Inevitably, David Moyes’ arrival at Manchester United was greeted with echoing sighs of disappointment from some fans. Many believe this was a safe and colorless appointment, one lacking the ambition and statement of intent shown by their rivals. Zero trophies to the Scots name and a distinct lack of European experience still has the United faithful holding him at arm’s length. Sir Alex’s rallying cry for support for Moyes during his farewell Old Trafford speech has provided fans with new found optimism – Sir Alex’s opinion is still regarded as highly as any – but it would be ill-timed to conclude that fans have been won over by the appointment. The general consensus amongst any stakeholder in the club is that they could, and should, have done better.
Perhaps there is a just reason for concern. Or perhaps Manchester United have maybe just landed Fergie 2.0. Moyes’ record speaks for itself. What he achieved at Everton is nothing short of a miracle. The Scot was thrown in front of the wheel of an out-of-control Toffees side flirting dangerously with relegation. In the decade leading up to Moyes’ arrival on Merseyside, the club had only managed one top 12 finish. Toffees fans had very little reason for optimism. In his first full season in charge, the club secured seventh place in the league. Just two years later and the Scot had achieved the unthinkable. Widely tipped for relegation at the turn of the season, Moyes steered his team to Champions League qualification, finishing about neighbourhood rivals Liverpool and breaching the fortressed ‘Top 4’ of old. And with no disrespect to the Blue’s 2005 squad, this astonishing standing was achieved with a team that most managers would struggle to keep afloat in the Premier League of today – a forward line of Marcus Bent and James McFadden was rarely fancied.
Upon completion of his Goodison tenure, Moyes had amassed nine top 8 finishes in his eleven years in charge. His one career regret to date will be failing to lift silverware with the Blues – the nearest miss being a 2-1 Wembley defeat to Chelsea in the 2009 FA Cup final. However, sensibly Moyes had rightly prioritized the league. Climbing the Premier League ladder has proved to pay dividends in longevity for managers in today’s game, rather than stocking up the trophy cabinet (just take a look at Birmingham’s Alex McLeish).
In many aspects, the former Toffees boss is still underrated. Formerly regarded as ‘anti-football’, Everton went from strength to strength under Moyes’ stewardship; advancing from the long ball specialists he had inherited to adopt a more counterattacking style. Every progressive step that Moyes made, he never forgot the reinstall the importance of shape and his ever so trustworthy back line – something that has left his successor Roberto Martinez red faced in the past. The Toffees reaped the benefits and upon Moyes’ departure, they were a fully-fledged possession based outfit, with notoriously hard-to-please BBC pundit Alan Hansen claiming they were ‘playing some of the best football in the country’ in his final season at the helm. The former Preston boss certainly knows how to set his team up, that is for sure.
The one area in which Mr Moyes does come up trumps over his predecessor is his immaculate handling of the media. This is something Ferguson has famously struggled with during his time in the league. It would be fair to say that Fergie’s relationship with the media has been somewhat sour, at times (a seven year boycott on the BBC for starters). Understandably he was never judged too heavily for this, at least not by the red half of Manchester anyway. He was an outrageously good winner and an outrageously bad loser, and there was no hiding this. Moyes provides a study in contrasting styles. He addresses the media with a level of frankness and sincerity that is refreshing in an era where mind games and slandering has become the norm. Moyes has proved on several occasions that he will not offer support to his players if they do not warrant it – notably last term, where the Scot received copious plaudits for his integrity shown in the wake of Marouane Fellaini’s headbutt on Stoke skipper Ryan Shawcross. This may take some getting used to for United fans, who have become accustomed to Fergie’s player loyalty, sticking by his men through thick and thin.
It was always clear that Sir Alex’s successor would be forever trying – and most likely failing- to fit shoes even bigger than the one Fergie infamously fired into the face of David Beckham. It would be premature and perhaps naïve to suggest Moyes will be instantly taken in by the Old Trafford faithful. He clearly needs the time and funds that he requires to see his master plan unfold. Funds; he will get, as of how much time he will be given is another matter. The ex Goodison man joins the champions at a time where the league summit has experienced a drastic makeover. Last term’s top 3 have all changed stewardship and Moyes will be pitting his wits against a Chelsea side revitalised by the return of club messiah José Mourinho and a rampant Manchester City who are once again making up for lost time with their blank check book.
Supporters are guaranteed Moyes’ blood. He knows exactly what he is aiming to cook up at Old Trafford and will spend sleepless nights at Carrington until he discovers the right recipe. The champions may just have greater reason for optimism than they believe.