independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Chosen One lost keeping faith in United religion

Ferguson's trust in continuity at Old Trafford is doomed to fail with overachieving Moyes at the helm, writes Paul Hayward

David Moyes at Man United

Alex Ferguson talks fondly of the Bayern Munich model of great figures never leaving the building. He was inspired by the Bavarian template of Franz Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeness building a republic on which the sun would never set.

This was his reference point for encouraging Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt to move into coaching and preserve the values of his era. When the discussion turned to who would succeed Ferguson as Manchester United manager in May of last year, the biggest factor in David Moyes' favour was that he was the kind of manager who could build for a decade.

So, continuity was the religion. Continuity got Moyes the job. By the time the situation became vacant, Jose Mourinho was already on his way back to Chelsea, Pep Guardiola had been hired by Bayern and Carlo Ancelotti scored less highly as a potential long-term answer.

As 2014 lurches into being with United adrift in the Premier League title race, out of the FA Cup and trailing Sunderland 2-1 in a League Cup semi-final, continuity looks a much more fragile concept, rooted in dreams more than strategy.

Continuity expired at Liverpool and a long spell in the shadows ensued.

United's richer neighbours, City, seek it through a new Hispanic model but nobody would bet against some other concept being in its place five years from now.

Moyes is not continuity. He is a man without a major trophy who overachieved at Everton and impressed with his strength of character and honesty. There is a difference, though, between strength and force of character. Not even Mourinho's ego could have filled the void left by Ferguson, especially as he rarely speaks of football as a passion play, a means of self-expression, an almost spiritual endeavour, as the previous leader always did.

If there is one emotional disconnect with this United side, it is the shock of no longer seeing those red jerseys as an attacking swarm, worn by men with absolute conviction. Except in the odd Champions League tie against Barcelona, say, Ferguson's teams were never passive or ponderous.

Just as he dominated his players, so his teams would hunt and hound the opposition as part of a tradition many assumed would pass seamlessly to Moyes. It never happened. The United way was not self-generating. The intensity level dropped far enough for Moyes to make a mediocre start and then falling confidence forced results from bad to worse.

Many United fans see this as a calamity -- a reverse-thrust towards eternal darkness, while, across town, City's players queue up to score.

Fans of around 88 clubs know that supporters of the other four speak a separate language based on a sense of entitlement. The 88 look at the four with detachment. They observe the outbursts of Chelsea, Arsenal or United diehards with amusement.

Their speech bubble says: "You should try following our lot."

Fans of unsuccessful teams have always had the best jokes, until now. The West Ham supporters who sang "F**k off, Sam Allardyce" during the 6-0 defeat at City on Wednesday deviated from the Upton Park norm of gallows humour to express outright fury. Interestingly, the convulsions at United have covered the whole spectrum from indignation to support. Good times are not a birthright.

Distress flares are certainly visible. Moyes' attacks on referees indicate a flailing around for answers and a need to create diversions. He has yet to stop Ashley Young, Adnan Januzaj and Danny Welbeck 'going to ground too easily', to use the euphemism for diving. Sympathy over the poor quality of parts of his squad is mixed with uncertainty about his ability to select and buy the right players. Last summer's transfer-market stumbles and the Marouane Fellaini purchase haunt supporters as they ask how this inadequate team can be rebuilt.

If United now resemble a pantomime horse in which the head of the old Everton coaching staff drags along the rear of Ferguson's former squad, then Moyes is going to have to judge his own assistants as ruthlessly as his players. Are they the right men to coach Manchester United? If not, the world's best players will not come to Old Trafford with the kind of confidence Ferguson's record always inspired. In truth, they may not come at all.

The Bayern Munich model is not dead for United. Giggs alone will see to that. But, for now, "continuity" is exposed as a mere good intention, because the club are unrecognisable from the one Ferguson managed from 1986-2013. They are not carrying on from where Ferguson left off but starting again.

How many managers did Bayern have during Ferguson's 27 years? Eighteen. His reign was incomparable and Moyes is not Ferguson by other means. Nobody could be. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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