'Chosen one' facing battle to prevent open mutiny
No way back if players at Old Trafford decide to turn their backs on beleaguered boss
David Moyes has a new problem. At a lesser club Manchester United's insipid performance at Olympiakos would point to an undeclared mutiny by the players: a sign that the team were already looking past the present manager to the next one in. In trade union circles it would be called a "go slow".
The apathy in Athens contradicted everything we know about United's ethos.
It forced us to see that winning a Premier League title in May guarantees nothing nine months later. A benign round-of-16 draw against Greece's best side has rebounded on United. The wider tempest whipping around Moyes' first season in charge remains unabated. The players traipsed through the mixed zone in Athens without speaking when a manager with more power might have ordered them all to stop to justify their display.
Now, too, there is insubordination. Robin van Persie's complaint about team-mates being "in some of the areas where I want to play" is no minor gripe. It casts doubt on Moyes' ability to organise a potentially lethal front four of Rooney, Juan Mata, Adnan Januzaj and Van Persie himself.
"I have to change my tactics to suit my team-mates, and play outside my zone," Van Persie says. Many United fans would have just liked him to bury the chance he smashed over the bar late in a 2-0 defeat. Before he starts trying to pick the team, Van Persie had better concentrate on doing his real job, as Roy Keane would have reminded him back in his demonic sergeant-major days. Nobody could argue with Keane's scathing assessment of the performance on ITV.
Many subtexts can be read into United's no-show in Athens. The re-signing of Rooney was hailed as a declaration of strength. It could also be interpreted as a sign of desperation.
Other players at United will not be viewing this £85m contract as anything other than a star with a pugnacious agent exploiting a moment of weakness. It does not strengthen the side because Rooney is already there. It merely preserves the status quo, with Keane maintaining that United need "six or seven players", and a central midfield that bears no comparison with the great combinations of the Ferguson years.
At their midfield core this United side are hollow. They need drive, control, authority, swagger in the areas where Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick are not waving but drowning. United's wide players are a consistent let-down and the defence is hung together by string. United's style of player is out of sync with the best in Europe and even England. The old positivity and menace has disappeared.
Even if these United players move on, Moyes still needs the rest to believe he is the right manager. Nobody in the United hierarchy will have given the players encouragement to think time is running out. Some may have decided it for themselves. Van Persie's lament is certainly a kick in the credibility for Moyes. He can recover his authority by setting the team up well and restoring the zest and bite to United's play. But Van Persie's backchat and the timidity in Athens pose a new threat. If players turn on you these days, there is no way back. (© Daily Telegraph, London)