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.
“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 continued…