By Alexander Netherton
There’s a particular kind of hot air being expelled by football humans across the world. That hot air is the discussion about David Moyes at Manchester United which is being pushed out by people across the world, who are using their vocal chords, mouth, teeth and lips to make it into words. Some of the same people are also putting these thoughts into written words, in much the same way as this article is doing.
There is no denying that this has been a notably bad start for Moyes at United. He’s lost to Liverpool, a disaster, to City, a catastrophe, and to West Bromwich Albion, very funny. He’s made a number of faux pas in the media, and a number of inexplicable decisions. Decisions which were obviously wrong at the time – removing Shinji Kagawa and replacing him with a child, for example – and a number obviously wrong in retrospect – waiting until the last minute to buy a midfielder.
Now, Moyes might still turn the job around. He might eventually prove himself to be a worthy successor to Alex Ferguson, capable of taking over the biggest club in the country from the best manager in the world (no arguments, please). But right now, it’s too soon to call for his sacking, but certainly not too soon to examine the differences with other managers who changed clubs in the Summer. There were three other options available in the year before Ferguson’s retirement. All of them were linked with the job, some more heavily than others, but it appears the decision made was relatively swift and decisive. The following requires that we assume the job was available before they chose their alternative destinations, but it nonetheless highlights the skills United missed out on by either choosing incorrectly, or failing to properly plan for his exit. United may soon look at Moyes and realise there are no good alternatives now available – that wasn’t the case over the last year.
If Moyes is sacked within 18 months, we can suppose that things will have gone badly. No trophies and no hope of trophies. Things will be a real mess and only a manager of real quality would be needed. People would be calling for the return of Alex Ferguson. Not so, Jose Mourinho. The man has reliably finished within the top two of every league he has managed in for the last decade. David Moyes hasn’t. For all his faults – and there are plenty – Mourinho would deliver success, or at the very least, be relied upon to sidestep failure.
Mourinho has won the Champions League twice, and come close to winning on other occasions. David Moyes is already talking down his team’s chances: what a thrill. He is no tactical expert, nor is he experienced in Europe. On the other side, Mourinho can charm the press, even if it gets tedious for some when he waxes histrionic. Mourinho has Jorge Mendes on speed dial when he needs to reinforce in the summer – he would not have stood for signing a single midfielder. For more than his release clause.
Even then, and this goes with the rest of the other managers listed here, he has credibility. If the exact same results had occurred under his watch, there would be little hesitation to expect and improvement, and crucially his players would not doubt that would be coming, too. Under Moyes, there is little achievement to base trust upon. Why, fundamentally, should players as good as Rafael, Kagawa and Robin Van Persie believe in his advice?
That’s not to say Mourinho is without drawbacks. Along with positives comes the disrepute he brings every club. Bringing UNICEF, the Mounted Police, the actor Kenneth Branagh and Interpol into arguments whenever he wants to invent a conspiracy. Given Manchester United’s focus is on bringing on board valuable sponsors, it is still understandable to give the warring Portuguese motherfucker a wide berth. Just as Moyes might leave the club without success and in a mess, it is certainly possible Mourinho will leave the club in the middle of a civil war. At Chelsea, he fell out with executives, owner, technical and playing staff. At Inter Milan, he chinned a journalist. At Real Madrid, he went after the club captain, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, both his strikers, executives and board members, more journalists, Catalonia in general, Barcelona the club, UNICEF, UEFA and others. You can understand why David Gill and Bobby Charlton (at a guess) might not have been desperate to see what trees he could tear up, and then set fire to, at Old Trafford.
Counterintuitively though, even this holds a positive. If Mourinho leaves an absolute shitstorm behind, with people balancing anvils atop ajar doors, waiting for their colleagues, then at least nobody will be thinking of Ferguson. They’ll be too busy sorting out Mourinho’s mess. That can’t be said at United now.
There are also rumours that Carlo Ancelotti was offered the job, only to disclose to United that he had already decided to replace Mourinho at Real Madrid. There are no rumours that this was in part because Madrid offers better culture, food and people than literally anywhere in England, but they cannot be discounted – even if the rumours do not exist – because the reasoning is utterly valid.
However, there is an overlooked argument that suggests that Carlo Ancelotti was a golden opportunity for the Glazers, and United on the whole. Of course, getting rid of the Glazers for a group of people who would prioritise the club would be the greatest advance for the club, but that’s not going to happen, because nothing good happens anymore. However, Ancelotti offered qualities for both parties, and fewer problems than Mourinho.
He is, though, a company man. He does not go out of his way to attack those above him, he accepts the sack as an inevitability. He is stoic of spirit and solid of ass, secure that they will both comfort and protect him, and survive through any scrapes. He would not embarrass the club or damage the money-making brand.
And on the pitch, he is reliable. At Milan, PSG and before, he delivered Champions League football with the occasional title or European success. For the club, that earns enough beans, and for the fans, it gives them what they want and what they are accustomed to. It might not have been what Ferguson was capable of, but nobody could achieve that.
Particular to the United squad, too, he has qualities they need. With Michael Carrick, Robin Van Persie, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand all in their thirties, Ancelotti’s expertise in getting the best out of older players is vital, particularly when transfer funds are not sufficient to overhaul the squad. If they were, United would have been able to buy at least one of Leighton Baines, Ander Herrera, Thiago Alcantara, Luka Modric or any of the other 500 players they were linked with. But they weren’t, making this and the previous sentence moot. He is, as his discovery of 4-3-2-1 and his pragmatism at Chelsea showed, able to build a team out what he is given. At PSG, he ultimately found the balance of a team made of also-rans and superstars. As is evident, Manchester United certainly need someone to build them into a team again.
He’s able to deal with superstars. At AC Milan he had Kaka and Paolo Maldini, and at Juventus he had to deal with Alessandro Del Piero. Now, at Real Madrid, few seem to be as het up as they were under Mourinho. With players as capable of insurrection as Patrice Evra and Wayne Rooney, he would have been ideal to manage these and other egos. David Moyes, of course, ended up suing Rooney and humiliating Evra with his pursuit of Baines and Fabio Coentrao.
Of course, he has his drawbacks. He only won one league title in Italy, had a sophomore slump at Chelsea, and was unable to take an enhanced PSG to a title in his first year – despite taking over the side at the top of Ligue 1. It’s looking unlikely that Real Madrid will succeed this year, and there’s a chance that Atletico’s form could see him finish third. While he is well capable of trophies, managing egos and behaving as the corporate side demands, the pay-off is regular fallow years.
Finally, the scarf-wearer. No, not Roberto Mancini. For one, he’s useless, for two, he’s about to prove again how useless he is at Galatasaray. No, the last option was Pep Guardiola, who met Alex Ferguson at Christmas to discuss something. Whatever it was, he then took the Bayern job. Now we can do the cons he offers quite quickly: He’s a bit annoying, and doesn’t necessarily excel at the top end of the transfer market. But then again, Manchester United don’t operate at the top end of the transfer market at all anymore. Whether he might ultimately have wanted the job at United, with Bayern still on offer, is moot.
We can to the pros swiftly too: he defined, and possibly invented, a strain of football that is only now being challenged, the hegemony in the Champions League for a significant period of time. He understands youth football, something Manchester United need, having only produced Danny Welbeck of late. Adnan Januzaj – who’s had a look at Moyes and by coincidence is supposedly looking around for other options – and Rafael do not count, because they were bought. He is attractive to almost any player except Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and he was the man who signed Thiago in the end. He also perfected possibly the greatest club side of all time. David Moyes appears unlikely to do the same.
David Moyes still has his chance. In all likelihood, it will be for at least a year unless things go shocking. Despite that, when his time comes, and there are already reasons to suspect it will be this summer, Manchester United will have reason to wonder just why they appointed him in the first place, and just how damaging the timing of the change was.