KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- David Moyes was always bound to sink beneath the waves at Manchester United: after all, he came into the job last summer with a millstone around his neck and both arms tied behind his back.
The millstone was having been anointed publicly by retirement-bound Sir Alex Ferguson; the cord tying his hands was the context awaiting him when he walked into Old Trafford.
Ferguson, after a rocky start, had created a sporting monolith with 28 trophies of all shapes and sizes in every competition (Not the UEFA Cup/Europa League but that was only because United rarely slipped down there from the Champions League).
The sporting achievements had been seized on, a decade ago, by the American sports entrepreneur Malcolm Glazer amid enormous controversy.
The weight of debt from the American’s leveraged buy-out meant United had to keep winning, had to stay among the Champions League, to keep servicing the debt and maintaining the worldwide visibility to guarantee the steady arrival of a sackful of lucrative sponsorships in the Far East.
The Glazers accepted that managerial transition would mean slipping from the Premier pinnacle for a year. But slipping out of the Champions League slots was not in the equation. Hence Moyes’s failure to win any major trophy and last weekend’s confirmation that a Champions League presence was dead and gone meant he was, too.
The first fault line was the manner of Moyes’s appointment. To accept Ferguson’s recommendation was reasonable – if intimdating, as Moyes has admitted – but the timing was awful.
Firstly, United were also allowing vastly experienced David Gill to retire as chief executive simultaneously. This saw the new manager leaning on a new boss in Ed Woodward – and Woodward, while hugely successful in signing new sponsors, was raw in terms of signing superstar footballers.
Secondly, top clubs plan their transfer strategy deep into the previous season. United could not start work until Moyes arrived on July 1. That was desperately late but Moyes, in any case, had no real insight into his squad and what he needed in terms of new blood.
Silly talk about bringing back Cristiano Ronaldo or landing out-of-reach targets such as Barcelona’s Cesc Fabregas or Bayern-bound Thiago Alcantara was always the stuff of fantasy which raised unreasonable expectations.
Thirdly, buying Belgian Marouane Fellaini for an unnecessarily high fee and then, in January, Juan Mata, were both misjudgements, more to appease fan impatience. The wrong reason. That fuelled the Glazers’ unease about entrusting Moyes with a £150m budget this coming summer.
Moyes, having started under so many handicaps, did not help himself.
Critically he replaced Ferguson’s entire backroom staff with his own men when at least one continuity figure on the training ground might have helped ease the transition for both himself and his players.
Next his off-the-cuff comment about his strikers, which upset Wayne Rooney briefly, was an avoidable pre-season distraction; his perpetual chopping and changing of the team disturbed the dressing room; the absence of a tactical style or footballing vision betrayed a lack of command . . . and prompted the erratic results and grumbles which began to leak out.
Rio Ferdinand and Robin Van Persie both criticised Moyes’s methods and tactics openly; that would never have happened under Ferguson.
Hence history repeated itself. Just as Wilf McGuinness could not cope with Sir Matt Busby’s mighty legacy back in 1970 so Moyes could not cope with the full fall-out from Ferguson’s departure.
An important concept, among players in the upper strata of English football, is known as: “Show us your medals.” It’s about respect; about players’ relationship with their manager and willingness to accept his orders.
Ferguson had a bank vault of medals. Moyes had none; he leaves with a Community Shield victory to his credit. That’s not so much a trophy, more a wooden spoon.