Hindsight is a wonderful thing of course, but as Manchester United fans survey the detritus of their first season without the stewardship of the greatest club manager in history to light the way, they could be forgiven for wondering how things could have gone much worse.
Currently suffering their poorest start to a Premier League season on record, it's fair to say that even those who criticised the managerial appointment of David Moyes (and there were plenty of them) wouldn't have predicted United would be languishing in ninth position with more than a third of the season gone.
It may well be too early to fairly judge Moyes, and it is surely far too early to say that he should be cut loose altogether, but events are certainly going from bad to worse, and have been almost from the day the new man took over at Old Trafford.
July the 1st was the official date of Moyes' coronation, and almost immediately issues began to arise. Rather than attempt to ease the transition by keeping hold of some of the coaching staff who knew the players and the methods that had led the club to a 20th Premier League title, Moyes adopted the baby and the bathwater approach, bringing in his entire staff from Everton and dispensing with the likes of the much-lauded Rene Meulensteen and Sir Alex Ferguson's right-hand man Mike Phelan. The new coaching staff, much like the new manager, had no track record of winning between them, meaning many of the club's players were more experienced in trophy capturing than the men employed to inspire them.
In keeping with this approach, the 'new Manchester United' seemed to adopt an open-house policy when it came to dealings in the transfer market, and similarly with the press in general. It appeared that along with Ferguson's departure, and that of chief executive David Gill, an approach was being taken of 'if it 'ain't broke, fix it anyway'.
One development that has gone under the radar is the departure of Diana Law from the club; United's head of press for more than a decade, and a key ally of Ferguson. Under Law (daughter of former United legend Denis Law) any kind of press access to the players was notoriously hard to negotiate. She was the reason you would not see Manchester United players taking part in jovial matters like Soccer AM's 'Crossbar Challenge'. Interviews with any first-team players were nigh-on impossible to come by unless they were through official sponsors, or benefited the club's interest in some way. Most requests from the media were turned down flat. This contributed to the siege-like approach that Ferguson fostered in his own team.
There has obviously been a notable change in this approach - never before would you have seen Rio Ferdinand giving the BBC's Football Focus a personal tour around Old Trafford for instance, and in keeping, United finally arrived on Twitter amidst much social media fanfare in the summer. Unfortunately this openness works both ways, and most official tweets from the account are followed by streams of colourful complaints from disgruntled supporters.
This more open approach has also been reflected in the behaviour of the widely-disliked new chief executive Ed Woodward.
Whereas previously the club's dealings in the transfer market were generally kept in-house before a deal had been signed with the player in question, this summer blew open the scattergun approach taken by Woodward and Moyes as they attempted to solve the long-ignored problems in the team's midfield area. Twice the club informed the world they had bid for Barcelona's Cesc Fabregas, only to be publicly rejected, and then issued a bizarre semi-apology for bidding in the first place. Of course by the time the transfer window had closed United had succeeded in signing solely Marouane Fellaini, and for a wildly exaggerated fee. Despite attempts, his Everton team-mate did Leighton Baines did not arrive with him.
The disastrous summer contributed to a major problem facing the club at the juncture; that of negative perception. The new manager Moyes had followed suit with many newly appointed managers and gone back to his former club to attempt to bring players with him. Apart from a lack of imagination, this didn't help the perception that Moyes was a 'play it safe' manager who would attempt to cast Manchester United in his own image. As mentioned, the coaching staff from Everton were also imported, and aside from the players, almost everyone from the Ferguson era was disappearing.
Events since Moyes took over have suggested that allowing Ferguson to appoint his own successor in Moyes, a man supposedly in his own ground-from-granite image, may not have been the wisest choice. For many years it was Jose Mourinho that we were led to believe was waiting for Ferguson to vacate his throne. It is highly unlikely that United would be in the position they are now had the Portuguese taken over.
One thing Mourinho does at every club he has managed (apart from guarantee trophies) is unite the players behind him in a common cause; United's players certainly do not look inspired at the moment, or to be playing for their new boss. It was always suggested that Mourinho wasn't the man for Old Trafford because appointing him would be seen as short-termism; he would only hang around for a few years and then be off. The fact that those few years would almost have guaranteed to bring success seems to matter little when balanced against United's belief that handing a six-year contract to Moyes, a man yet to win a major competition, was somehow more worthy, or sensible.
Mourinho, one suspects, would also have been able to attract the calibre of player that Moyes and Woodward were unable to in the summer. United have suggested since then that they did not need Mesut Ozil for instance, and while not suggesting he would prefer Old Trafford to Arsenal where he eventually ended up, he did play under Mourinho at Real Madrid.
Again it comes down to perception; do world-class players, who we are led to believe Manchester United can afford, want to play for a manager in David Moyes who is yet to win anything, no matter how big a club United are? If under Moyes the club fails to get Champions League football at the end of this season, not only will there be a financial impact, but it will make it nigh-on impossible to attract the kind of player that would improve a failing side.
Criticising Sir Alex Ferguson is often a futile exercise, but it's evident that the squad was allowed to stagnate badly over the final few years of his reign, and as legendary as Ferguson is he certainly has an ego. The release of his autobiography and subsequent book tour did nothing to assist the new manager already labouring in his shadow, and an interesting line of thought as to why Mourinho wasn't approached to succeed him may well have been that Ferguson worried he would simply be over-shadowed by someone as guaranteed box office as the Portuguese manager.
It seems incredible to think that with all the time Manchester United had as a club to put contingency plans in place for Sir Alex Ferguson's departure they could make a hash of it, but that certainly seems to be the case. From ill-advised quotes from Ed Woodward about how United don't need to be successful on the pitch as long as the money from sponsors and shirt sales rolls in (an entirely contradictory and ridiculous statement) to failing to keep at least a couple of people on the coaching staff who knew how the team ended up as champions just a few months previously, mistake after mistake has led to a situation that could go from bad to critical very quickly.
Moyes will be given time no doubt, whether he should be trusted to make the right decisions with the fortune that will presumably be thrust at him in the next two transfer windows is debatable. Jose Mourinho may not have wanted the United job in the first place, but there is certainly an argument that the powers that be at Old Trafford should have moved heaven and earth to get him. For as much as Roman Abramovich is derided for changing managers on a whim, Chelsea have won thirteen major honours in the last ten years, and under Mourinho they are likely to win more. Right now, Moyes does not look like doing the same.
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