Sunday’s 3-1 defeat to Chelsea has prompted renewed debate over the future of Manchester United manager David Moyes at Old Trafford.
The reigning Premier League champions sit 7th in the table, 14 points adrift of leaders Arsenal and six points outside of the Champions League qualification berths.
Moyes’ side were knocked out of the FA Cup in the 3rd round by Swansea earlier this month and must overcome a 2-1 deficit against Sunderland on Wednesday if they are to reach the final of the League Cup.
The trophy represents the club’s only realistic hope of silverware, despite Moyes’ insistence that his side could still potentially retain their title in the immediate aftermath of their defeat at Stamford Bridge.
Even if United do manage to overcome Sunderland, a rampant Manchester City side await, and on current form few would give them much hope of lifting the trophy at Wembley.
Moyes, who has never won a major trophy in his managerial career, is now at a club where a trophyless season represents a crisis. The fact that the League Cup – a trophy once labelled the ‘Worthless Cup’ in a previous incarnation when it was sponsored by brewery Worthingtons – represents the zenith of this season is a mark of how far the clubs fortunes have fallen.
The recriminations have begun in earnest with Moyes shouldering much of the blame for his side’s failings. However, Old Trafford has been free from chants of ‘Moyes Out’ and the manager’s job remains secure for the time being.
In an era when foreign owners such as Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich and Cardiff’s Vincent Tan wield the managerial axe with reckless abandon, United have remained calm as the team endures its worst run of form in two decades.
Despite its global brand and American owners, United remains a traditional football club at its core, with an emphasis on developing young players and managers being afforded time to mould their side.
It’s hard to envision any other major European club tolerating a manager who inherited a title winning side being so far off the pace that even Champions League qualification looks increasingly doubtful. The club’s board and fans perhaps bearing in mind Sir Alex Ferguson’s call to support his anointed successor during his farewell address to Old Trafford last May.
“I'd also like to remind you that when I had bad times here the club stood by me, all my staff stood by me, the players stood by me, you stood by me, and your job now is to stand by our new manager. That is important.”
Sir Alex himself must shoulder a portion of the blame for United’s current malaise, his petty decision to drop Rooney for his final game in charge and subsequently criticisism of the player in his autobiography gave Moyes an immediate problem to address.
Ferguson was less than shrewd in his transfer dealings toward the end of his tenure at Old Trafford, expensive flops such as Anderson, Nani and Ashley Young, accompanied by a failure to look to the future. The young players who Ferguson did bring in, including Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, have thus far failed to deliver on their initial promise.
There also remain serious question marks over academy graduates Jonny Evans and Tom Cleverly’s ability to play at the top level. While this season must surely represent 40-year-old Ryan Giggs’ final season at the club, age appears to have also caught up with defenders Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic, with neither looking like the player they once were.
In truth, Ferguson was hampered by ongoing underinvestment by the Glazer family, the American owners have failed to invest sufficiently in the playing staff since their takeover of the club in 2005, instead relying solely on Ferguson’s managerial acumen to achieve success.
The decision to allow longstanding chief executive David Gill to depart along with Ferguson, badly affected the club’s transfer dealings over the summer, with his replacement Ed Woodward seemingly floundering across Europe in search of a midfielder. The club’s clumsy pursuit of Barcelona’s Cesc Fàbregas was particularly ignominious, with it being seemingly apparent to all but Woodward and Moyes that the player would not leave the Nou Camp.
Having grown increasingly desperate, Moyes returned to his former club to sign Marouane Fellaini, paying Everton £27.5 million to bring the Belgian international to Old Trafford on the final day of the transfer window. Fellaini was the only significant signing over the summer, the juxtaposition all the more apparent when contrasted to the big spending of City and Chelsea.
Moyes deserves credit for the way he has placated Rooney – despite the club’s poor performances the player’s own form has been excellent, securing Rooney to a long-term contract must now be Moyes’ top priority. The emergence of Adnan Januzaj has been one of the few positives this season, while Danny Wellbeck is enjoying his best season for the club.
Despite criticism of the signing of Felaini, Moyes showed during his time at Everton that he can excel in the transfer market, having brought Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka and Séamus Coleman to Goodison. Coleman signed for £60,000 from Sligo Rovers has developed into arguably the best right back in the Premier League.
His critics will argue that identifying players of sufficient calibre to succeed at Old Trafford will prove more problematic, but Moyes deserves another summer to construct his side.
Everton’s excellent form this season is a testament to their former manager as well as the current incumbent Roberto Martínez, Moyes left his successor an excellent platform from which to build a courtesy which he himself was not afforded at Old Trafford.