The Blog

Time to Dial 999 at Old Trafford?

The arrival of Mata in the North West will certainly remove some of the burden from the young winger - and it is a clear rallying call and statement of intent from the Manchester United board. They might be down, but they're certainly not out. Yet.

Incredibly, things just keep going from bad to worse down at Old Trafford.

Manchester United manager David Moyes has endured a nightmarish start to his tenure in the hot seat - and his on the pitch efforts suffered fresh degradation on Wednesday night, as his side crashed out of the Carling Cup in a penalty shoot out defeat to lowly Sunderland.

It is a trophy which is much maligned amongst the English elite, but it represented United's best - and realistically, only - chance of silverware, in what has so far been a desperate campaign.

As we enter the final seven days of January, the Reds are languishing 14 points adrift off pole position in the Premier League - and the truth is that the next week could be the most important in the recent history of the club.

To finish outside of the Champions League places would be a truly catastrophic turn of events for a club of United's size and stature - but that is the alarming prospect which currently threatens the Old Trafford side unable to shake off a malaise which has troubled them for months.

One thing is for sure - Moyes is desperately searching for the remedy.

The capture of Chelsea's Spanish number 10, or fantasista, Juan Mata, will go a long way to abating the fears of the United faithful, and, at just 25 years old, the ex-Valencia man certainly has his best years ahead of him.

Having watched the Reds at length this season, I feel that they have been seriously lacking a creative midfielder, like Mata, who can get beyond the opposition engine room and into the box.

United legend Paul Scholes was perhaps the perfect example of that. He was a footballing genius, admired not only across Britain, but across the world - and Xavi, arguably the best playmaker of his generation, calls him a 'role model'.

Said to come in at around £40 million, it is an expensive move by the Old Trafford club, but it represents a chink of light at the end of what currently appears to be a very long and very dark tunnel for David Moyes.

I have written previously that I am not particularly a fan of the transfer window system. It is one which encourages player premiums and panic-purchases - and that is certainly not good for the game in long run.

But, ultimately, a disastrous summer, in which he missed out on target after target after target, has left Moyes with no option other than to splash out big bucks - and, he may look to strengthen even further as the transfer window enters its final throes.

The Reds only managed one signing before September, the £25 million capture of Belgian international Marouane Fellaini - but he has hardly hit the ground running in Manchester, and, frankly, it looks like his capture could be a costly mistake.

Those failures in the transfer market left United on the back foot before the season had even kicked off - and it is clear to see where they might struggle to attract players in comparison to their European rivals.

As someone who has worked closely with football clubs across the continent for over 20 years, I have seen first hand the increased importance of employing an experienced Chief Executive in the modern game.

In David Gill, United certainly had one of the best in the business. It was undoubtedly a major faux pas to allow both Sir Alex Ferguson and Gill to leave the club at the same time last summer.

His replacement, Ed Woodward, needs time, but, with respect, he is still somewhat wet behind the ears - and it appears that United are seriously lacking in leadership at a time when they desperately need someone with experience to take the wheel.

I spend much of my time in Spain, with a keen interest in La Liga - and a quick look at the set-up of Real Madrid suggests where the Reds might be lacking off the pitch.

The Bernabeu club employ Zinedine Zidane, considered by many to be one of the greatest footballers of all time, and a true Los Blancos icon, in a 'peacemaker' role - and he was instrumental in their capture of Gareth Bale last summer.

Similarly, current European champions Bayern Munich boast an almost embarrassing wealth of experience at the club.

Whilst Pep Guardiola takes charge on the touchline, club icons Uli Hoeness, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Franz Beckenbauer mastermind activity in the boardroom.

Those structures are vitally important as they represent not only synergy, stability and heritage, but also a certain glamour and wow factor which goes a long way to convincing top players to sign on the dotted line.

Having amassed an incredible 38 trophies during his time at Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson certainly possessed those qualities, and had a real aura about him - but the bottom line is that David Moyes does not yet have a single piece of silverware to his name.

In short, Manchester United no longer has the fear factor.

Sunderland's performance on Wednesday evening showed that clubs are no longer afraid to visit Old Trafford - and, for me, that is a telling development in the way that the Reds are currently perceived.

That cup defeat was United's fifth loss in eight home outings since the beginning of December - and it is clear that, far from the fortress it once was, the Theatre of Dreams is quickly becoming the Theatre of Screams.

Replacing Ferguson was never going to be a smooth process, and Moyes made moves to dilute expectations before the season even began, emphasising the need for patience.

He highlighted this year as a necessary transition period - but even he would not have expected his first few months at the helm to be quite so torrid.

I read an interesting statistic recently, which revealed that as the New Year dawned, Moyes' record at United was almost exactly the same as his record at Everton a year ago.

That his efforts are considered so flawed this campaign is perhaps testament to the expectation and pressure that comes with managing an elite club.

In fairness, he has had his fair share of bad luck so far this season.

The loss of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney would hurt any side - and there is increasing clamour for the club to spend big on a forward, in the hope of adding much-needed goals to what has been something of a barren campaign.

18 year old rookie Adnan Januzaj certainly has bags of potential, but is far from the finished article, and it perhaps speaks volumes that United have been relying on him to almost single handedly pull them through their current slump.

He missed a penalty in the loss to Sunderland, and despite his obvious raw talent, you have to ask the question of whether any other top four, or top six club for that matter, would pin their hopes upon such young shoulders.

The arrival of Mata in the North West will certainly remove some of the burden from the young winger - and it is a clear rallying call and statement of intent from the Manchester United board.

They might be down, but they're certainly not out. Yet.

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