The managerial Turbulence

David Moyes has had a tough start as Manchester United manager.-AP

David Moyes has never won any prize of consequence, but to keep Everton afloat over a 10-year period with such limited resources was surely a major achievement. And if United were played off the park on this occasion by City, it should be remembered that twice in quite recent years they thrashed a United team run by Ferguson. By Brian Glanville.

The European football season is still young, but already there is managerial turmoil. Paolo Di Canio has ignominiously gone from Sunderland. The so called (by himself) Special One, Jose Mourinho, is under pressure and criticism at Chelsea, evoking the old saying that lightning never strikes twice. At Manchester United, David Moyes, succeeding Alex Ferguson, after those long triumphant years in the role, was left smarting and potentially vulnerable by Manchester City’s almost contemptuously facile 4-1 win. Leading John Hartson, not long ago a formidably effective Welsh international centre forward, to say: “Moyes has got to be the luckiest man in football to be in the Manchester United hot seat. Somebody please tell me what’s he done?”

Well, the answer to that is pretty plain. True he has never won any prize of consequence, but to keep Everton afloat over a 10-year period with such limited resources was surely a major achievement. And if United were played off the park on this occasion by City, it should be remembered that twice in quite recent years they thrashed a United team run by Ferguson. It might also be worth remembering that when Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford, after remarkable success in Scotland with Aberdeen, he made such a shaky beginning that his place seemed in doubt. Only when his team won the European Cup Winners’ Cup did his position seem safe and he was lucky to have had the consistent backing of the then, much reviled by United fans, Chairman Martin Edwards.

In the vernacular, any manager who succeeded Ferguson was on a hiding to nothing. But the criticism you do hear, however cynical in some respects, is that what United needed to do to replace Fergie was to go in for another major star, probably from abroad, and that Ferguson himself, who strongly supported the choice of Moyes, was not too sorry to see himself succeeded by a thoroughly competent but hardly a scintillating manager.

That said, you have to ask to what extent was United’s feeble show against City, Moyes’ folly. Could he be blamed for the fact that his whole team — which admittedly lacks its star turn, and without the prolific Dutch centre forward Robin van Persie — played so ineptly?

Why was the rapid Ecuador outside right Antonio Valencia, usually such an ubiquitous force on that flank, so reluctant to drop back to help his defence and nullify the opposing left back Aleksandar Kolarov? Why was the usually dominant centre back Nemanja Vidic so hopelessly out of form? How to blame Moyes for the uneasy presence of the Spanish keeper David De Gea, signed by Ferguson and still to look truly commanding?

Though you do wonder whether Moyes’ increasingly urgent efforts to bring the towering Belgian attacker Marouane Fellaini to United from his former club, Everton, when Fellaini, arguably deployed in central midfield with defensive duties alien to him, were worth making.

One might also wonder why Moyes made no use, especially in the absence of van Persie, of that incisive little striker, the Mexican Javier Hernandez, confined to the bench throughout. On the other hand, it may be somewhat early to eulogise City as an irresistible force. After all they had already lost in the league to modest Cardiff City. And while another Belgian in the shape of Vincent Kompany easily dominated the United attack, it might be remembered that when City lost comprehensively to Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in the last season’s European Champions League, it was Kompany, of all people, who ducked under a fast left wing cross by Cristiano Ronaldo, wrong footing Joe Hard in goal, and leading to a Real Madrid goal.

As to The Special One, after Chelsea’s excellent display in Prague in the so called Super Cup against Bayern Munich, when they held out with ten men, losing wholly on penalties, and this without most of their highly expensive new recruits, it has been severe anticlimax. I was at Stamford Bridge to see them beaten 2-1 by a Basel team which, though compact, well organised and sporadically dangerous on the counter attack, were hardly a major opponent.

Afterwards, Mourinho refused to blame the players but took the blame himself, which he said was always his custom when his team lost. There was more than an element of truth in this, since some of his early choices have been hard to comprehend. Why in all logic did he allow the powerful and incisive young Belgian Romelu Lukaku to go out on loan to Everton where, on the very afternoon when Chelsea were making hard work of beating a Fulham team weakened by the absence of their key attacker, Dimitar Berbatov, he bravely scored the winning goal against West Ham, getting knocked out in the process and giving an altogether fine display. As he had often done last season, on loan to West Bromwich Albion.

The pseudo justification that Mourinho and Chelsea wanting to give Lukaku the opportunity to mature elsewhere makes no sense at all when with his pace and powerful build he seems a natural successor to the formidable Didier Drogba. Not least when Mourinho was hung on to the ever disappointing GBP50 million Fernando Torres, for whom he speaks evasively about a necessary change of style from his effective Liverpool days and paid a fading Samuel Eto’o, who once scored goals for him at Inter, a lot of money to emerge from disappointing days in Russia.

Nor did it make any obvious sense to put as inventive and skilled an attacker as Juan Mata in cold storage, and to drop his Brazilian centre back David Luiz from the whole squad for the Fulham game. Luiz is impulsive and over adventurous at times, but still an effervescent talent.

Paolo Di Canio was a strange and risky choice at Sunderland from the first. A rich working class tradition in that once flourishing mining area meant that the local fans strikingly resented him for his pro-Fascist links which eventually and quite unconvincingly he tried to deny. Those photos of him giving the Fascist salute, his professed admiration for Mussolini, told their own undeniable tale. For those like myself, who once lived in Italy and see Fascism as a persisting disease, yet who has known and liked the explosive Di Canio, this had always seemed a distorting illusion. But those fans temporarily forgave him when his team won 3-0 away to their historic rivals, Newcastle United. Only to excoriate him this season when advised by two Italian executives, he brought in a host of foreign players who dismally failed to deliver, one defeat following another, till the last of them at West Bromwich, saw him dismissed, detested and defied by his own players.

But Pep Guardiola at least seems to be settling well after an uneasy start at Bayern Munich.