In retrospect, the very first sign that David Moyes was not going to continue Alex Ferguson’s standard at Manchester United may have come before Moyes ever coached a single meaningful game.
Last August, less than two months into his tenure as Ferguson’s replacement, Moyes complained publicly about the difficult opening to United’s schedule. After seeing that the Red Devils would face Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea in three of their first five games, Moyes accused the Premier League of intentionally giving United, as defending champions, a tougher start to the slate.
“I find it hard to believe that’s the way the balls came out of the bag, that’s for sure,” he said.
Many found the claim absurd. But even the most die-hard conspiracy theorists would acknowledge that it was, at the very least, smacking of desperation before a ball was even kicked. After all, each of the 20 teams in the league play each other twice and no one wins or loses the title before the round robin is complete. So why should Moyes — or, really, the manager at any of the biggest clubs — care too much about the order?
It showed weakness from Moyes right at the start, and eight months later, after a slow beginning — and slow middle and slow end — United has lost its patience with Moyes less than one season into a contract that was supposed to last six. One day after news leaked that the end was near, United officially fired Moyes on Tuesday morning.
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“Manchester United has announced that David Moyes has left the Club,” the team said in a two-sentence statement on its website. “The Club would like to place on record its thanks for the hard work, honesty and integrity he brought to the role.”
It was a sharp ending to a run that began with Moyes being anointed by none other than Ferguson himself. Ferguson, who won 13 Premier League titles in his 26 years with United, was allowed to handpick his successor and settled on Moyes, whom he saw as respectful, diligent and in many ways a younger version of himself.
The problem with that was that United did not need the early version of Ferguson, who took over in 1986; rather, they needed the modern-day version of the fiery Scot, a leader who was comfortable in the searing spotlight that comes with fronting a global monolith amid excruciating expectations of success.
In that regard, Moyes never had a chance. He produced admirable results while coaching at Everton but did not win a major trophy during his 11 seasons on Merseyside and thus, from the moment he arrived at Old Trafford, struggled to maintain credibility with his players and with the fans.
With four league games remaining, United is already assured of finishing with its lowest point total in the Premier League era. It has no chance of qualifying for next year’s Champions League and, currently mired in seventh place, may well even miss out on the Europa League. In the F.A. Cup, United lost in the third round. In the League Cup, United lost in the semifinals. In this year’s Champions league, United were eliminated in the quarterfinals.
In total, Moyes coached 51 games in all competitions, and United won just 27 of them. The Red Devils have already lost 11 league games this season — one more than Ferguson lost in his final two seasons combined.
“The results have been poor,” Gary Neville, the former United defender said on Sky Sports News. “The performances have got worse and worse.”
In addition to the on-field results, Moyes struggled to find success in the transfer market. Moyes’s few moves — including a curious decision to spend big on Marouane Fellaini, who has been largely ineffective — are likely to have been a factor in United’s decision to bring in a new man ahead of the next transfer period.
Speculation is already percolating over the identity of United’s next manager. Ryan Giggs, the veteran midfielder who had been serving as a player-coach this season, will serve as the interim manager, with Nicky Butt, another former player, stepping in as Giggs’s assistant.
In terms of long-term possibilities, Borussia Dortmund’s Jürgen Klopp has been a much-discussed option among analysts and observers, though the German was quoted by multiple news media outlets on Tuesday as saying that he was committed to remaining in his current position.
Other coaches who have been speculated as potential choices include the Dutch coach Louis van Gaal.
Most unwanted records
Transfer failures: Moyes failed to land transfer targets Cesc Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara and Leighton Baines while buying Marouane Fellaini who has failed to come good at United.
worst start ever: Three losses in their opening six league matches, including a 1-0 defeat at Anfield and a 4-1 humbling at neighbours Manchester City, gave United their worst start in 24 years.
Home woes: Successive home defeats to Everton — Everton’s first win at Old Trafford in 21 years — and Newcastle —the Magpies’ first victory there since 1972 — in early December leaving defending champions United ninth in the league, 12 points adrift of leaders Arsenal.
No happy new year: United lost on new year’s day for the first time in 20 years and at home too, 2-1 to Tottenham.
Average record: In the 51 matches during his time in charge at Old Trafford, the club won 27 matches, drew nine and lost 15 in all competitions.
Different elevens: Moyes did not know his first eleven — he did not pick the same team for all his 51 matches in-charge.
History re-written: United beaten 2-1 at home by Swansea, Swansea’s first in their history, in the third round of the FA Cup. United lost three matches in the month of January for the first time in 40 years after League Cup first-leg defeat. Stoke defeat United in a league match for the first time in 30 years.
Toppled: United took only five points from a possible 24 against the current Premier League top four of Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal.
Fans unrest: United fans unhappy with their side’s poor season chip in to hire a plane to trail a banner over Old Trafford reading ‘Wrong One – Moyes Out’ before the match against Aston Villa.
Game over: A listless display by his side in a 2-0 defeat to Everton ended United’s slim hopes of Champions League football next season and left the club seventh in the league. Everton complete the league double against United for the first time since 1969/70.