5 Things David Moyes Got Right at Manchester United
Earlier this week, the ill-fated reign of David Moyes at Manchester United—a tenure that was intended to carry on the dynastic work of Sir Alex Ferguson—came to a shuddering halt after less than a year. It was a move that many saw coming, although perhaps not quite as soon as it did.
Going from “the chosen one” to “the wrong one”—the former trumpeted by a banner hung from the Stretford End, the latter flown over Old Trafford in March—in a matter of months speaks volumes for the trajectory of Moyes’ tenure at the United helm. But much of the vitriol that has been directed at him and the celebratory mood on Twitter following his sacking is harsh on the former Everton boss.
He may have had his failings, but here are five things he got right at Old Trafford.
Scintillating Away Form
Nobody could claim that Moyes didn’t receive the full, vociferous backing of Old Trafford, at least at the beginning of his reign. However, as is often the case with teams going through a rocky patch, home games can quickly become dreaded and hugely disadvantageous, with crowds quick to jump on the backs of players and management alike.
While open dissent at the Theatre of Dreams wasn’t hugely noticeable during the latter stages of Moyes’ time as boss—the aforementioned plane incident aside—there was no getting away from the uncomfortable tension walling the team in when on home turf.
It is perhaps the lack of season tickets being thrown at the Scot and the like that masked how badly this weight of expectation was holding the team back, as their away form was little short of excellent. This season, only first-placed Liverpool can boast a better points total accrued away from home.
Only wins in all of United’s three remaining games at Old Trafford will mean their home form equals that which they have enjoyed in away fixtures this term.
Bought Midfield Reinforcements
The lack of midfield presence at United, particularly since the departure of Roy Keane in 2005, is startling, given that the team have won five league titles in that time. Darren Fletcher’s lengthy spells on the sidelines have been well-documented, and Anderson’s failure to ever truly acclimate to the Premier League culminated in him being sent out on loan to Fiorentina this season.
United’s wing-heavy play over the years has papered over the cracks, but with no truly outstanding wingers since selling Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid and with Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia out of form, the problem has become obvious this season.
Marouane Fellaini has become an inadvertent, curly-haired figurehead for Moyes’ shortcomings and faltering transfer policy, his signing from the Scot’s former charges emblematic of a manager accused of being stuck in the mentality of a smaller club without a winning culture. However, while Fellaini’s time at Manchester United has failed to ignite so far, many have overlooked the fact that on his day, he is a force to be reckoned with who has won many admiring glances over the years. His signing could yet prove to be a huge boon to the squad.
The same is true of club-record signing Juan Mata. While not yet operating at the level we have seen over the past two seasons at Chelsea, he may well become talismanic in the future, particularly if Moyes’ successor is less inclined toward a wing-based approach to attack.
United under Ferguson didn’t really need a plan B due to Ferguson’s presence and sheer dominance over the team—plan A was enough. Now, at the very least, United have options.
Highlighted the Shortcomings of the Squad
While listening to some Red Devils fans would suggest that Moyes had inherited an unstoppable title-winning machine and somehow derailed it, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Moyes’ brief was to come in and steadily build the next generation of the United team, and while he was ultimately denied the opportunity to see the project out, he has done the toughest part by demonstrating the need for a mass overhaul.
The defence is in desperate need of bolstering, with only Rafael at right-back looking like a true long-term prospect. The wings are lacking in quality for a team that has relied on wide play for so long. The centre of midfield was in desperate need of reinforcements.
It was always going to be a tough task to convince the fans and the board of the need for such wholesale changes after winning the title with relative ease last term, but though it took an almost-kamikaze approach, Moyes has done so.
Some have suggested that Moyes was never meant to be the long-term United manager—that his appointment was merely an interim buffer while United courted their target for Ferguson’s true successor. While this does seem slightly conspiratorial, there’s little doubting that Moyes has taken a huge weight off the shoulders of whoever takes up the Old Trafford reins next.
Rather than everything they do being examined with the question “Is that what Fergie would have done?”, the question will be “Is that better than Moyes?” Rather than trying to compete with a 26-year legacy, they’ll be compared to someone widely considered a failure, and who lasted just 10 months in the job.
Ultimately, there’s nobody in the football world—not even the likes of Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola—who could exactly replicate what Ferguson achieved, and United fans who expected a smooth transition were always going to be disappointed. While he clearly didn’t mean to, Moyes has tempered the expectations of a fanbase that expects and demands success like no other.
Secured Wayne Rooney's Future
Given he was regularly accused of betraying the “United way” during his time as manager, Moyes did do one piece of legacy preservation that would have been a tall order for most other managers, particularly Ferguson.
Sir Alex’s tempestuous relationship with his star striker was well-documented, and it was becoming apparent that Rooney’s departure was more a matter of “when” rather than “if” with Ferguson in charge. Even after Ferguson’s retirement, it was a big ask to get Rooney to stay, and Moyes was one of the few managers in the game who could have been reasonably confident in completing the task, thanks to their relationship at Everton during Rooney’s formative years.
As with many of his other achievements on this list, getting Rooney to sign a new five-and-a-half-year deal in February may go underappreciated in the short term. However, assuming Rooney sees out the contract and spends the rest of the prime of his career at United, it will go an awfully long way to rehabilitating Moyes’ image in the eyes of the United faithful.