Would Manchester United Be Better Off Had Rene Meulensteen Not Left the Club?

Rob Blanchette@@_Rob_BFeatured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2014

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 06:  Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United, talks with Rene Meulensteen, first team coach, during a training session held at the Carrington Training Complex on April 6, 2009 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

I think most Manchester United fans who are truly realistic about their football club knew this season was going to be impossible.

Impossible because of the introduction of a brand-new manager. Impossible because of the cracks in the squad that Sir Alex Ferguson covered so masterfully. Impossible because nothing ever lasts forever. 

However, no one was completely prepared for the crushing spin cycle that has been active for the past six months. 

We have seen United lose games at Old Trafford with a frequency of how it likes to rain in Manchester. 

We have seen the complete collapse of leadership on the pitch, as the pillars of Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra show that it does not matter how great you once were, but what matters is if you can be great today and do it now.

We also saw the dismantling of Fergie's foot soldier brigade. The men behind the scenes who kept the club ticking over daily. The wise centurions that the Caesar from Govan would listen to and take counsel from.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 16:  Manchester United Manager Sir Alex Ferguson (R) and Assistant Mike Phelan celebrate with the Barclays Premier League trophy after their side won the Premier League title at the end of the Barclays Premier League match betwee
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Mike Phelan, the man in the shorts in the technical area, was moved on swiftly. Phelan was not a tactics man in the style of Carlos Queiroz, but he very much had an acute awareness of his own importance to United's infrastructure.  

In November last year, Phelan claimed he had been acting as United boss for five years, as Fergie oversaw and delegated responsibilities, per David Anderson of the Daily Mirror.

Anderson reports that Phelan said of his time at United:

My first thoughts are to be a boss. That's what I've been doing for the last five years, albeit with the title of assistant boss.

He [Ferguson] was the head of the establishment, there's no doubt about it and rightly so. He didn't get to where he's got through not being a big decision maker, but he'll be the first to admit that a lot of people played their part in that.

We all were undercover in that respect. We weren't the face of what was going on, but that was our job. You were decision making so I'm more than capable of handling that.

One of those undercover men to whom Phelan alluded, and who also exited the club, was goalkeeping supremo Eric Steele. There was little doubt that David Moyes wanted to bring a few of his own team with him and that Chris Woods would tag along for the ride, hence leaving no role for Steele. 

Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press

Steele exited with Phelan as Moyes reshuffled his parliamentary cabinet, under what seemed like good terms, only to resurface several weeks later to spill the beans publicly on his time working with a "lazy" David de Gea, who "ate too many tacos" and initially "trained poorly," per Daniel Taylor of the Guardian.

The breaking of dressing-room secrets will not have helped Moyes and his attempt at transition. However, the loss of one single extra individual probably hurt him more than any other.

Rene Meulensteen had attained almost cult status at United as Fergie's primary coach. The Dutchman was cited by Arsene Wenger as a crucial element in Robin van Persie joining United, with the Arsenal manager saying Meulensteen "convinced" the player to join, per ESPN.

The common misconception is that Moyes sacked Meulensteen—a fact many United fans still proclaim incorrectly today. 

JON SUPER/Associated Press

Moyes recently refuted this nagging mythology once again, saying: "I asked Rene to stay at the club and gave him the opportunity so it wasn’t as if I came in here and said let’s get rid of everybody. I’ve kept all the other backroom staff." (h/t Stuart Mathieson of the Manchester Evening News)

But whether Meulensteen left on his own accord, or was made to walk the plank to make way for a bunch of Evertonian pirates, the fact remains that his departure has played a part in this season's failures. 

There is no doubt that what we are seeing at present at United is more than just a changing of the guard. With Ferguson's inevitable retirement, the club's initial preparations should have leaned towards evolution, rather than revolution. 

Trying to find a manager whose DNA was as close to Fergie's but without giving him the life support system that Sir Alex fashioned himself was a catastrophic mistake. 

Now United are forced to think revolution. They will now be forced to spend the large sums of money they simply do not want to spend.

All those years of building and preparing for when the sullen winter of discontent would finally arrive, when Fergie would set his sails in the direction of the sunset, looking back and waving goodbye to us all, have been for nothing.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08:  Rene Meulensteen the Fulham manager looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Aston Villa at Craven Cottage on December 8, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Meulensteen was arguably as important as Fergie in the final years of the great manager's reign.

Yes, it was the Scotsman who called the shots and picked the team, but it was his coach who drilled the players and combated their weaknesses. 

Those weaknesses are now evident for all to see, like a designer shirt that really should have been ironed because without sharp creases, it just looks cheap and crumbled. 

The Glazers failed United and they failed Moyes by not preparing for this transfer of power in the correct fashion.

In football terms, they can garner some sympathy—for there is no guideline or manual on how to replace the greatest manager in history.

In many ways you just have to swing your bat and hope you hit a six, and that is what the Glazer family did. They gambled—and so far they are losing. A new kit deal will rectify any short-term losses for them financially, for sponsorship is their elixir, but it does not help Moyes at all in the short term.

Nonetheless, when the owners were fretting over retaining the likes of Wayne Rooney, they should have been solidifying the talents of Meulensteen and company. They should have been servicing the engine, rather than just pumping up the tyres. 

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 01:  David Moyes (2ndL), manager of Manchester United looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Manchester United at Britannia Stadium on February 1, 2014 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Phot
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

These are the people in the shadows who have made United successful, under the greatest of guidance, of course.

This is not Moyes' fault. He had no prior knowledge of how United worked except for the information that Fergie had divulged to him. It suggests that the owners really did not know how Fergie made the club a success all of these years whilst spending pennies in comparison to his rivals. 

If Meulensteen had remained at Moyes' side, there is no guarantee that United would have been a success this season, but surely the club would not have been in the depth of the mire that it is in today, treading in quicksand, sinking into a bog of depression without a rope or a pulley.  

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 26:  David Moyes the manager of Manchester United talks with Wayne Rooney during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on October 26, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo b
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Meulensteen would have been Moyes' compass. He could have given him the insight he needed when assessing the intricacies of each player.

For example, look at Rooney. Moyes knows him. He has known him since he was a child. He knows which buttons to push to make him work and perform, and this he has done with success.

However, does Moyes know how to motivate Rafael? Does he know how to take a very average midfield and make it win a championship? Does he know how to handle the weight of expectation that comes with 76,000 fans watching your every move, with another billion or so people watching via satellite? 

Meulensteen could have given Moyes the scaffolding he needs. He could have advised him. He could have been the crutch that an individual needs when you become injured and wounded, and the world still expects you to walk tall and proud with no pain or agony, as is the Manchester United way. 

LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 02:  David Moyes the manager of Everton celebrates with Tim Cahill after victory over Portsmouth in the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Portsmouth at Goodison Park on March 2, 2008 in Everton, England.
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Ultimately Moyes is a tough man and this is why he was chosen to replace the toughest of the lot. Tim Cahill wrote an articulate and passionate article for Fox Sports about why Moyes will succeed at United, explaining his qualities of holding a dressing-room together, and that United "signed him to a long-term contract because he epitomises what they stand for. He's honest, loyal and he gives everything."

United could have had Jose Mourinho, but maybe Sir Bobby Charlton did not see those qualities that Cahill described in him. Maybe Mourinho was a step too near to revolution, rather than the evolution that they thought they had subscribed to.

United are in a mess, and if Moyes is to be successful, it will be the greatest Houdini act that football has seen in years. Losing Muelensteen was like attaching a brick to Moyes' ankle and asking him to swim. It was unfair and it was poorly planned by the football club.

For that, Sir Alex must take some of the blame. He left United at the time that was optimum for him and not for the club.

The transition should have been planned over years and not months. With the resignation of David Gill, then Ferguson's swansong championship, United were doomed to some level of failure in 2014. 

Will Moyes pull off this magic trick now? No one can say.

However, he has the United faithful who populate the Theatre of Dreams on his side and they are singing his name with gusto. That fact on its own is a magnificent thing.


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