Football, Man United and David Moyes

by Ray_North on April 22, 2014

imagesI went to two pubs yesterday – I know, two pubs on a school night, what kind of crazy alcoholic rock and roller I must be, and, in both of the pubs, the conversation around the bar was about Man United and the (then) impending departure of David Moyes. It seemed as though everyone had a view on it – even those who clearly weren’t that interested in football. It demonstrated to me the massively significant role football and the drama that surrounds it has on a our cultural psyche.

Today, I listened to the various radio phone in shows about the sacking of Moyes and about Man United and spoke to mates, some of whom where United fans, who all, inevitably, wanted to talk about football.

And a few things came to mind – first, was that Moyes was pretty much derided as a failure by all United fans; and second, that the United fans took success as a foregone conclusion.

Both of these things bothered me, and I’ll try to stay as objective as I can, as I prattle on the topic of Man United.

Now, historically, Manchester United are a big club – there’s no doubt about that – they won the league three times in the 1950s and twice in the 1960s and also the European Cup – all victories coming under the wonderful stewardship of Sir Matt Busby; they then won very little and even got themselves relegated from the top flight in the 1970s and 1980s (the FA Cup a couple of times); before becoming a massive club again in the 1990s and throughout this century under the stewardship of the wonderful Sir Alex Fergurson. Now that’s a formidable record – but, up until Sir Alex Fergurson took over, even with the Busby Babes and the great team of Best, Charlton and Law, it was a record that was comparable with, say, Aston Villa, Huddersfield Town or Wolves, and inferior to the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool or Spurs, all of whom had won the double at some point before United first claimed it under Fergie in 1993/94.

The point I make is that although United have had a fantastic and unprecedented period of success, the history of football in England is not all about them and there have been long periods when they have not been successful and that surely, is part of sport – I mean if one looks at the history of, say the Scottish league or the Spanish league, their history, though rich, is totally dominated by two teams and that to me, is quite tedious. True sports fans of Man United (as opposed to those who just jumped on the bandwagon a decade or so ago and enjoyed a football team that won more than lost), will surely understand that and will accept that sometimes you have to lose and that, actually, as long as you gave it everything, that isn’t always bad.

Sir Alex Fergurson was, of course, a winner, a uniquely good football manager who managed to build three or four world class teams and for that I commend him. But, he was also fortunate in a number of ways – first, that he started managing Man United in more benign times when a manager could be given a few seasons to bed in (his first four seasons were pretty poor); second, he was initially managing mainly home-bred players in an age before agents and publicists and massive contracts, and as such, he had far more control over them, and hence the club; and third, he was very lucky in that in around 1995 onwards he had a crop of home-grown players who worked hard for him and were good enough to play international football.

Now, don’t misunderstand me, these are not the words of a jealous Liverpool fan, what I’m saying is that Fergurson, for reasons of ability and good fortune was able to place himself in absolute Fuhrer-like control of his club at a time when football changed and managers were no longer able to command such power – and this meant that his players played for him, and him alone – which contributed massively to his success – I mean he is not the only good manager who knows how to win football matches, but he has been one of the few who has been able to send his players out absolutely confident that they will consistently do what he has instructed them, and that has made a massive difference.

David Moyes was never going to achieve that kind of power overnight – and, ok, he didn’t help himself by sacking the back room staff who had worked under Fergurson; but, what he can’t be blamed for is a failure by his ‘Director of Football’ to sign players last summer; or the fact that some of the team he inherited were clearly passed it, which prevented him from playing the type of football that United fans want to see. The chances are that if the fans had got behind Moyes, and he had been given more support from the board – next season he would have started to get them playing better football and the season after, would have started to achieve the success that the Stretford End expects.

United fans gave him stick because ‘he said too many negative things.’ Well, what was he supposed to say, after his creaky defence looked vulnerable against the attacking might of his neighbours City and the resurgent Liverpool; United fans said that he didn’t have any tactical nous – but he had the best away record in the premiership, so he clearly had some idea of what he was doing.

Of course, Moyes’ biggest failing is that he wasn’t Fergurson – and he can’t be blamed for that, there is and only ever will be one Sir Alex Fergurson and the problem for Man United fans is that after two and a half decades of stability they are now entering a period of uncertainty – they want immediate success, they want to win the league again and again, yet, recent history shows that the only way to do that is either have an extremely solid club that is built on the rock steady foundation of an all powerful manager which is what they had and which is something that takes time and patience to bring about, or, have a heap of cash courtesy of some Arabian or Russian oil magnate who allows you to buy £300m worth of players – which, is going to be harder to do, because of the UEFA Fair Play Rules – but in any event, would United fans be happy if they were watching a team with no Englishmen in it let alone Mancunians and managed by a Spaniard or Argentinian with little notion of the club’s history or tradition? I don’t know.

Moyes has gone, but Man United fans should be careful what they wish for and should look at their future with an objective and realistic sense of perspective.

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