No, it’s not 5 years that I wanted to write about. I actually meant to write 4 years. On Saturday, Man United produced one of their best performances to draw away at Chelsea. They were so close to winning the game till Barkley (of all people) stepped up to ruin it. Nevertheless, it was a pleasing performance from a Man United side that has been so inconsistent over the last few years. Despite the high quality of players in the team, people still talk about issues surrounding it. You still hear some people lament the day Alex Ferguson retired. For me, United’s issues didn’t start when Fergie retired (5 years ago). They started the day they sacked David Moyes (4 years ago… you see what I was talking about?)
Please don’t tell me that Moyes inherited a title-winning squad. That team was on the brink of disaster. In Ferguson’s last season, the players at Man United were already spent…physically. Ferdinand and Vidic were no longer the players they were 5 years earlier. Too many injury issues kept both players away from the pitch for long periods. Evra showed signs of slowing down long before Fergie left as well. Look at the tie against Mourinho’s Real Madrid that season and you’ll see him get slaughtered every time the attackers reached his wing. The likes of Rafael and Phil Jones were also constantly in the hospital and I think just Smalling and Evans (I think) were consistently in the side.
Moving upwards and the presence of Giggs and Scholes was so vital for Ferguson because they could inspire the lads to produce stuff they normally couldn’t. For all his hardwork, Cleverly was never going to be another Paul Scholes and Anderson (alongside Nani) were blowing their final chances to fulfill their potential. Young and Valencia were already in the process of becoming full backs; Valencia already started filling in at right-back while Young struggled to still have pace for the wings. Rooney was now just a provider who (alongside Ferguson) was so lucky to have Van Persie, who had an injury-free season (he probably was the only one in the team that was hungry for the title). Man United relied so heavily on his goals that it was clear that if he lost his scoring touch or was out of the side for periods within the season, the team would crumble. Ferguson saw this. He knew the team was done. He had squeezed everything from the playing staff. They were spent. He retired a legend, and left a scrap heap for Moyes.
Picture what Moyes met: A Old, Spent, Injury-ridden defence, A midfield lacking proper replacements for Scholes and Giggs. An unsettled Rooney and the Van Persie that Arsenal fans are familiar with (regularly injured and unavailable). Add that to the fact that Man United barely backed him in the transfer market. Moyes managed to sign just 2 major players; Fellani and Mata. Interestingly, both players are still very key at the club TODAY. The squad needed an overhaul and Moyes was never going to work miracles with the deadbeat players available. Then Man United did the most un-Man United thing ever, they sacked Moyes…after 9 months. They were 7th in the league with no hope of making the Champions League. They could have given him another window to get the players he really wanted and build his own team. Instead they let him go, along with the British tradition that has been the core reason for their success over the years.
Man United is (or was) a British-Thinking Club. They always prioritized British talent and this, for me, has been the reason for their consistency under Ferguson. It’s not a habit you smash and not expect stagnation. Since Moyes left, Man United have signed just ONE more British player and that is Luke Shaw. They got 2 foreign managers who were keen to NOT play attacking football. Van Gaal’s possession-based style and Mourinho’s sit and break approach is nothing like what Ferguson gave fans. Yet, Man United let them do what they didn’t allow Moyes to do; get players they wanted. Van Gaal got Depay, Martial, Shaw, Schneiderlin, and Di Maria while Mourihno got Pogba, Lukaku, Zlatan, Bailey, Matic and Lindelof…all on big figures. Van Gaal showed what Moyes had been dealing with when he sold nearly half the squad as he came. Some of those players have struggled to stay at the top since; Vidic and Ferdinand struggled at Inter and QPR respectively, Nani and Van Persie have had fluctuating career stints since, Evra became Juventus’ reason for not winning the UEFA Champions’ League and Wayne Rooney should have been sold to the MLS much earlier.
Look…I know Moyes is now a terrible manager but I still feel he could have been a good one for Man United. His work at Everton showed that he’s a slow starter who needs time to build a team in his own image. Everton qualified for the UEFA Champions League before Man City and Tottenham could even dream of doing so. The man was challenging the status quo long before Man City became noisy with their Sheikh money. He should have been given the time to rebuild the team. Frankly speaking, Man United haven’t changed much since he left. Sure…they’ve won the FA Cup, League Cup and Europa since Moyes was sacked, but after spending close to a billion pounds on playing and coaching talent? You’d expect more.
I still think that Moyes is one of football’s biggest ‘WHAT IFs’. “What if Man United backed him in the market the way they backed Van Gaal and Mourinho?”, “What if they signed Baines like he wanted?”, “What if they gave him another season?”…No one knows. What we do know is that not much has changed since they let him go.