 3/10
Ryan Giggs – (Player – Interim Manager)
Four games, two wins and a draw. If Giggs’ United had played that form out over the season the Reds would have finished with 66 points – in seventh place. How the saviour hath come. Giggs’ time will arrive as manager and probably at United in three years, although the Welshman is no more qualified to take over the club now than Moyes was last summer. He is United bred, but completely inexperienced in top level management. Still, it was a joy, Ryan.
On the pitch Giggs’ performances were among the best of any United midfielder this season. That says more about the squad than a 40-year-old’s endurance, but there is every reason to believe that if the Welshman retires this summer he does so on a high. 6/10
– – –
David de Gea
There are few ‘keepers in world football that claim to reach the young Spaniard’s standard. De Gea enjoyed a fine campaign in 2012/13, but he bettered it over the past 10 months. It says much when a goalkeeper is the club’s best performer, yet De Gea earned all the plaudits that have come his way in recent times. Brilliant with his hands, superb off the ground, and commanding in the area – there are now few faults. The former Atlético Madrid player should have been named PFA Goalkeeper of the Year and will enjoy a summer in Brazil with the Spanish World Cup squad. 9/10 – Rant’s Player of the Year.
– – –
One final campaign for Potty Paddy the old stager. It has been a mixed year indeed. Moyes’ aggressive search for a new left-back in the summer appeared to signal the end of Evra’s Old Trafford tenure only for the Frenchman to enjoy a fine first half of the campaign. Still, while Evra has continued to surge forward with alacrity, he has simply ignored the defensive responsibilities that come with being United’s left-back. There is still much to value in Evra’s experience and dressing room leadership, but there is also plenty of evidence that his legs have gone. United will recruit a replacement this summer. Whether Evra remains at Old Trafford beyond the summer must be in doubt. 5/10
Rafael da Silva
Unfortunately the Brazilian has regressed this season, in part due to Moyes’ apparent lack of faith in the youngster, but more with injuries again persisting. No player has missed more games through injury this season than Rafael – a data point that suggests United must buy adequate cover this summer. There is hope though. Should Rafael finally reduce those lengthy spells in the physio room prospective manager Louis van Gaal will enjoy use of a fine attacking full-back. 5/10
The limited but willing Dutchman has taken some of the pressure of Evra this season, although not always to positive effect. There has been the odd game in which Büttner’s defending hasn’t been totally calamitous. In that the 25-year-old has certainly improved. But in truth there is little about the former Vitesse Arnhem player that is good enough for United’s level, although Evra’s likely departure may proffer Büttner one final season at the club. 4/10
So long, Rio, not soon to be forgotten. This was in truth not Ferdinand’s finest campaign. Off the pitch there remains more than a little suspicion Rio was among the co-conspirators easing Moyes out of a job. On it, the former England international proffered too many calamitous defensive performances. It wasn’t all his fault of course given the manager’s poor use of a squad containing five international central defenders. It has been an outstanding career, if a mediocre end to 12 fabulous years at Old Trafford. 4/10
No longer a kid, there are questions about just how far Evans can go at United. There is little doubt that the Northern Irishman has progressed each year over the past four, but with a patchy injured record and a penchant for the odd positional mistake, it is not obvious Evans is United’s real answer. At least not at the very top level. The question, of course, is about ambition. If Evans isn’t the man to take United towards domestic and European glory then the club will spend heavily this summer. Evans simply must stay fit to be useful next season. 6/10
One step forward, too many back once again for the talented Jones. The Englishman has appeared in midfield, central defence and right-back this season – it has not helped his progress. Neither have stubborn injuries that have come through ill luck and poor judgement. Experience should push Jones into an élite group of high class central defenders, but as ever time spent with the physio is time not applied on the pitch. The next 12 months are crucial if Jones is to mature into the fine central defender for which many believe he has the raw talent. 6/10
Vidić’s final season at United was not of the rare vintage sometimes enjoyed by the Serbian in the past eight years, but he was still United’s best defender over the campaign. Vidić suffered for injury and inconsistency at times, but if anything his performances improved after the new year when most of his colleagues regressed. The player’s departure should have been handled with more grace, but United will still miss him – and credit is due to a campaigner who refused to let his standards drop to the very last. 7/10
This is now a career at a cross-roads. Smalling has failed to progress over the past two seasons, where injury and deployment out of position have obviously hindered. Smalling is simply ill-equipped to play right-back at the highest level. Natural though defending may come, the former Fulham player is still to improve on sub-par distribution. There is more to come from a player still the right side of 25, but it needs to come soon if he is to make a real impact at United. Like many of his defensive peers at United Smalling must stay fit. 5/10
– – –
One wonders how many times Valencia has put in a cross this season without first knowing where and when his team-mates were arriving. The low success rate is in part due to the one-dimensional nature of United’s tactics for much of the campaign, but so too is the Ecuadorian at fault for the low quality of his delivery. This is to say little of Valencia’s confidence, which has been shot for some time. It is a serious and suspiciously permanent failing in a player who may well have reached the end of his lifespan at Old Trafford. 5/10
The Portuguese signed a contract extension last summer, although it was one of the more curious pieces of business taken by the club. Just 13 appearances this season say much – both for the winger’s poor injury record and the lack of faith demonstrated by the former manager. Nani has talent, but it is worthless without application, and there has been so little over the past 12 months. The assumption is United will take whatever fee is available this summer. Only the hopeful believe that Nani will finally find the consistency of performance that his natural talent demands. 4/10
The poster child for United’s midfield failings. Young has never been of the requisite quality, but when there are just 13 Premier League starts the question must be asked about what value the former Aston Villa player brings for more than £5 million a season in wages? Mediocre doesn’t do Young’s performances justice; they are much worse than that. Upgrade required. 4/10
There was little the Belgian could do about United’s astonishingly haphazard acquisition last summer, nor the offensively large fee. Perhaps the former Evertonian was not at fault for a poor injury record either. That is where the sympathy ends though. On the pitch mediocre performances have been his highlight this season – it has often been much worse. The raw materials are simply absent too. Poor distribution, a chronic lack of speed and a coward’s use of the elbow are permanent failings. United might even do well to take a huge loss of the player this summer. 3/10
Cleverley has regressed from a low base this season. This observation is true whether United’s ‘scapegoat’ has received unfair criticism or not. Those who watched the youngster in loan spells at Watford, Leicester and Wigan Athletic hoped for much more by now. Instead, there are tepid performances followed in rapid succession by another marketing blitz by ‘Team TC23’. The brand may not impact on Cleverley’s game, but it is the source of mirth when the Basingstoke-born midfielder is so abject on the pitch. Much more is required if Cleverley survives the summer cull. 4/10
Carrick’s worst campaign in four years is the one for which the Geordie deserves most criticism. Those who chide the former Tottenham Hotspur player as passive rarely understand Carrick’s real value as a player who expertly rotates possession and offers understated defensive nous. Yet, all his critics came home to roost this season – a campaign in which Carrick’s total lack of ‘oomph’ is compounded by an awful sense of complacency. Must do better. 5/10
Kagawa’s quality is not in doubt; it is the Japanese playmaker’s impact that counts. True, he has too often been deployed out of position, first in wide areas and then, somewhat bizarrely, deeper under Giggs. The former Borussia Dortmund player has so much to offer, but with Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata competing for the same position there remains a question about whether Kagawa will fulfill his fine potential at United. Deserves one more season to turn his Old Trafford career around; there is enough talent to do so. He may even find a place on the left side of van Gaal’s 4-3-3 formation. 6/10
It has been a stellar campaign for the teenager, even if the Belgian appeared sparingly after new year. Januzaj’s rise from academy, to reserves, and then United’s first team has been rapid and spectacular. Yet, it is on merit that the player has earn so many plaudits this season. Januzaj is surely a future world star in the making and likely to be a major factor in new manager van Gaal’s first choice team. Kudos also goes to United’s executive team for sorting out the youngster’s contract early. Lessons have apparently been learned from Paul Pogba’s departure. 7/10
It was, at first, seemingly sentimental: Fletcher’s return to United’s first team. Yet, there have also been some positive performances from the Scot. Just about enough to believe that Fletcher retains a future at the club in some capacity. It still appears unlikely that the midfielder will ever attain his very best standards, but if infrequent appearances augment a squad light on midfield talent, then there is much to be gained from keeping the former academy player on the club’s books for another season. 5/10
The Spaniard’s acquisition formed part of no United transfer strategy. This was all about opportunism. Yet, United have signed a player of rare class who should, all things being equal, enjoy many successful seasons with the club. True, Moyes deployed the playmaker out of position in wide areas for much of the spring, while Giggs did not use the former Chelsea man in each of his four games in charge. Moments of sublime skill interspersed a mixed bag of performances. There is much more to come, but will van Gaal find room at number 10 for the 25-year-old? 7/10
– – –
Robin van Persie
It was the year in which a new term was coined: ‘Moyesitis’. It may well be coincidence, but van Persie’s return from seclusion in Holland, where the striker was apparently recuperating from injury, came just days after Moyes’ dismissal. van Persie and the Scot were simply never on the same mental page. On the pitch injury has curtailed the Dutchman’s impact, although 18 goals in 23 starts across all competitions attests to the striker’s enduring quality. It should come as no surprise when the Dutchman enjoys an injury-free, goalscoring campaign next season under his fellow countryman! 6/10
Rooney spent much of the summer fêted by Moyes, and too many weeks with smoke blown firmly up his rear. There have been outstanding performances, but in truth far less frequent than the established narrative might have supporters believe. The obsequious sycophancy of the autumn has been replaced by a new reality – Rooney is not guaranteed a place in van Gaal’s team. Still, the numbers are undoubtedly good for a player who has been deployed in a deeper role most of the season. It is another big campaign for the Englishman next year. 7/10
One wonders just how long the Mexican will remain at United as understudy to Rooney and van Persie. Hernández suffers for being inflexible in an age when pliability is king. Given more than 40 games a season Chicharito would score at one in every two. Yet, he will never become first choice at Old Trafford. It should surprise few, but sadden many, if Hernández chooses to leave United after the World Cup. The Mexican deserves to be more than a reserve, although just nine goals in all competitions tells a perfunctory tale of the campaign. 5/10
For a period during the middle of the campaign Welbeck scored freely – enjoying a rare spell deployed at centre forward. There is much to admire in the Longsight-born striker, whose all-round game is maturing nicely. Goals count though – and there have been just 10 in 36 games across all competitions. It’s not a poor return, but the suspicion remains that Welbeck may never become United’s first choice striker, even if he will always be much loved. 6/10
* ratings given to players who have made 10 appearances or more in all competitions