Why Manchester United Are The Most Vulnerable of the Top Four Sides This Season
“What the transfer deadline gives you is a clear indication of which are the badly run football clubs” tweeted Gary Neville on August 12, right as the soccer supermarket sweeps were starting in earnest. It’s doubtful that a man who practically bleeds little Red Devils was referring directly to his beloved Manchester United at the time, but it could well have been a prophetic statement.
Much has been made of the managerial merry-go-round at the top of the English Premier League, and if the last transfer window is anything to go by, it might well be Manchester United who struggle the most to adapt. Manchester City must now be so accustomed to the revolving door at the Etihad that they’ve turned off the air conditioning completely. Chelsea merely welcomed back their prodigal Special One who one suspects never gave back the spare key to the training ground, such is his obvious affection for the club and its fans. Both Mourinho and Pellegrini can also point to significant experience battling the cream of Europe and the particular pressures of dealing with club hierarchies that have short and demanding attention spans.
Manchester United have enjoyed an incredibly consistent and outrageously successful 27 years under Sir Alex Ferguson, the likes of which in today’s cut throat soccer world will almost certainly never be seen again. To say the least, the red half of Manchester is most unaccustomed to change or failure. Losing a 71 year-old manager to retirement is understandable, but to also replace your long-standing chief executive in the same summer is starting to look irresponsible.
Aside from the obvious benefits that continuity brings, David Moyes (Ferguson’s hand-picked replacement no less), is untested in too many elite environments to be left without a reliable wingman. Like the coveted top spots in the Premier League for instance, anywhere near the UEFA Champions League or at the pointy end of negotiations with world-class players. After chasing down the truly blind alley that was the pursuit of Cesc Fabregas at the beginning of the summer, and looking devoid of a plan in the middle of it, United then hit the wall in slapstick fashion on deadline day by failing to capture Ander Herrera or show even a vague familiarity with Spanish law. So alarming and unfamiliar were the club’s business dealings under the new regime it was the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust that led the inquests. Moyes will point to the signing of Marouane Fellaini as an important acquisition but what United needed far more urgently was a creative playmaker to add spark to a distinctly average looking midfield. A player of Mesut Ozil’s abilities perhaps? Oh. There are also lingering concerns about Wayne Rooney’s state of mind as well the state of his relationship with David Moyes and the Old Trafford faithful. There have even been whisperings that the indispensable Robin van Persie is unhappy with some of the new manager’s techniques and if his demeanor in the Liverpool game is anything to go by, there could be some truth to the rumors. The insipid defeat at Anfield did show a continuity of sorts – David Moyes had a terrible record against Liverpool while at Everton, which won’t do much to appease concerns about whether the Scot is ready to step-up into the big time.
United’s problems aren’t just internal. Competition for Champions League qualification has never been fiercer. Of the top four finishers from last season, Manchester City were most United like in their efficient capture of top quality reinforcements this summer. Chelsea also strengthened and got the man at the helm they’ve been craving since, well, he left the first time and Arsenal scored the coup of the window without the usual significant departures. In addition, Liverpool has shown ominous early season form, retained Suarez and really appear to be collectively buying into the Brendan Rodgers rebuilding program. Tottenham meanwhile have shown great determination to finally crack the top four and spend whatever it takes to never miss Gareth Bale. Sir Alex Ferguson was given six trophyless years to build a dynasty but it was in a different era and without the expectation of relentless success.
Even with the season in its infancy, David Moyes will have to show far more than he has to date to generate the belief he should be afforded the same latitude.