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David Moyes Is The Right Man, But Only If…

When the news broke that Sir Alex Ferguson was stepping down as manager of Manchester United and the name of his successor was revealed the following day, I was one of those who claimed that David Moyes was the logical and right choice. I expressed this belief on Danish television only minutes after Moyes had been officially “chosen”, but as it happens, I did in fact already indicate in the book Standing on the Shoulders of Giants that Moyes was the best bet, at least in terms of British candidates for the most impossible job in the world. But (and there is a “but” which has become only more visible in hindsight) I forgot to mention that Moyes being “the right choice” came with a precondition. The name of that precondition was René Meulensteen.

When it became clear in the course of July that Moyes had indeed made a clean cut and released Ferguson’s entire staff, I thus immediately felt the dark clouds assembling above Old Trafford. Ferguson is from Scotland, and so is Moyes. No problem in that. On the contrary, if one knows the history of Manchester United one also knows that the two most successful managers – Alex Ferguson and Matt Busby – are both Scots, and, apart from that, they both occupied the Old Trafford hot seat through more than twenty-five years. These facts, the Scottish connection and continuity, are some of the reasons why Moyes was the right and logical choice. In short, Manchester United have a deep love for both Scots and continuity, and this is why they not only chose Moyes, but also chose to give him a six-year contract. So far so good.

But in the wake of the fabulous Treble-winning season of 1999, a season where the Red Devils had shown what one could rightly label an uncompromising, but at times also naive all-out-attack mentality, Ferguson realised that the United engine was in urgent need of a continental component who could provide the team with tactical finesse and new training methods, since United were being punished in Europe for a similar tactic in the following season. In other words, Ferguson went looking for a new assistant manager to replace Steve McLaren, who after the Champions League final against Bayern München in 1999 went his own way. Ferguson found the cosmopolitan Portuguese Carlos Queiroz, and later he hired the Dutch Meulensteen. With their schooling in the Portuguese and Dutch football philosophy respectively, Queiroz and Meulensteen brought elements of technical flair, tactical flexibility and strategic intelligence into the United team. Neither must we forget that Queiroz, apart from his technical, tactical and strategic inputs, also kept his fellow countryman Cristiano Ronaldo happy, just as Meulensteen kept his fellow countryman Robin van Persie happy in the latter’s first season at Old Trafford. The importance in relation to man management of having a staff with a multinational composition is not to be underestimated in this era of globalized squads.

When Moyes led Meulensteen go, what did he then do? In contrast to the master, who had realised the need for a continental ingredient in Manchester United’s English and Celtic core, the apprentice brought with him Britishness, Britishness and Britishness. Worst case scenario for a United fan is indeed that Moyes quite simply brought Everton from Goodison Park to Old Trafford. The signs of this have been clear in several matches. But perhaps they were most unambiguous, and symbolically so, in the match against the very Everton team Moyes only abandoned a few months ago. With Roberto Martinez at the helm Everton not only dominated in large periods of the game against Manchester United at Old Trafford, they also secured their victory in what came close to being Fergie Time – that specific period of the match when United historically have excelled in pushing their opponents further and further up the Stretford End and scoring late winners.

Maybe I am too harsh on Moyes. Maybe I underestimate his own tactical intelligence. But I do fear another post-Busby era. Is that too pessimistic? Is it an untimely premonition (untimely because as a United fan one is committed to give Moyes a chance and committed to thinking long term)? Perhaps too pessimistic and untimely, yes, but Meulensteen’s exit was a bad decision. If it was a catastrophically bad decision, only time will tell.

And I guess we could leave it here, hanging in the air in good postmodern fashion. But there is a merciless point that we cannot neglect, namely that seven years are longer today than they were in 1986. And that is not all. It is also much more fatal for a club today to fall out of top 4 than it was then, not just because of financial reasons, but especially because it influences a club’s ability to attract players from the top-top shelf negatively. The consequence is a vicious circle which is almost impossible to break. Just look at Liverpool.

Søren Frank is the author of a brand new book about Manchester United entitled Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants. The book was recently reviewed by World Soccer Talk.

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  1. Jim

    January 23, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    With the squad they have United were never going to win the title. Even though they are out of the top 4 they are only 6 points behind and with 18 games to go can definitely finish in the top 4. With the addition of Mata and the return of Rooney and RVP United are now more than capable of finishing in the top 4.

    Mata’s signing is bad news for Liverpool, Everton and Spurs. I make United favorites to get that 4th spot.

  2. insert name here

    January 23, 2014 at 6:16 am

    but only if …. what??? He rehires Meulensteen. Is Meulensteen a God or something. So no manager could succeed there without magic Meulensteen?? Can you imagine people making similar Meulensteen type excuses for managers like Mourinho or Guardiola etc. It just wouldnt happen. If they do bad then they get the blame & if they do well they get the credit. Not thier coaches or lack of certain coaches. If Moyes is doing a bad job then its Moyes’ fault … simples. The guy who wrote this article just wont admit he was wrong about Moyes in the first place IMO… Moyes is either the right man or he isnt the right man. There cant be any conditions attached to that and right now you would have to say that its looking like he isnt the right man…

  3. GrimReaper

    January 23, 2014 at 2:48 am

    Most people are saying “give Moyes time” that it took SAF 6yrs to build the team he inherited into a team able to win trophies & League Championships – and a brilliant job he did.

    But why give Moyes time – HE INHERITED THE LEAGUE CHAMPIONS – so why are we doing so badly, it’s basically the same squad of players, the ONLY main change was the MANAGER & BACKROOM STAFF (all ex Everton).

    Our present state of affairs is down to THEM & THEM ALONE.

    SOLUTION: Get rid of ASAP.

  4. Frill Artist

    January 22, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    Years of dynasty undone in 6 months. What a muppet.

    • jtm371

      January 22, 2014 at 10:04 pm

      look on the bright side you will be rid of the gloryhunters!

      • Taylor

        January 22, 2014 at 10:08 pm

        Spot on!

  5. Ben

    January 22, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    For the record, Moyes asked Meulensteen back and he declined. He was the only coach who he tried to retain. Now you can question why he didn’t try to retain all the coaches but there is nothing he could do about Meulensteen.

    • Taylor

      January 22, 2014 at 9:29 pm

      We didn’t know the whole story: in what capacity did he want RM to stay? I read it was for the youth development capacity.

      • Mufc77

        January 22, 2014 at 10:15 pm

        He was offered the assistant managers job but refused.

    • KayJay

      January 23, 2014 at 5:51 am

      Ferguson also had Van Persie healthy for an entire year. Something Arsenal fans would have wished for during his career there. Without Van Persie last season, Man United drop a ton of points early in the year when they were falling behind in every match.

      United would easily be in the top four if Rooney and/or Van Persie were healthy this year. So some United fans need to stop being so impulsive and shortsighted.

      Look at the team that’s been playing for the last month. I’m sorry, as amazing as Fergie was, he’s not winning many matches with Danny Welbeck and Chicharito starting up front.

      • Dan

        January 23, 2014 at 9:34 am

        Short sighted? He’s not good enough plain and simple. We finished in the top 2 prior to Rvp coming in the past 7 seasons and we lost games not due to poor finishing but no creativity. Chich and Welbz never stood a chance. Rvp was poor prior to him getting injured. He won quite a few games with Chich and Wlenbeck ll

  6. Taylor

    January 22, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    Moyes’ team has always worked hard, but doesn’t have a lot of flair and imagination.

  7. Smokey Bacon

    January 22, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    Like I said earlier, he has made the job his own. It’s gone from being about continuing the Ferguson legacy to a full scale rebuilding project that will take all of his 6 year contract. None of the top tier coaches in world football would want any part of that. So it’s Moyes’ job by default. Liverpool went from invincible to irrelevant almost overnight in the 90s. United are going the same way.

    • Taylor

      January 22, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      That’s what I see. I am not sure whether this is his ego or naivety. Several players are not good to play for United but good managers adapt to the strength to the squad. See RvP’s comments about Meulensteen that they practiced certain movements and tactics against certain teams to exploit their weaknesses. With DM, I see a team that play really hard but not smart.

    • jtm371

      January 22, 2014 at 10:07 pm

      how much will this stick to SAF? since DM got rid of all the coaches from SAF will that give SAF a pass?

      • Smokey Bacon

        January 22, 2014 at 10:34 pm

        Bayern Munich had a similar issue. How to replace a manager who had just the treble. What did they do? Go out and get the best man out there. Result.? Continued dominance. United just went with whoever Fergie wanted. In addition to leaving a poor squad behind, he should never have had so much influence over picking his successor. So he bears some responsibility. The coaching changes are a non issue for me. Every manager brings their own crew with them.

        • Taylor

          January 23, 2014 at 12:30 am

          I am baffled – there shouldn’t be a shortage of managers who want to manage United. Why wasn’t there a proper search where applicants present their ideas to the board instead of just appointing DM?

          • jtm371

            January 23, 2014 at 8:57 am

            because of the power of SAF.

    • Dan

      January 23, 2014 at 3:51 am

      I’m puzzled as to why Nome of the top managers in Europe wouldn’t want to manage the biggest club in Engand with the 3rd highest revenues pre-David Moyes now are 4th in revnues. Most valued sports franchise in the world by some distance. That’s just hogwash rebuilding or not any great manager would want to manage Manchester United. The only problem was none were even given a chance to get even an interview because David Moyes had to get coronated. I say coronated because that’s exactly what it is Moyes getting his kingship from Fergie with no democratic process at all.

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