It’s amazing how much a pensioner sitting in Row Z is becoming a potential reason why David Moyes is floundering in his first few months at Manchester United.
The British press, egos still wounded by being treated for years with unheard of irreverence, are going after the man who now has no means of rebuttal, laying blame at his door for the demise of the club he led peerlessly for over 20 years.
There are two main accusations that are getting more and more column inches. Firstly, that Ferguson’s presence on match day exerts undue pressure on Moyes and, according to one journalist in particular, represents dishonesty, with Ferguson going back on his post-retirement intentions. And secondly, that Ferguson left Moyes in the lurch, with a squad unfit to challenge for honours.
The first accusation is somehow even more ludicrous than the second. The comparisons to Sir Matt Busby have been drawn, but they are baseless. After he retired, Busby kept an office at the training ground. His shadow was still cast over everyday life at United. That’s not to say it is an excuse for any incoming manager. If you can’t handle standing alongside giants of football and Club history, then you are simply not fit for the job.
The wild article mentioned above by Mark Redding is even more bizarre. Referencing all of the things Ferguson said he was hoping to do in retirement – spend time with his family, go to vineyards etc – Redding is hell-bent on arguing that Ferguson has reneged on his assurances that he was not going to linger on at the club. Quite how Redding equates a couple of hours every match-day to the famed routine of long weeks and long days that Ferguson had at the Club I don’t know. And, in case it needs to be stated, as a Director and a fan, there is nothing untoward about Ferguson attending matches way up in the gods.
If Moyes is affected by Ferguson watching United matches, he is unfit to manage a club of its size. That said, I don’t think it is affecting him at all. At least, nowhere near as much as it is affecting journalists trying to pounce on the now-defenceless pensioner.
The second accusation is the one which admittedly comes with a bit more substance. Ferguson, it is claimed, left Moyes with the worst United squad for years. One which would have no chance of challenging for major honours. So it’s no wonder that he is struggling.
Let’s get one thing out of the way – Moyes was lauded at Everton for working with meagre resources. So if you do want to class a title-winning team that is less than a year older than it was when it outplayed Real Madrid and went on to win the league as inept, then surely Moyes of all men should be able to work with it?
Regardless, it isn’t inept.
This is a squad that coasted to the title. Spurred on by losing the title on goal difference the previous season, it beat the billionaires from the Etihad and Stamford Bridge into crumbling submission, taking the title by a whopping 11 points – a margin of victory bettered only 3 times in top-flight history. In addition to that, they excelled in Europe, outplaying Mourinho’s mighty Real Madrid by everyone – including Mourinho’s - admission, only to have victory snatched away by a combination of absurd refereeing and 10 minutes of tactical genius by the Portuguese manager.
To be pedantic, the squad isn’t “a year older” despite many claims to the contrary. It is 9 months since the Real Madrid debacle and 7 months since winning the title. The squad also had the highly sought-after injury-free preseason. And additions were made. Moyes picked one of the stars of the previous season and paid £24m for him. It’s a wonder that blame hasn’t been attributed to Ferguson for Marouane Fellaini’s inability to perform in United red. On top of that, United have brought through the most promising youngster in the league – a product of Ferguson’s youth setup – in Adnan Januzaj, and have Darren Fletcher back from his long spell out. Though, admittedly, it is early days for Fletcher.
The squad boasts probably the second best goalkeeper in the league. In Vidic, Ferdinand, Evans, Jones and Smalling, it has the strongest set of centre-backs in the league. Michael Carrick would get into any midfield in the league, Shinji Kagawa would get into all bar two. Though Antonio Valencia has been one-dimensional for the last 12 months, he is still an asset unlike any other in the league – watch him in the flesh to understand his worth. And, as mentioned, Marouane Fellaini was showered with praise last season, not least for his performances against United.
Then there is Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, with Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck in reserve.
Under Ferguson, that is a title-winning squad. Under any other Premier League manager, that is a top 4 squad.
Though it has deficiencies, there is no way that a squad with that quality should be languishing in the way it is. Ferguson and, importantly, David Gill, handed down a team of champions, a club with a built-in winning mentality, a youth setup still churning out world class talent, and an entire summer with bags full of cash to spend.
As soon as the media get over their obsession with Ferguson, maybe they’ll start asking the right questions.
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