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Style, Substance and Manchester United

The fact that there is probably some truth in what Sheedy suggests - that Moyes' tactics are a little direct and certainly not based on playing patient, passing football - is lost on me. His choice of timing is callous and unfortunately his PR plans lack the class he showed on the pitch during his playing career.

Kevin Sheedy is the latest to jump on the most popular bandwagon around.

The former Everton midfielder with the classy left peg clearly feels that now is the best time to bring up his grievances with David Moyes. Rather like the Dutch coach Raymond Verheijen who seems to realise that the only way he can get his name in lights is by criticising others, the Everton youth coach has taken to Twitter to make his feelings known.

The fact that there is probably some truth in what Sheedy suggests - that Moyes' tactics are a little direct and certainly not based on playing patient, passing football - is lost on me. His choice of timing is callous and unfortunately his PR plans lack the class he showed on the pitch during his playing career.

Regardless, Moyes seems to go from bad to worse and the perfect storm he finds himself in the middle of shows no signs of disappearing - the sun probably won't come up tomorrow, or the day after for that matter.

There are two ends of the management spectrum, and I think you need to look at them in more detail to understand the footballing context of Moyes' position.

The pragmatists change their personnel and formation to give them the best possible chance of winning each game they play. They take no chances at the back and only expect risk taking to occur in the opponents' half. They also use every advantage available to them - manipulation of referees (ok - Mr Moyes isn't managing to manipulate anyone at present), massive reliance on sports science to aid players' strength and endurance, gamesmanship and also considerable focus on organisation and rehearsal of set pieces. They also rely heavily on resilient players who are programmed to work in a disciplined unit. The key focus of organisation and preparation is on the periods of the game when they don't have the ball. Tempo is usually high when in possession and low when out of possession - the organisation of the defensive unit being more important than getting the ball back quickly. Attacking threat comes from players being "sharp" when presented with goalscoring opportunities in the opponents' half which will happen if the ball is delivered into the "right areas" enough times - think Robin van Persie pouncing on a loose ball.

My list of pragmatists include messrs Allardyce, Pulis, Mourinho and Moyes. These guys are usually capable of getting results quickly when they take over but only the very best pragmatist can maintain that winning form using this approach. Players coming through the ranks are less likely to make the grade when a club is run this way as youth players are not valued as much when compared to potential senior recruits with the appropriate mental and physical attributes to play this type of football.

The purists at the other end of the spectrum develop a style of play focussed on ball retention and the creation of space. They develop an understanding amongst their players that goes beyond organisation when out of possession - focussing more on creating space whilst in possession. They take risks by asking all 11 players to be patient in possession and accept the possibility that by doing so the ball could be lost in a potentially dangerous area. Tempo is variable when in possession, slow and patient until an opportunity to penetrate appears at which point the speed of both ball and player movement must be swift. When out of possession, the tempo is also variable - with a high tempo required to try and win the ball back swiftly before a decision may be made to drop deeper and become more organised as a unit. The personnel required for this style of football are more likely to be creative but less likely to be effective as part of an organised unit.

My list of purists include messrs Guardiola, Rodgers and Martinez. Success is likely to take time to come to fruition if this style is applied, but can form the basis for success over a longer period of time, particularly if the methods are applied throughout a football club from junior teams all the way through to the first team.

I know which I would prefer to see at a club I was associated with, but that is not to say that pragmatism is always wrong. Whilst many Evertonians are comparing Martinez favourably with Moyes, Crystal Palace fans are probably converted to Pulis' more direct style having once believed Ian Holloway's footballing principles to be worthy. Jose Mourinho is the ultimate pragmatist - he has quick and decisive impact at every club he manages, but always leaves a difficult and inevitable period of transition behind when he leaves a club.

For my money, I think Sir Alex Ferguson sat somewhere between the two but probably slightly closer to the purist end of the spectrum. Moyes has inherited an awkward mix of players and he has tried to instill a more pragmatic style amongst them. Even those with more pragmatic qualities can only perform if harmony exists, along with collective understanding and the consistent adoption of this style by all players. The fact of the matter is they couldn't be further from this harmonious state.

If I've learnt anything from United's season so far, it's that the players you have must dictate to some degree the style of play you adopt initially - it is a period of learning for the manager as he perhaps should put his his footballing principles to one side whilst observing the players' reactions to the initial challenges they face during his tenure. Gradual development and evolution of that model is possible from there on once the initial transition is made, and a manager can then truly start to shape a side.

That said, Martinez has proved at Everton that a pragmatic squad can, with one or two carefully chosen additions, adopt a purist's style swiftly and with considerable success. He had a great platform from which to build based on a resilient mindset and I think his character, skillset and beliefs are so strong that he has succeeded in changing a football club in a matter of weeks.

Moyes' lack of flexibility has been his undoing in a role where he was never going to be able to discard much of the squad and bring in players' more suited to his style. He'll be successful elsewhere I'm quite certain as he's good at what he does and will have learnt from this experience.

Manchester United have grown accustomed to a brand of football that overcame all challenges during the Ferguson years. If the continuation and development of a club philosophy is what the United family must have, they need to pick a manager who believes in the same principles. The humility, passion and incredible talent Martinez and Guardiola share would make either of them the only safe bet for me.

And maybe they could then get Kevin Sheedy and Raymond Verheijen in to coach the kids.

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