The nightmare is happening. David Moyes’ Manchester United reign is proving an unmitigated disaster, and now thoughts are turning to the dramatic possibility of an Old Trafford comeback for Sir Alex Ferguson.
Tuesday night’s 2-0 Champions League defeat to Olympiakos in the first leg of their last-16 tie left United faced with the desperate reality under Moyes.
They cannot cut it at Europe’s top table, they almost certainly won’t even be there next season, and the trophy cabinet for the 2013-14 campaign is bare.
Interestingly, bookmakers Paddy Power have Ferguson edging toward a return, offered at 5/2 at the time of writing, as highlighted by Oddschecker.
Claims even emerged that Moyes had been sacked, although that story was quickly rubbished by Bleacher Report expert Guillem Balague:
The story doing the rounds in Twitter about David Moyes' future is not true. He has not been sacked.— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) February 26, 2014
In truth, it’s highly unlikely—no matter how bad things get—that Ferguson would step back into the United hotseat.
After all, it was he who told Old Trafford chiefs to appoint Moyes as his successor, per Stuart Mathieson of Manchester Evening News.
In somewhat iconic fashion, Ferguson also addressed his adoring crowd as he bade farewell, urging them to "stand by our new manager,” per the Guardian’s Jamie Jackson.
For Ferguson to snatch the reins back from Moyes after nine months would represent a dramatic and embarrassing U-turn.
However, deep down it must pain Ferguson to see the dynasty he built get wrecked so quickly. He may have “knocked Liverpool off their perch”—to quote his famous line—but no United fan is having the last laugh against their scouse rivals right now.
United under Moyes look totally lost. Skipper Nemanja Vidic is already on his way out the exit door, per Nadia Carminati of Sky Sports, while Rio Ferdinand previously questioned Moyes’ selection policy, as reported by Metro’s Jamie Sanderson.
Summer signing Wilfried Zaha—a deal arranged by Ferguson—has been farmed out on loan to Cardiff after limited playing opportunities, while £27.5 million Marouane Fellaini is currently heading for the “flop” bin of high-profile United failures.
The midfield, despite boasting many of the names from last year’s title winners, looks slow and ponderous, while Robin van Persie appears agitated at the lack of intelligence and coordination being shown by his teammates.
Speaking to Dutch channel NOS, via the Daily Mail’s Graeme York, van Persie moaned: “Our fellow players are sometimes occupying the spaces I want to play in.”
With United 11 points behind fourth-placed Liverpool, having lost eight league games already this term, pressure on Moyes is beginning to grow swiftly.
However, should the axe finally fall, Ferguson would have rivals for the job. Oddschecker shows Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Ryan Giggs are the general favourites, although Paddy Power leads on the legendary Scot.
Certainly Guardiola and Klopp offer CVs that Moyes did not boast when he got the United job. Moyes arrived from Everton having not won a trophy (his successor Roberto Martinez owned an FA Cup at Wigan), boasting little European experience of which to impart on his new collection of stars, and with no obvious footballing philosophy to instil at the club.
Who should be United manager next season?
He had displayed an ability to work hard and operate on a tight budget, but managers of United need far more strings to their bow.
Guardiola and Klopp can both point to league championships, they’ve both been to Champions League finals, and certainly the latter would seem accessible given Dortmund’s struggle to retain players.
United have prided themselves on the claim that they give managers time, as they did with Ferguson, so don’t expect Moyes to depart before the end of the season.
However, the current lack of direction would concern any owners, and it would take a large degree of trust for the Glazers to hand Moyes a war chest to spend on putting things right this summer.