5 Things David Moyes Can Salvage from Manchester United's Terrible Season
Out of both national cup competitions and apparently out of the running for Champions League qualification, the domestic season is all but over.
Whilst United are still in the Champions League, few United fans would be able to muster much optimism about United’s abilities to compete with the best in Europe.
With all that in mind, David Moyes has three months ahead with nothing all that pressing on the agenda. Given that he was anointed as Sir Alex Ferguson’s natural heir in such public fashion, it seems unlikely that the club will take dramatic action this season (although many clubs in world football probably would).
With next season in mind, here are five suggestions for ways David Moyes can spend his time between now and May to ensure that next season is less of a calamity.
Develop Some Tactical Flexibility in Attack
One of the key differences between managing a mid-level Premier League club and a team with pretensions to being one of the best in the world is the quality and variety of players.
United are blessed with three of the world’s finest attacking players in Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata. They have one of the most promising young creative talents in world football in Adnan Januzaj.
They have useful squad players whose abilities may not be of the very highest level, but players like Antonio Valencia and the much-maligned Ashley Young who can make a contribution. They have fine understudies for their star strikers in Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez.
Unfortunately, Moyes’ approach has neutered some of United’s attacking threat.
From the relentless, one-dimensional crossing of the Fulham game to the safety-first approach against Arsenal, the idea that all it would take for United’s attack to fire into top gear is the return to fitness of van Persie and Rooney has proven to be inaccurate.
Moyes needs to find the key to unlocking the potential of his best players.
He should use the rest of this season to experiment with ideas that might seem new to him, but can get the best out of his players. He needs to adapt his approach, and the rest of this season is the time to begin this process.
Improve His Media-Handling Skills
Some of Moyes' comments to the press have been painful to watch, and listen to. He has blamed misfortune for failings that so clearly run deeper than that.
He has used press conferences to blame referees. He accused his players of displaying "mental softness" in conceding a last-minute equaliser against Fulham.
What he has not done is taken a clear position on the style of football he wants to play or taken any significant responsibility for his own role in United’s change in fortunes this season.
He uses the word "try" a lot. He should be fined a week’s wages every time he does.
Manchester United do not "try" to improve and "try" to win games. They improve, and they win games. If Moyes does not learn this, then he is unlikely to last in the job.
Work on His Relationships with Senior Players
An ad hoc list of players who are performing worse under David Moyes than they did under Sir Alex Ferguson would include Robin van Persie, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick and Rafael da Silva.
There are mitigating circumstances in some cases—injuries and age, in particular.
However, there are also rumours, such as these reported in the Daily Express concerning van Persie in particular that suggest that some of the senior players have not seen eye to eye with the new man.
Ferdinand used a video diary on BT Sport to say he was being turned into a "madman" by not knowing whether he would be included in the starting line-up until just before the game (h/t Daily Mail).
Vidic is definitely leaving in the summer. It is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that Ferdinand and Evra will follow.
Moyes needs to learn to get the best out of those of his senior players who remain next season. If some bridges have indeed been damaged, spending the rest of this season building them may be time well-spent.
Step Back from Front Line Coaching and Develop a More Managerial Approach
In this Financial Times editorial, Sir Alex Ferguson is described as a master of delegation.
In an interview with Harvard Business School (h/t The Guardian), Sir Alex said:
Observation is the final part of my management structure. One afternoon at Aberdeen I had a conversation with my assistant manager and another coach who pointed out I could benefit from not always having to lead the training. At first I said no but deep down I knew he was right. So I delegated training. It was the best thing I ever did. It didn't take away my control. My presence and ability to supervise were always there and what you can pick up by watching is incredibly valuable. Seeing a change in a player's habits or a sudden dip in his enthusiasm allowed me to go further with him. Sometimes I could even tell that a player was injured when he thought he was fine.
David Moyes has been training the team from the front line. Given this is his first season in charge, it is understandable that he would want to spend time with his players, getting to know them and letting them get to know him.
It may be time for him to step back and strengthen his abilities as a manager, rather than concentrating on coaching.
Prepare to Act Decisively in the Summer
With the club prepared to offer Moyes substantial sums in the transfer window, according to The Telegraph, the United manager will have to act decisively to spend it wisely.
It is a World Cup year, and United are unlikely to be able to offer immediate Champions League football to new signings. Given these complications, the choppy waters of the transfer market will be challenging to navigate.
There are few advantages to the season being effectively over in February, but one of them should be that it gives Moyes plenty of time to prioritise his summer activities. Given the size of the rebuilding task, next season and United’s medium-term future depend on it.