by Andrew Henderson
David Moyes was harshly treated as Manchester United manager. That’s not a sentence you’ll hear all that often, even less so from the Man Utd faithful. As Louis Van Gaal found out against Swansea (who incidentally, Moyes beat 4-1 in his first league game in charge), the job isn’t as easy as it looks – in fact it’s arguably one of the most difficult jobs in the world. It’s made even tougher when you never get a fair chance, like Moyes.
Let’s start at the start. Sir Alex Ferguson was possibly the greatest manager of all time. He won 38 trophies in his 26 years at Utd alone, the last of which was the Premier League title in 2013, where Utd finished 11 points clear of the pack, with what at the time was called Ferguson’s worst Utd team ever.
Now following Fergie is tough enough as it is, and this kind of hangover is nothing new. Utd themselves went through the same thing when Matt Busby retired – in that case he returned to the dugout a year later. And if you ever needed to know how difficult it is to replace Fergie all you have to do is ask any Aberdeen fan. Sir Alex left the Dons in November 1986, and only last season did a real sense of positivity return to Pittodrie.
But replacing him is made even tougher when you’re expected to repeat the same sort of miracles. What had been billed as the worst team ever to win the Premier League were suddenly the runaway champions that Moyes should have been doing better with, even after everyone around him had strengthened.
All of us involved in football – fans, pundits and especially the media, have notoriously short memories. At the start of last season there was little doubt that Moyes deserved his chance to manage a top club. He had done a fantastic job on a shoestring budget for a decade, taking Everton from relegation strugglers to European challengers. Now he apparently didn’t know what he was doing, and was completely out of his depth at a club as big as Manchester United. That’s quite a drastic change in 12 months, and one that does an unfair disservice to his record.
As I mentioned before part of Moyes’ problem was everyone around him strengthening, and there lies the second issue – Moyes’ transfer dealings. While players like Mesut Ozil, Willian, Jesus Navas, Andre Schurrle were joining their rivals, Utd bought Marouane Fellaini. He was nowhere to be seen on the pitch, but it wasn’t as ridiculous a signing as many would have you believe. As I said in Part 1, everyone in football has notoriously short memories, but let’s not forget Fellaini was tearing teams apart in his last two years at Everton – nonetheless Man Utd in Fergie’s last campaign. Twice. He was linked with a load of big clubs, not just Man Utd. Plus, a new player takes time to settle. It took Fellaini 3 years to really make a name for himself on Merseyside, yet he was expected to make an immediate impact at Old Trafford.
Moyes’ major signing in January was Juan Mata. I still think that signing Chelsea’s player of the year two years running, as a domestic rival, for £37.5 Million is a fantastic coup. He also took time to settle, and wasn’t the immediate game-changer Utd’s fans had hoped for, but came into his own in the last 6 games of the 2013-14 season, when it was already far too late for Moyes.
Ed Woodward’s role has to be scrutinised too. He, like Moyes, was new to the job, and he too failed to deliver in his first season, yet he’s received more time to prove himself. He should have been more of a driving force in the transfer market. After all, Moyes could only work with what he had. I can’t help but feel that if a player like Ozil became available, David Gill would have made sure Utd got him before anyone else did.
This isn’t to say Moyes did nothing wrong. Tactically he was far too defensive, and at times he didn’t look like he could handle the pressure he was under. But I don’t think you can really judge him on his single year in charge of Manchester United. I think he would have had a better year this year, just like I have the optimism that Utd will have a better season under Van Gaal. Like any new arrival, Moyes needed time to settle in before he could really make his impact. Time he never got.