Manchester United Sacking David Moyes in May Would Not Be Short-Term Thinking

Paul Ansorge@@utdrantcastFeatured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2014

David Moyes' career at Manchester United so far has been an only-very-slightly-mitigated disaster. It is not unreasonable to suggest that at many of the top clubs in world football he would already have been replaced. It is certainly the case that the discussion about his future would be taken very seriously.

However, there are few such signs at United.

Over and over, the cry has gone up from fans, "give him time." United are the club who know better than any other that good things can happen if you give a struggling manager the chance to prove himself. The iconic "Ta-ra Fergie" banner serves as a reminder that when a crowd turn on a manager, they are not always correct.

When Sir Alex Ferguson implored the United faithful to "stand by" his choice of new manager in his farewell speech to the Old Trafford crowd in May of last year, it can be readily inferred that he suspected the transition would not be a straightforward one.

I'd like to remind you that when we had bad times here, the club stood by me. The board stood by me, the staff stood by me and the players stood by me. Your job now is to stand by your new manager.

Ferguson's sentiment is a noble one, and, given that he possesses one of the finest football minds in history, it may seem foolish to offer a counter argument to his position. However, a counter argument does exist, and it is one that is worthy of consideration.

Essentially it boils down to the question "what happens if you give time to the wrong person?"

Manchester United were determined to sell the appointment of Moyes as being one which represented continuity. In May, the words "cut from the same cloth" were used by incoming Chief Executive, Ed Woodward, to describe the appointment, and headline writers were quick to use the phrase in their coverage of the succession. 

Nine months on, and more than a few United fans may be considering whether the tailor made a hash of the fabric the second time around.

The facts make for grim reading for those looking for signs of progress under Moyes. A litany of unwanted broken records has formed the bedrock of a desperately poor domestic campaign.

United have lost eight games in the league already. Not since 2003/04 have they lost as many games in the course of a season. Many would suspect that Moyes' men are well on their way to worsening the nine defeats suffered by the "Djemba-Djemba" era United.

If results were the only problem, then calls for Moyes' removal in the summer would seem like genuine short-termism. However, the results only tell part of the story. The real problem is that the Moyes era has so far offered little hope for the future.

The truth is that there is limited evidence that Moyes is, indeed, cut from the same cloth as Sir Alex. By the time Ferguson arrived at United he was a proven winner. His Aberdeen side had, along with Dundee United, broken up the duopoly of Old Firm success in the Scottish top flight.

Since Sir Alex relocated to Manchester, no team other than Rangers or Celtic have won the Scottish Premier League, further evidence of the staggeringly impressive nature of his achievements with Aberdeen. That he added European success speaks volumes. 

When Ferguson said of himself, in 2012, "I am a winner" he was not simply talking of his time at United. He was speaking of something hard wired into him. There are many things that can be debated about Sir Alex Ferguson, but that statement is not one of them.

There is no such evidence that Moyes is "a winner." His time at Everton yielded no silverware. His side produced a famously poor return against the so called "big four." 

He managed to secure Premier League football for the Toffeemen and occasionally troubled those competing for Champions League places, but trophies and genuine evolution towards success eluded him.

He also takes a very different managerial approach to Ferguson. He takes training and manages the team from the front-line, where Ferguson preferred to delegate. His scouting methods would also seem to differ. Author Michael Calvin, in this extract from his book The Nowhere Men: The Unknown Story of Football's True Talent Spotters published in the Independent, describes Moyes' methodical approach.

In an interview with Sirius XM (h/t The Mirror) a less scientific angle is revealed by Sir Alex, who uses "statistics" to mean how much is available to spend on a player, rather than in terms of data analysis. 

So whilst they may share a similar accent, there is much about their football philosophy that differs.

This has told on the pitch. From a purely personal perspective, I have rarely been as frustrated by a football match as when watching United's display against Fulham.

So much has been said about the number of crosses United attempted in that game that it would be going over old ground to revisit it, but it was the first time I solidified in the belief that giving Moyes too much time at the helm of United, without clear changes in style of play and performance, could be a significant mistake.

United, with resources far outmatching Fulham in terms of creative, attacking talent, regressed to a kind of percentage football which played into the opponent's hands.

This followed on from the defeat at Stoke, where during the first half, with a strong wind at their backs, United made 21 attempts to play long balls, of which only five were successful (per It was clear from the game's earliest moments that this was an approach which ill-suited the conditions, and yet no attempt to change the style of play was made.

Moyes has made heavy weather of United's misfortune this season but it was impossible not to be frustrated by his approach in these two games. Whilst luck has played its part, it is a dereliction of duty on Moyes' part to apportion as much blame to it as he has.

Generally speaking, when short-termism is derided by those in football who advocate a more rational approach, it is when a manager is perceived to be hard done by. When Nigel Adkins was sacked by Southampton it seemed almost as if he was being punished for success, having taken the club into the Premier League.

The other case for genuine concern around short-term thinking is when managers have barely got their names on their office door when they are replaced. Gary Neville bemoaned the recent sacking of Rene Meulensteen, on the basis of how few games he had in charge.

Oh Fulham ! I will stick with the United's and Arsenal's! Longevity in this world is not failure! The rest can Sack off!!

— Gary Neville (@GNev2) February 14, 2014

If Moyes were to be replaced in the summer, there would be no question of him being punished for success. Whilst it would certainly be a short tenure, it will have been a full season, not long enough to firmly establish yourself at a club, but surely long enough to demonstrate some indication of your future potential.

In Sir Alex's first full season he took a side that had finished 11th the previous year and finished second. Moyes has taken a side that finished 11 points clear in first and has them languishing in seventh.

There is no doubting that his task is a phenomenally challenging one, replacing a manager who exerted total control over the club for two-and-a-half decades. However, there is a difference between an impossible task and an extremely difficult one.

Moyes' job at United is the latter. The club's infrastructure is built for success. The squad needed work, but they were champions, and even so, precious little work was done in the summer transfer window, something for which Moyes must take a share of the responsibility.

It is hard to argue with any fan who says that United's tradition of giving managers time should be upheld. Sir Alex Ferguson believed David Moyes was well suited to the job, and there are few greater stamps of approval.

However, given how poor the account that Moyes has given of himself has been in the first eight months of his tenure, the idea that replacing him in the summer would be the best for all concerned does not seem ludicrous either. There are many with a CV with better evidence of their suitability.

Given that the truth of these matters can only be certain in hindsight, I hope to feel as silly reading this back in 20 years as Pete Molyneux does about his infamous banner. The season so far suggests that is a long shot.

Replacing a manager after a season is not always short-termism. Sometimes it is prudent, responsible decision making. If the manager, given time, will weaken the club's standing, produce results costing a fortune in lost revenues, and waste the best abilities of some of the world's finest players, lining up a replacement may be the best option. 


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