David Moyes discovers the ugly business behind beautiful game
Financial realities of modern football mean Glazers can’t afford to gamble any longer
David Moyes looks on as his two biggest signings, Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini, celebrate a goal earlier this month. Photograph: Paul Thomas/Getty
The news that David Moyes would lose his job as Manchester United manager was broken simultaneously by several UK media outlets at 2.15pm yesterday, 15 minutes before the opening of the New York Stock Exchange.
The story emerged less than 24 hours after United lost to Everton at Goodison Park, a result that made it mathematically impossible for the club to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
There were still those who believed Moyes deserved more time, but the circumstances surrounding the revelation of his sacking should illustrate how football time has speeded up.
Second Captains discuss Moyes' sacking
In 1989, United’s chairman Martin Edwards decided to back Alex Ferguson for one more year, even though the struggling manager had just led the team to 11th in the league, having finished second the previous season.
Edwards could do this secure in the knowledge that if Ferguson failed again, it would have little impact on the club’s commercial prospects.
Today, the Glazer brothers know that if United have another couple of seasons like this one, the personal cost to them could be several hundred million dollars – or more.
It’s not simply a question of the revenue United will forgo from missing out on Europe’s top competition, which currently equates to about 10 per cent of their annual earnings, or the negative effect on the club’s attractiveness to sponsors.
The Glazers will be more concerned with the capital value of a club they intend to sell one day at a vast profit. A healthy club that is a Champions League perennial is worth much more than one in the grip of a prolonged institutional crisis, the likes of which enabled their compatriot John Henry to buy Liverpool for £200 million in 2010.
For the Glazers, backing Moyes at this point is a gamble they could not afford to take.
Moyes has lost almost every big game, and a lot of the little ones too. Everton have improved since he left. Liverpool are back on their perch. Everyone accepts that the squad he inherited from Ferguson had certain weaknesses – but this is ridiculous.
Backing Moyes would have meant giving him vast sums to buy new players, even though his transfer dealings thus far had been indecisive and ineffectual. He had failed to sign any of his primary targets, and ended up spending nearly £70 million on a player he didn’t want, Marouane Fellaini, and a player he didn’t need, Juan Mata.
The signing of Fellaini was a saga of bungling and confusion that had got the new regime off to the worst possible start. Moyes knew the player had a release clause in his Everton contract that meant he could be bought for £23 million until the end of July 2013. He dithered, and ended up paying £27.5 million five weeks after the clause expired.
By then, rumours had emerged that some of the players were unhappy with Moyes’s training sessions. One Dutch fitness trainer predicted during preseason that Moyes’s “prehistoric” methods would cause a recurrence of Robin van Persie’s old injury problems.
While nobody can be sure that the training was indeed responsible, the fact is that van Persie missed half of the season through injury.
Another alarm bell rang in July when the following words issued from the mouth of Rio Ferdinand: “I think the manager is fortunate he’s got someone like Giggsy, among others, like myself and Carras [Michael Carrick], who have been here for many years and know the fabric of the club. If there’s anything we can pass on, with our experiences, to help him to become a better manager and to help us win more trophies, then that’s fantastic.”
While Moyes was no doubt overjoyed to hear that Ferdinand had his back, Rio and the other senior players ultimately proved useless to him both on and off the field.
The only senior United player who can look back with pride on his season’s work is Wayne Rooney. On the field, this campaign has been much the same as last – he’s scored 17 goals in 38 matches, compared to 16 goals in 37 last time.
Off it, however, Rooney has achieved a staggering political turnaround.
When Moyes took over, Rooney looked likely to leave, having fallen out with Sir Alex Ferguson. Moyes, however, was reluctant to sell a high-profile player to Chelsea, the only club interested in signing him.
As the bad results piled up and United’s other senior players shrank or disappeared, Moyes became desperate for a good news story. Rooney’s agent Paul Stretford expertly exploited the manager’s weakness. In February, United announced that Rooney had signed a new five-year contract worth £75 million.
The Rooney contract turns out to have been the biggest decision taken at United while Moyes was the manager, and it could prove to be the most problematic legacy of an ill-starred season.
Whoever succeeds Moyes will have to accept that the club is keen to build a new team around a 600-game veteran who will be 29 in October and who, in the opinion of Ferguson, was already showing signs of decline this time last year.
Not that Ferguson gets everything right. He thought David Moyes would make a good Manchester United manager. He won’t be invited to choose the next man.
But if Ferguson’s power has faded, his shadow remains. Whoever follows Moyes should know that he is really following Ferguson, and he faces the same pressure of expectation that made such short work of Moyes. And he faces it with everyone knowing he is the Glazers’ man. United have found their scapegoat, but perhaps not their salvation.