A season is a long time in professional football. Ask David Moyes.
Little over a year ago, as the Everton side he built in his own image comprehensibly beat title challenging Manchester City two nil at Goodison Park, he looked every inch the Fergie in waiting.
Prowling the touch line as the seconds ticked down towards the final whistle, this was a manager rallying his troops from the sideline, heading every ball, making every clearance, living every second. It wasn’t hard to see why, 3 months later, football’s most famous knight chose Moyes as his successor.
Fast forward a year and the story could not be more different. As his new charges were picked apart by a Manchester City side who would feel hard done by to only win by three goals, the new Manchester United manager could not have looked less like the predecessor whose name adorns the main stand at Old Trafford.
Paul Scholes, Sky Television’s studio guest for the evening gave a damning verdict on Moyes’ starting eleven pre game, warning that a lack of strength or energy in the middle of the park would be an issue against Yaya Toure and Fernandinho. It did not take long for him to be proved right, when after cutting united open for the second time in the opening 90 seconds, Edin Dzeko slipped in the opening goal.
Things did not improve for the home side, two more goals sealing an almost routine win for the men in blue. There was seemingly nothing the manager could do.
As an increasingly deflated Old Trafford crowd started to slip away into the Manchester evening, social media and radio phone ins turned towards the performance of not only the players, but the manager.
Maybe it was the presence of Scholes alongside Gary Neville in the TV studio that reminded united fans of what they have had so recently, or perhaps it was the sight of Tom cleverly being utterly outclassed for 45 minutes by David Silva and Yaya Toure in the centre of the park whilst Juan Mata tried, but failed to influence the game from his ineffective right wing role, but Red devil’s fans were not happy.
The post match press conference won’t have done much to appease them, either. A visibly dejected Moyes stating:
‘We’ve played a good side, playing at a level we are aspiring to’.
Adjectives such as ‘disappointing’ were plentiful, unlike any sort of explanation or insight into what actually went wrong.
These are not the sort of comments one has come to expect from the manager of Manchester United. 26 years of Sir Alex Ferguson has taught us that.
However this is a different united. The players are basically the same, but they lack the personality, sheer bloody mindedness and never say die attitude that dragged them to trophy after trophy for the past two decades even when, as last season, they did not have a vintage crop of players.
As Scholes and Neville wrapped up their analysis of the game, the evidence of 25 years involvement with both Manchester United and in particular Alex Ferguson shone through. Failure is not an option. Mediocrity would not be accepted. Nor would acknowledgment that you were worse than your main rivals. The self styled ‘biggest club in the world’ acted as such in everything they did.
For the first time in Premier league history, they have lost home and away to both Liverpool and Manchester City. Unthinkable just a year ago.
Moyes will be grateful for the patience of the old Trafford crowd, routinely singing his name. He will be glad also to read the glowing endorsement from Bobby Charlton pre game. But, as this disastrous season lurches from one disappointment to another the questions must surely be asked. Is Moyes the right man to get this going?
The improvements just aren’t happening. The team lacks confidence, composure and direction. Every time they ‘turn a corner’ they fail the next big test and end up at square one.
As share prices fall amid fears that United’s one season spell outside of the champions league could turn into a longer stretch in the football wilderness, those in power at old Trafford, to whom such things are of vital importance must start to wonder.
David Moyes is clearly a talented manager. He may well have been hand picked by the most successful manager of all time. But is he a Manchester United manager?
Time will tell, of course, but they might not want to wait too long to find out.