David Moyes is a proven manager who doesn’t deserve the daily scrutiny and mockery
Manchester United’s poor form could spark an understanding of his United inheritance
David Moyes: Manchester United manager is under pressure in his first season at Old Trafford with mainly the same squad that struggled under Alex Ferguson two season’s ago. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA
The noise rumbled across, up and through the 9,000 Sunderland fans spread all over the away end at Old Trafford on Wednesday night.
It was approaching 10.30, long after Manchester United expected the night to be over, and Sunderland had just won the toss to decide at which net the penalty shoot-out would occur. It would be at Sunderland’s end. It was a small victory for Wearside; it was another small loss for United on an evening full of them.
Convoluted and misshapen as the shoot-out was, Sunderland emerged from it in their first Wembley cup final for 22 years. The 9,000 got back on their 130 free buses and, drained, tried to take it all in. Most were lucky to be in their bed by 3am.
They were not the only ones spent. At Old Trafford David Moyes’s speedy shuffling walk took him up the tunnel but if he thought he was still in it when he awoke on Thursday, who could blame him?
Sympathy should perhaps be measured for a millionaire with a six-year contract, but Moyes is suffering in the most public way imaginable.
Damagingly for the 50-year-old Scotsman, he is now lampooned. Whereas Alex Ferguson provoked outright loathing among those who did not and do not like him and/or Manchester United, Moyes is provoking mockery. It is a difficult position to recover from.
The scrutiny of Manchester United’s manager of 34 games has reached hysterical levels in the past six days. It is as if there are people who cannot contemplate, never mind remember, a time when United did not blitz all before them. These people should be officially classed as goldfish.
Way, way back in 2012 – can you recall that bygone era? – United of course carried home all the major honours available to them. Except they didn’t. United almost certainly won’t win anything this season and there will be hand-wringing analysis of when such an outrage last occurred. And the shriekers will be informed it was, well, two years ago.
Someone will have to point out to them that, yes, the season before last United went out of the League Cup at home to Crystal Palace with Smalling, Evans and Rafael in defence and Valencia in midfield. Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison were subs (used). Palace were in the Championship.
The following Wednesday Manchester United went to Basle in Switzerland and lost 2-1. It meant United were knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage. Both Basle and Benfica were above them.
So United went into the Europa League, where they were outplayed, and beaten, by Athletic Bilbao.
In the FA Cup they were knocked out in the fourth round by Liverpool at Anfield, Dirk Kuyt scoring the 88th minute winner.
That left the Premier League and with four games to go, United were top. Then they met Everton at Old Trafford. It finished 4-4. “The one that killed us,” as Ferguson would say.
It gave Manchester City impetus – they beat United 1-0 in the next match – and that led to the climactic last afternoon when Sergio Aguero did what he did.
United won on the final day – at Sunderland – but they lost the title. They had 89 points, but lost on goal difference. So they ended 2011-12 trophyless.
But the drama of the finale has obscured, to some extent, the rest of the season. United were eased out of the domestic cups and were made to look ordinary in Europe, in a season when Apoel Nicosia reached the Champions League quarter-finals.
Of the United starting XI in Basle, only Ji-Sung Park has moved on. There is an argument that says the squad that could only finish third to Benfica and Basle in their group two seasons ago is of the same personnel and calibre as that which was beaten on penalties by Sunderland.
It might come to be seen that last season is the anomaly, when Manchester City’s internal issues with Roberto Mancini proved as decisive as United’s determination to reclaim the title. There was also unquestionably the Ferguson factor.
Where does this leave Moyes? It could spark an increased understanding of his United inheritance. It could return the debate to the United midfield and Ferguson’s Wenger-like failure to add to it despite the slowing of Paul Scholes, the illness of Darren Fletcher and the carousel experience of Barcelona in the Champions League final at Wembley when United were passed into submission.
It could take away some of the hot air. Juan Mata is a very good signing and if Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney return soon, they could join Adnan Janusaj in an attacking quartet. If Marouane Fellaini rediscovers his influence, that’s an impressive handful.
Still, Moyes will need more. His defence was not good enough against Sunderland, but then it wasn’t good enough for Ferguson against Basle.
Moyes was known as ‘Dithering Dave’ at times on Merseyside due to his perceived reluctance to make signings, but it should probably be pointed out once again that when Everton won at Old Trafford in early December seven of the team were signed by Moyes and an eighth, Ross Barkley, was given his debut by Moyes three years ago, aged 17.
Moyes is a proven manager.
Twelve points off third place in the league, United are in a scramble for fourth with Liverpool, Spurs and Everton. Should United win that, some might agree with Arsene Wenger that fourth-place is indeed a trophy.
But even if they don’t, David Moyes will not deserve mockery.