Rectifying mistakes in player recruitment crucial for new boss if club are to protect their immunity from the ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ culture of modern football management
David Moyes has two transfer windows to define his Manchester United reign and ensure the early murmurings about his tenure do not become even more serious.
For United, the sequence of recent results seems catastrophic given their recent history of success, but I see no immediate threat to Moyes’s reign. There is no chance of the United board getting rid of him before he has built his own side.
United have long been cited as the test case for clubs and supporters who are showing impatience with a manager, the FA Cup run of 1989 when Mark Robins’s goal against Nottingham Forest is believed to have saved Sir Alex Ferguson’s job regularly quoted as the turning point at Old Trafford. Ferguson had been at United three years by then, doubts about his credentials to transform the club and compete for the title increasingly audible.
In the modern age, an under-siege manager is lucky to get three months because of the vast difference in football coverage, the column inches and television analysis dedicated to the game unrecognisable now to how it was then.
It ensures the pressure intensifies much sooner, a manager scrutinised to the point where a couple of home defeats and expression of discontent from the crowd can build such a momentum it seems a coach cannot survive.
This is clearly new territory for United in the modern era, but I do not believe they will compromise the principles that served them so well in 1989. They will recognise the transition from Ferguson to Moyes was never going to be as seamless as some imagined, even if it has started much worse than anyone could have predicted.
It can be argued that Moyes took the United job at the worst possible time. Yes, they were the champions, but not because they were a brilliant team, sweeping aside all before them with magnificent football. He has walked into Old Trafford expected to provide more of the same but with a flawed, unbalanced squad where the senior players are the wrong side of 30.
There were many parallels drawn when Ferguson left the dugout between Matt Busby’s retirement, or Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley leaving Liverpool. You have a dressing room used to hearing the same, reassuring voice, participating in the same pre-match rituals and routines and worried the slightest change will unhinge everything.
We were lucky at Anfield because when Bob retired, Joe Fagan was promoted and nothing changed. We won the League and European Cup in his first season. Similarly, when he stepped down Kenny Dalglish was appointed and we won the double.
When, for want of a better word, an ‘outsider’ comes in to the dressing room, it is a different dynamic.
Moyes did a good job at Everton but he won nothing. He is then expected to tell players with every club honour on their CV to start doing things his way.
It only needs a few poor results and you end up with the kind of eye-catching comments Rio Ferdinand made last week, detailing Moyes’s preference to name his team on the day of a fixture rather than 24 hours earlier. Rio is a clever boy and will know such remarks will be analysed in the current climate and inevitably given a negative spin by those seeking to be critical of the new manager.
As with Ferguson 27 years ago, Moyes needs to make United his team before a full and fair assessment is made. The biggest mistake he and those running the club made was last summer, when their inactivity in the transfer market failed to correct the squad imbalances, and the major signing they did make, Marouane Fellaini, does not look up to the job.
There are problems all over the pitch. United need a centre-half because Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic cannot and do not play every week; right-back has been a consistent issue; and the search for a left-back has been well documented.
With Fellaini unable to run the midfield, a creative presence in the centre of the park is also essential before United look like title contenders again. The recruitment errors must be rectified in January and at the end of this season to ensure wherever United finish in this campaign they are better equipped in a year’s time.
It seems incredible to be talking about United already looking ahead to the 2014-15 campaign, but I see no way back into the title race for them now. They are too far behind and, quite honestly, I do not believe they possess the personnel to go on the kind of unbeaten run required to close the gap.
They are now in a race for the Champions League places, an objective I still believe they will achieve, but it is testament to how swiftly the landscape has changed at Old Trafford in such a short time that even this is being debated.
The only way I can see the United board twitching is if they fail to finish in the top four and endure a similarly poor start to next season, by which time Moyes should have recruited those players he needed in the immediate aftermath of Ferguson’s retirement.
Moyes will be given the resources and time to fix what is going wrong. He must start taking advantage of this at the next opportunity so that Manchester United protect their immunity from the ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ culture of modern football management.