The poisoned chalice

David Moyes’ appointment at Old Trafford was delayed too long for him to have a fair crack at the transfer market. And the fact that Alex Ferguson, far from fading out of the Old Trafford picture, was forever to be seen watching matches, was still on a large salary as a consultant, hardly made things any easier for Moyes. By Brian Glanville.

After Manchester United’s pitiful display in Greece against Olympiakos, David Moyes, the, man who succeeded Alex Ferguson as manager somewhat predictably declared that he took the blame. As managers in such bleak situations tend to do. “I take responsibility,” he said. “We have to play better”. Which, at least, was simply unarguable. He could indeed take blame for a couple of bizarre omissions from what proved so ineffectual an attack. Central midfield in the evanescent shapes of Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick was conspicuous by general absence, so why sideline — for the whole game — the towering Belgian international Marouane Fellaini, whom Moyes himself bought from his former Everton, at huge expense? And why no place for the teenaged revelation Adrian Januzaj, on the presumed but irrelevant grounds, that he should not be overused? The fact being that he would not be needed by club or, in the international break, by any country, for another 11 whole days.

At the very least, both players should have been on the substitute bench, ready to be called on: and goodness knows, that should have been essential.

The defeat in Greece came within a week of Wayne Rooney being awarded a colossal new contract of GBP300,000 a week. But one swallow doesn’t make a summer and though Rooney at least exerted himself against Olympiakos, he could not begin to galvanise his flagging team.

To make things worse, as if they could be, Moyes now finds himself potentially at odds with the other real star of the show, the usually prolific Robin van Persie. This, though the Dutch international tactfully insists of Moyes, “He’s working hard at it and so are we. It’s easy to point the finger but I’m not like that. We have to do better ourselves”. Indeed they do and few more so that van Persie, after his drab display in Greece, which included, near the end, a horribly wasted chance at least, to get United an invaluable away goal when he slashed a simple chance horribly wide of the goal.

Nor is it easy to ignore what van Persie said after the game to Dutch television. “Our fellow players are sometimes occupying the space I want to play in. And when I see that it makes it difficult for me to come to those spaces as well. So that forces me to adjust my runs.” Yet post-match statistical analysis showed that there was no such situation in the game. Though, it was alarmingly obvious that there was virtually no combination between van Persie and the hard working Rooney. “I have changed my tactics to suit my team-mates,” said van Persie. “And play outside my zone.” Which was also debatable. There were even those who accused him of being “uninterested” in Greece.

If United refuse to let him go, there isn’t much he can do about it contractually expect in the old saying, “play to get away.” Arsenal couldn’t keep him, pocketing GBP24 million for his transfer to United, but notably failing to replace him with any comparable striker.

With all respect to the besieged Moyes, you do wonder whether he was the right choice to inherit what might be called the poisoned chalice of Ferguson’s hegemony, with its myriad trophies and authoritarian reign. And perhaps to be cynical, could it be that Ferguson wanted Moyes, consciously or unconsciously precisely because he would hardly overshadow or challenge him and his massive reputation? It is tempting to say that a more natural successor to Ferguson — whose recent, somewhat uncharitable autobiography has sold well over 80,000 copies — would be another star, let us say a Jose Mourinho, to step into his shoes, to match or even to eclipse his heritage. In the event, Mourinho, after somewhat mixed fortunes at Real Madrid, returned to the club where he had once been sacked: Chelsea. But I believe he would very willingly have answered a call from Manchester United. A team which, as Ferguson himself must have known, seriously needed regenerating.

It would be unfair to say that Ferguson left Moyes flogging a dead horse. United, after all had cantered away with the Premier League, but to do that with a fading complement of players, it needed someone with Ferguson’s remarkable ability to inspire and galvanise.

Mourinho can do that, too, in his own particular way: above all, he had won things. Won them at Chelsea, won them at Porto, won them at Internazionale and been far from a spent force at Real Madrid. Moyes, to be brutally blunt, has never won anything of consequence. Not a championship, not a Cup. Which is not to denigrate him as a manager or his achievement at Everton, a club with a great history but a somewhat diminished present, without the vast supporting funds provided by the billionaires who own club such as Chelsea and Manchester City, a club whose chief aim is to survive in the top division, against the economic odds.

This Moyes enabled them to do for a distinguished decade, always short of funds, yet immensely shrewd in his purchases, enlisting players from abroad who were seldom well known but who blossomed when they came to Goodison Park. He even gave Rooney his spectacular start as a 16-year-old, though he fell out with him and was obliged to sell him to Manchester United: where he seems to have re-established an amicable relationship. The personnel of the present Everton team bear testimony to Moyes’ shrewd policy in the transfer market, his ability to attract players who would surpass themselves in Everton’s ranks. But as a club, ambition was inevitably limited and it was a huge step up to Manchester United.

It could be said that his appointment at Old Trafford was delayed too long for him to have a fair crack at the transfer market, Fellaini being the one major acquisition that he made. He found himself left with a fading team which needed badly to be inspired by its manager, as Ferguson had inspired so many United sides. Sometimes inspirational, sometimes domineering. And the fact that Ferguson, far from fading out of the Old Trafford picture, was forever to be seen watching matches, was still on a large salary as a consultant, hardly made things any easier for Moyes.

Any more than Matt Busby, the true architect of United’s post-War triumphs, made things easy for his successor, Will McGuiness, a dogged wing half with no managerial experience and Busby occupying his old office opposite McGuiness’. Who, alas, lost all his hair. It’s said Moyes, on a six-year contract which could he broken at three, will have GBP100 million to spend in the summer. But whom could he buy?