Unless he wins the lottery, but loses his ticket, it’s difficult to see how David Moyes’s luck can get much worse. Of course others will say,with United fans among them, that luck has very little to do with it, and that as time goes by it seems more and more like Moyes may not be the man for the job at Old Trafford. It’s an uncharitable assessment, but with a club so used to glory and success, the current reality of mid-table position and form, is a stark and unwelcome shock to the system.
Although their failure to achieve the level of results this season has taken many forms, the home draw with Fulham at the weekend will serve as a useful metaphor. Stung on the break through naivety in the first half and massive possession advantage bringing little result, as mindless high balls into the area were headed away by a defender tall enough to tower over United’s forwards. Then, relief as two quick goals seemed to have turned the tide of ill fortune late in the second half and secured the win, only for a ‘reverse Fergie-time’ unexpected equaliser seeing the league’s bottom club escape with a draw at the home of the champions.
There’ll be many theories as to why United find themselves in the position they are, and whilst it’s always more important to look forward rather than backwards, addressing the problems usually starts with a need to understand them. It’s difficult to square the circle of the club that won the league at a stroll be a comfortable eleven points, now with largely the same team, some sixteen points off top place, and failure to qualify for European competition, of any description, a real possibility.
Having the broadly the same squad however may be one of the main issues to solve. For united fans, whoever took over the hot seat at Old Trafford would have one major failing, and that is simply that they wouldn’t be Sir Alex Ferguson. Whereas the craggy old Scot could squeeze another 14% of performance from an aging team, mere mortals such as Moyes, do not have that ability, and with the squad another years older, the genius of Ferguson is not there to paper over the cracks.
Losing peter Gill at the same time as Ferguson would also have been a major blow to the club. The comparatively novice pair of Moyes and Ed Woodward had a poor summer in the transfer market, with their only major acquisition looking out of his depth, aside from the fact that due to clumsy timing, they overpaid for the player. January saw the arrival of Juan Mata, and the club gained a lift with that and the promise of a major spending spree to rebuild the squad. Whilst summer may see the fulfilling of that promise, nothing else happened in January, and the arrival of Mata appears to have been compromised by trying to fit him into a system of play that required both he and Rooney to play in the same position. That also will be a problem for Moyes to solve in the summer.
It’s not something that United fans will want to hear, but although Ferguson managed a number of transition seasons, with barely a stumble along the road to glory, this is not looking to be the case now. It may be a little early to say the club will need to write off this season, but it’s beginning to look that way. A major problem on the horizon may be that should the club not qualify for Champions’ League football next season, and that has to be a realistic possibility, if not probability, will the lure of playing for Manchester United be tarnished somewhat and harm any drive for top class player recruitment?
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