This article first appeared on http://www.thesefootballtimes.net on April 24, 2014
This Is No Time To Be Moyesing Around
By: Jonathan Townsend
Hindsight: hind·sight ˈhīn(d)ˌsīt/noun
Def: Understanding of a situation or event only after it has happened or developed.
“In hindsight, Manchester United should have never hired David Moyes.”
The world can be a fickle place. For all the hullaballoo about the sacking of David Moyes, Manchester United need not only look for a new manager, but it must also take a look in the mirror. There is no question that the David Moyes experiment wasn’t going to work and it’s easy to place the blame on the Scotsman who’s aged and withered like a prune before our very eyes, but like any conflict, it takes two to tango. When I wrote the article Accountability United I should have kept on writing David Moyes’ eulogy and the subsequent epitaph for his tombstone as Manchester United manager. It was clear to all that David Moyes was a dead man walking the day he was hired.
Big clubs have fallen from such great heights before such as Juventus, Liverpool, Leeds United, Kaiserslautern, Lazio, and Fiorentina to name a few. But this is Manchester United. Most of the current generation has experienced prolonged periods of success with Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm and shrewd business deals off the pitch that have seen the club become a global brand and publically-traded entity.
Unfortunately, that golden age of football and business success has also prolonged the inevitable fall from grace. Whereas most teams aside from Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Manchester United have gone through shadowy valleys and doldrums of the footballing landscape only to re-emerge briefly before being cast back into the shadows. A stark difference is that in English football, it was Manchester United who cast that shadow and soared to the greatest of heights and then, in the most tragic displays of hubris and mimicry of the ancient Greek legend of Daedalus and Icarus.
If this were a Greek tragedy and we are part of the chorus narrating and watching the madness in this parallel allegory, Daedalus is played by the wise and curmudgeonly Sir Alex Ferguson and Icarus, of course, is played by the affable Scot, David Moyes. Sir Alex, like Daedalus, built his labyrinth to escape the Minotaur of mediocrity and flourished for nearly three decades before handing the club to David Moyes by fashioning him a pair of wings to soar to great heights. We will never know if our Daedalus warned the ‘Moyesian’ Icarus not to fly too low to the sea lest his wings grow heavy and soggy, or if he warned him not to try and fly too high lest the sun’s rays melt the wings’ wax. What we do know is that Moyes and Manchester United Football Club have plummeted alarmingly.
The world of football is our Greek play. We congregate en masse to be entertained (unless you support a Mourinho Chelsea side, surely I jest). We have our heroes and stalwarts of loyalty and our villains. And then we have fate.
Like all the doomed and oftentimes damned Greek heroes, David Moyes was plagued by fate. During his ten month tenure at United, one could not help but feel like The Furies were hunting Moyes down. When he won, there was criticism. When he lost, there was a witch hunt, most of which he earned himself through torrid team selection, tactical tomfoolery, and a less than commanding presence during press conferences and interviews. Like all Greek plays, there are moral lessons to be learned here.
Firstly, all good things must come to an end. The game evolved during Sir Alex’s time in charge and only Sir Alex could weather the storm of criticism and handle the amount of pressure required for a club like Manchester United to maintain its dominance of the British game. During his time at the club, the academy flourished and the class of ’92 is testament to that as they took United to new heights as a club and global brand.
Sir Alex left David Moyes with an aging backline, an uninspired midfield, and a few youngsters who needed to be shown their walking papers or rebuilt as players, and the performances on the pitch almost embodied a club disguised as a great monk practicing a ritualistic act of self-immolation. For many it was a shock. But for supporters of clubs who had seen their sides fall off the map once or twice, this was predictable and expected, for David Moyes had taken a sip from the poisoned chalice.
The second lesson is while Manchester United failed to continue their academy output, their rivals, namely Liverpool has used its academy and youngsters to great effect. Players like Federico Macheda, Paul Pogba, Wilfried Zaha, and Nick Powell to name a few have either not worked, been sent out on loan, or sold to other clubs.
A symbol of Sir Alex’s reign has now become a literal relic in Ryan Giggs and there was never any sign of that happening at United under David Moyes with the current players; with the exception of Wayne Rooney’s gluttonous contract boost. Murmurings from around Carrington suggest that the senior players, many who have won five Premier League titles and a Champions League, looked at Moyes and internally scoffed as if to suggest, “Well, I’ve won hardware, what have you won, mate?”
The third lesson is that for a club like Manchester United, a manager must be a General willing to fight tooth and nail to keep the faith of the players, the board, and the supporters. This is not an ego-maniac war because no other egos should matter to the man at the helm. There are no ‘negotiable’ terms and no one player’s gripes, image, or demands supersede that of the club.
Where Sir Alex shipped off David Beckham when he seemed distracted (see SAF’s latest autobiography) and the on-field general himself, Roy Keane when the Irishman became overly-critical of the young players and some of the staff, David Moyes does not have the clout to be the General. With all due respect, it’s just not a quality he was born with and his disposition is nothing like Sir Alex’s. That’s not a bad thing; it just doesn’t work at a club filled with Sir Alex’s players, used to his football. United is a club drunk on the sweet nectars and ambrosia of victory and success. This year was the inevitable and painful hangover.
The fourth and final lesson is Manchester United thought itself to be infallible from an outsider’s perspective. The Glazer’s are about business, not football in either the British or American sporting respect, as their NFL team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has struggled in a league that certifies parity amongst the teams. The Glazer’s trusted Sir Alex Ferguson’s instinct as many had for so many years before, and they paid the price.
Manchester United needs a manager who knows the club inside and out. Someone who values the community and brand and who isn’t just a hot name looking for a Premier League pension and the ownership now knows this. Or so they should. Perhaps Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes will work out as coaches for longer than just the interim.
A man like Gary Neville would certainly sort out any complacency amongst the ranks in the locker room and on the training ground. Or, if they are intelligent, the club will reach out to a man like Carlos Queiroz – one of the few men to leave and return when he went off to manage Real Madrid. His knowledge of continental football and his ability to scout talent might just see him as the intelligent choice.
In the end, we may never know if Manchester United Football Club suffered from its own Icarus complex as it suffered from ‘ascensionism’ and perpetual high ambition, but we do know that David Moyes was punished by the relentless Furies and like all men, nobody escapes fate.