Perhaps it was a trophy-less season. It could have been missing the Champions League for the first time since 1995. Was it the horrific home form at Old Trafford? Or maybe it was just that a team with so much talent never appeared to have an identity.
Whatever the reason—or perhaps due to all of them—David Moyes has been sacked after just one season as manager of Manchester United:
BREAKING: Manchester United announces that David Moyes has left the club. (part 1 of 2) #mufc— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 22, 2014
BREAKING: The club would like to place on record its thanks for the hard work, honesty and integrity he brought to the role. (part 2 of 2)— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 22, 2014
Ryan Giggs will step in as interim coach until the end of the season, confirmed by the club, while Moyes' wingmen Steve Round and Jimmy Lumsden are set to depart alongside the Scot, according to BBC Sport:
Things just never seemed to go Moyes' way this year.
The Red Devils appeared to be off on the wrong foot even in the summer, when the team had a relatively quiet transfer window and the top signing was spending £27 million on Marouane Fellaini, who could have been had for cheaper had his buyout clause been triggered earlier in the window.
Instead, he was brought aboard late in the window in a move that reeked of desperation after United failed to bolster the midfield sooner.
But Moyes' tactics on the pitch were just as questionable.
He turned United from an attacking team into a more cautious one, negating the advantage United had in talent by forcing upon the club a more passive style of play. Where Sir Alex Ferguson played the aggressor, Moyes managed United like they were a smaller club that had to deflect an opponent's strengths.
By the end of September, United had drawn with Chelsea at Old Trafford and lost to Liverpool, Manchester City and West Brom (the first time they lost to West Brom at home since 1978). They managed to take just seven points from their first six matches. It didn't take the supporters long to suspect something wasn't quite right, but patience was preached.
And then came November. Draws against Cardiff City and Tottenham were followed by losses to Everton and Newcastle. It was obvious the team needed to make a move in the transfer window once January rolled around.
And they certainly made a splash, landing Juan Mata in a £37 million transfer. But it was quickly apparent that Mata didn't really fill a major need; United already had Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa capable of playing the No. 10 role.
While Mata brought more creativity and playmaking ability to the attack, the need to get him on the field with Rooney and Robin van Persie often made United compact and bunched going forward, with all three players occupying similar areas on the pitch.
My teammates are sometimes occupying the spaces I want to play in. And when I see that it makes it difficult for me to come to those spaces as well. So that forces me to adjust my runs, based on the position of my fellow players. And unfortunately, they're often playing in my zones. I think that's a shame.
While the Premier League season never really reversed course—City, Liverpool and Everton each earned a double against the Red Devils—the club couldn't take the sting off the season in their other competitions, either.
They reached the semifinals of the Capital One Cup but were eliminated by Sunderland on penalties. They reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League but were dismissed by German powerhouse Bayern Munich. And they were eliminated in the third round of the FA Cup by Swansea City, a very quick exit from that tournament.
It wasn't all bleak, however. Rooney signed a new contract with the club in February, in a move that appeared to be a statement from United that Moyes could retain top talent.
But much like his many dour faces throughout the season, there was more that was bleak than bright for Moyes.
The United board let him have a totally free hand in choosing who was the best man to succeed him. And, despite having a couple of years to mull over what the coaching world had to offer as he waited for the right moment to retire, he opted for Moyes.
He could have had Jose Mourinho or Jurgen Klopp. He even dined with Pep Guardiola in New York when the Spaniard was footloose and fancy free. All are serial winners. Instead he chose a bloke who hadn't won as much as an egg cup.
The suspicion when Moyes took over was that United would simply be too big for him. And that has proved to be the case as he has led United back to the dark days of 1980s in the greatest act of timetravelling since Doctor Who last stepped inside his Tardis.
All this reflects terribly on Fergie. Could he not see that it would be too big a step up for Moyes?
Moyes will land on his feet, no doubt. His track record at Everton is proof that he's a good manager, if one not equipped to handle the expectations of a bigger club. But he likely won't be without work for long.
Twitter reacted to the news in typical fashion. Leading the way was Purely Football's rundown of records broken by Moyes' United side:
OptaJoe took a different route, indicating things weren't all bad under the Scottish boss:
50% - David Moyes had the third best win rate (league games) of any Manchester United manager in history (P34 W17). Irrelevant.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 22, 2014
Squawka posted one of many Grim Reaper-based images—after a fan dressed as the ominous figure during United's recent loss to Everton:
Someone got his wish granted. pic.twitter.com/HRnQJ2Qu1q— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 22, 2014
As noted by David McDonnell of the Mirror, Moyes' future may have been settled for quite some time:
Major mood shift on Man Utd board with regard to Moyes after Olympiakos defeat, as reported at the time. Fate was sealed from then on #MUFC— David McDonnell (@DiscoMirror) April 22, 2014
Jonathan Northcroft of the Sunday Times suggested United didn't handle the affair properly:
After stories broke yesterday, no call from United hierarchy to Moyes to reassure or clarify. On a human level, this has not been classy.— Jonathan Northcroft (@JNorthcroft) April 22, 2014
The club's search will likely take them into the path of some of Europe's top managers, from Borussia Dortmund's Jurgen Klopp to Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal and perhaps Atletico Madrid's Diego Simeone.
Giggs could also be considered on a permanent basis (via Miguel Delaney of ESPN) in a move that surely would be popular in the locker room and with the supporters.
However, Rob Harris of the Associated Press is reporting that Giggs is not being considered for the permanent position:
Ryan Giggs not being considered for the Man United manager's job on a permament basis due to lack of experience— Rob Harris (@RobHarris) April 22, 2014
The Telegraph's Mark Ogden says Klopp is the least likely of those scenarios:
Man Utd will not be pursuing Jurgen Klopp. Been made aware he is committed to Borussia Dortmund. Story to follow...— Mark Ogden (@MOgdenTelegraph) April 22, 2014
Was sacking Moyes the right move?
Giggs' inexperience as a manager might raise some eyebrows if he is appointed permanently, however. One way or another, United need to quickly and decisively add a manager.
They need to attack the transfer window. They must establish a style of play with consistent tactics and fit the right players into the right roles. They must not be tentative. And they must reestablish their prestige in Europe and their dominance at Old Trafford.
In other words, to return to glory, they must do all of the things Moyes could never quite achieve.