Today is Day 36 of David Moyes’ reign as the new Manchester United manager. Another nine days and he will break the record of Brian Clough’s infamous spell as Leeds United Manager in 1974.
On current evidence that’s about the only record he’s going to break.
When Moyes was announced shortly before the end of the 2012/13 season there was a collective groan from the vast majority of Manchester United fans. Long predicted as a likely replacement when the Man for Govan finally hung-up his hairdryer, Moyes was seen as a safe choice by many within the club. After 11 seasons with Everton (and a relatively successful spell with Preston North End prior to that) Moyes had built a reputation for no nonsense talk, nurturing good young players and managing on a restricted budget while the big-hitters around him flashed the type of cash that his pay-masters could only dream of.
When Sir Alex Ferguson finally stepped down there seemed to be a sense of fait accompli to Moyes’ appointment. No other manager was seriously considered (despite rumours of a love-in between Sir Alex and Jose Mourinho) and the deal was done before the club’s share price on the New York stock exchange could be seriously damaged. In accessions terms this was on a par of appointing the new Pope.
New chief executive Ed Woodward, the Glazer family and – most importantly – Sir Bobby Charlton (a director at the club, not to mention its all-time highest goalscorer) all said that Moyes was the perfect man to replace the irreplaceable. The conspiracy theorists noted that Charlton even made a veiled reference to ‘The Special One’ when he stated that the new manager was ‘here for the long haul’.
That was then and this is now. Three months on from United lifting their 20th league (and 13th Premiership) title and little has changed. Where Alex Ferguson immediately made changes to the youth set-up and the heavy drinking culture embedded in the club during the reign of Ron Atkinson, Moyes merely brought his own team of backroom people and elevated club ‘legend’ Ryan Giggs to player-coach. Giggs will turn 40 in November.
In that same three months Chelsea and Manchester City have made fresh (or in the case of Chelsea, recycled) managerial appointments and brought in new faces that will only improve their chances for the upcoming campaign.
David Moyes has said that Wayne Rooney is not for sale. And that’s about it.
The period between May and August is traditionally known as ‘the silly season’ in terms of transfer speculation and who’s going where and how and why. As early as last March (with the last season still two months to run) Cristiano Ronaldo was linked with a move back to his ‘spiritual’ home in a deal worth anything around £60 million.
The only problem was that Nike (United’s kit manufacturers) would have to stump up the money. And they didn’t.
Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski, Cesc Fabregas. The list of United’s failed attempts to tempt anyone to join (bear in mind) the champions of England seems to be a lot longer already than David Moyes’ achievements in eleven years at Everton (one top four spot and the beaten finalists of the 2008 FA Cup, for those who take notice of these things).
And still the news of Wayne Rooney’s ‘confused and upset’ demeanour dominated the back pages more than any Moyes’ ‘target’ in the rapidly shrinking transfer window.
Whoever took over the managership of Manchester United after Alex Ferguson and 26 years of (mostly) trophy-littered seasons was going to be handed a poisoned chalice. But unfortunately Moyes is already choking on his first mouthful.
Had he made an example of Rooney (a man who he once had cause to sue for libel after his prodigy left Everton in 2004) then a clear mission statement would have been made: no man is bigger than this club. And no player can put in more than one transfer request and not expect to have it accepted.
With United in the midst of a commercially driven tour of the far east (and other places) the countdown to the new season gets ever shorter. And yet one glance at the official club’s website’s list of first-team players sees little (or rather no) difference to that of three months ago. No-one has come in and no-one has gone out.
Either Moyes has enormous faith in the academy of youngsters that Sir Alex Ferguson has left behind (one reserve is at least now listed as a first-team player) or David Moyes’ hands are tied at Manchester United as much as they ever were at Everton football club. But perhaps the lure of joining the English champions, under a new and untried (at least at the top level of domestic and European football) manager and a side that failed to make it past the last 16 of the Champions League last term, just isn’t enough for the big-bucks spenders of the English, Spanish, German and – more significantly – French leagues, where Monaco are continuing to acquire big-name players with the financial temptation of paying not a single euro in income tax, given their tax-haven status.
With the big kick-off less than two weeks away, David Moyes is facing a baptism by fire, both on the field and (of more relevance these days) on the TV. Of United’s opening five games (all televised, naturally) there are Chelsea – and a certain Portuguese manager – in August, and Liverpool and Manchester City in September. You’d think that Sky (not to mention the fledgling BT Sport) had a hand in these things. Perish the thought.
Five games that might determine the course of Manchester United’s season in the space of six weeks. It would, of course, be unthinkable for Moyes to be out of a job by Christmas (the days of sacking the manager of the league champions in that space of time are long gone, Brian Clough or not). But if United are out of the top four and already slipping on the potential banana skin of the group phase of the Champions League (the only level they successfully negotiated last season remember) and a certain Knight of the Realm may be getting restless in his (heated) seat in the directors box.
There is of course a precedent for this. The decline and fall of Manchester United after winning their first (and only, bar the two successes in the ‘rebranded’ Champions League) European Cup was swift and undignified. In six years (and three managers) they sank from champions of Europe to the old second division. It would be twenty years – and another three managers – before they would reach the lofty heights again.
History repeating itself? As someone once said: ‘Football. Bloody Hell!’