Hey, Manchester United fans, here's five reasons to be cheerful and five to be fearful
There's a lot of doom and gloom among Manchester United fans today so we thought we'd look at both sides to see if things really are that bad under David Moyes.
Reasons to be fearful
Clearly in need of a big revamp, this is David Moyes’ biggest problem. He knows it, and tried to address it in the summer but with only Maraoune Fellaini arriving, and not settling, it is a mess. Injuries to key men haven’t helped but the age profile of the team, plus the failure of younger names to step up, has left United with a team that doesn’t strike any fear into opponents anymore, hence the repeated thumpings at Old Trafford.
Add in the fact that Nemanja Vidic looks to be leaving, along with Patrice Evra, and the continued uncertainty over Wayne Rooney, and this problem could well get much worse before it gets better.
Another side of this coin is getting new names in. Attracting players to Old Trafford has been an easy sell for years. Be managed by a legend, win loads of trophies and be very well paid for it too. Now, only the last of those is guaranteed. If, as looks likely, United miss out on the Champions League they will find it just that little bit more difficult to attract the very biggest names. Plus, if the sense gets around the game that they are a big club on the slide, that recruitment problem will only get worse. Liverpool and Arsenal both endured this problem and there is no reason why United should be immune to it too if they continue to slide.
It is called news for a reason. New things, be they people, events or issues, are what drives media. For the best part of two decades, bar what I like to call the Djemba Djemba years, there was only one Manchester United story; they were very good.
Now, they have slipped a little and that is a new story, and a juicy one at that. There’s no media agenda to hound David Moyes, it is simply a whole new area to write about and cover. After 20 years, the story is very fresh and, sadly for Moyes, it has lots of legs. The focus is not going to go away any time soon. Moyes' now infamous comments about not substituting Robin van Persie against Newcastle for fear of what would be said post game suggests he is more than aware of how his tenure is being reported.
This United team won the title by 11 points last season. Now they sit 12 points behind league leaders Arsenal after 20 games. The deficiencies in United’s squad are one aspect of that, but the improvement in the teams in the Premier League is another. Last term, Roberto Mancini knew he was on his way out of Manchester City, Chelsea had Rafa in as a stopgap, Brendan Rodgers was still clearing up the mess he was handed at Anfield and Arsenal were struggling to deal with RVP’s departure.
One year on City have a raft of new signings and a coach who seems to be getting the best from his players. Chelsea have the Special One back. Arsenal now have Mesut Ozil and a real sense of purpose again and Rodgers continues to improve Liverpool’s fortunes. Add in Everton’s shrewd acquisitions, and new style of play, and only Spurs have gone backwards. The opposition have gotten much stronger, and the feeling is they will continue to do so too. Moyes can’t do anything about what other sides do, but it is making his slow start look even worse.
There was arguably more debate over Alex Ferguson’s presence on the stands than there was the defeat to Sunderland last night. As a director and living God for the club, he is more than entitled to attend any game he wants. But just because he can doesn’t mean he should.
Every game played he is now shown in the stands, only highlighting the thoughts in everyone’s mind that he would probably be getting more from this bunch of players than Moyes is. It only puts more pressure on his successor and skipping a few games at this stage may just ease some of the weight on Moyes’ shoulders. With Fergie priced at just 6/1 with one bookie to manage United in a competitive game THIS season, the sense he hasn’t fully taken his hand off the tiller remains. That damages Moyes no matter what way you look at it.
This one is all on Moyes, though his inexperienced (in coaching terms at least) backroom team may have to shoulder some of the blame too. Under Ferguson, United would never accept a draw, throwing men on to try and salvage a game. It didn't always work (remember the 6-1 defeat to City) but that late cavalry charge became a United trademark. Moyes is much more conservative and those late comebacks simply haven't been given a chance to happen.
His style of play is more about wing play and lashing the ball into the box and at the very top level that may not be good enough. The injury to Michael Carrick, and the retirement of Paul Scholes, has shorn him of guile but a more nuanced style of play is needed. Can he implement it, even if he had the players to do so? That fear must be the biggest of all for the United faithful.
Reasons to be cheerful
With time, David Moyes might turn out to be the right man for the job
First things first, let’s call a spade and spade and say that nobody expected it to turn out as badly as this. The vast majority of United fans expected a period of transition when David Moyes took over and realised that it might take a while before he established himself in the Old Trafford hotseat.
But to be staring mid-table mediocrity in the face by the middle of January? To have to put up with abject performance after abject performance? To see the Theatre of Dreams turn from a fortress to a farce in just a few months? No, not even the most pessimistic Red saw this one coming.
David Moyes should absolutely shoulder some of the blame – there appears to be no sign of a philosophy or a style of play, for example, and some of his public comments have been baffling to say the least – but it’s not entirely his fault.
While we suspected it over the last couple of years, the squad that David Moyes inherited from Sir Alex Ferguson came with some major flaws and injuries to Robin van Persie, Michael Carrick, Phil Jones and Wayne Rooney have illustrated just how threadbare it was in terms of the quality required at a side like United.
By all accounts, Moyes soon realised that a major overhaul would be needed and although he made a balls of it in the summer, he should be given until at least this stage next season, with another summer transfer window to work with, to prove that he might be up to the job.
If he’s not, fair enough, but there are no signs that the powers that be are going to prematurely terminate a six-year contract anytime soon so he deserves to be supported while he’s still in charge.
United still have some good players
The main lesson David Moyes should have learned so far this season – if it wasn’t patently clear already – is that there are a handful of players clearly not up to the job at Old Trafford.
Fabio, Buttner, Anderson, Ashley Young, Tom Cleverley, Nani, Antonio Valencia; all of them have failed desperately to make an impact this season and if any of them are shipped away in the near future then there will be few tears shed at Old Trafford.
In David de Gea, Phil Jones, Michael Carrick, Adnan Januzaj (more on him later), Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie (providing the latter pair hang around), there is the nucleus of a good team, with the likes of Smalling, Rafael, Evans, Kagawa, Hernandez and possibly even Wilfried Zaha also offering further potential on the fringes.
There’s not quite enough established class amongst the names listed above for United to reach the level required, however, which leads me on to…
Apparently, it’s there. Alex Ferguson did his best to disguise the effect that the Glazers’ financial dealings had on United’s strength in the transfer market over the years, but compared to the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Real Madrid, for example, their outlay has been incredibly small fry in the last few years.
While he’s unlikely to spend it in January, Moyes will be able to avail of anything from £100 million -£200 million (depending on what paper you read) to spend on reinforcements between now and the end of the summer window in August and should be going all out to secure whatever talent might be available, with central midfield in particular in dire need of being addressed.
No Champions League football next season might affect the desire of potential targets to come to Old Trafford, of course, but United remain a big draw and, as the aforementioned Chelsea and Manchester City can testify over the years, money talks. Very loudly in fact.
Granted, it’s stretching it a bit to be putting so much faith in one so young, but in the space of a few short months, the Belgian/Albanian/Kosovar/Turkish/English/Whatever you’re having yourself youngster has already proven that he’s the real deal and that he’s going to be a star for years to come.
Since announcing his arrival in spectacular style with a brace against Sunderland earlier in the season, Januzaj has been (Wayne Rooney aside) United’s outstanding player this season and it is quite damning that he is being relied upon to such a significant degree whenever he’s on the pitch.
Januzaj recently committed his long-term future to United and although that’s no guarantee he’s going to be there forever, there is a chance that, with the restoration of Rooney and RVP to the team and with potential arrivals in the summer, that he could become one of a number of top-class players in the first XI, rather than a beacon in a sea of downright averageness as is currently the case.
A healthy dose of realism might do no harm
These last 25 years or so have been just swell, haven’t they? I mean, United fans have been pretty much guaranteed a trophy every season, the league title at least every second year, a lowest finishing position of third, an almost guaranteed position in the Champions League knockout stages with a couple of successes in that competition thrown in with some domestic cup trophies as well.
The problem with such unprecedented success is that a significant portion of fans have grown so spoiled that they are already throwing their toys out of the pram at the first (albeit very worrying) signs of trouble. That’s not to say that demanding the best shouldn’t always be the number one priority for a club of United’s stature but, hard as it might be to take, this could be the start of a spell where success isn’t as readily forthcoming as it has been in the recent past.
Look at Arsenal, who haven’t won a trophy in nine years and Liverpool, who are approaching a quarter of a century without a league title. Even the new rich kids on the block, Man City and Chelsea, have had their problems in recent seasons.
Again, having patience is the key and a realisation of the fact that real supporters stand by their team in good times and in bad.