Thursday 8 December 2016

Aidan O'Hara: Echoes of McClaren in ongoing struggles for Moyes and Sunderland

Published 26/09/2016 | 02:30

'Moyes is, once again, heading down a similar path to McClaren.' Photo: PA
'Moyes is, once again, heading down a similar path to McClaren.' Photo: PA

Until a few years ago, having something in common with a manager who had been highly respected by Alex Ferguson, helped a previously unfashionable team to relative success then going on to get one of the most prestigious jobs in the game would've been seen as a good thing.

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But for David Moyes and his increasing resemblance to Steve McClaren, it certainly isn't.

McClaren was assistant manager at Manchester United in their greatest season before winning a first major trophy in Middlesbrough's history and, even more remarkably, reaching a UEFA Cup final two seasons later. Then he got the England manager's job and, within 18 months, he was the wally with the brolly.

Moyes didn't quite have the same level of club success with Everton but, like McClaren as England manager, he seemed to wilt under the increased spotlight which came as Manchester United boss.

In contrast to the tight-knit group at Everton, leaks sprung from the Old Trafford dressing room like a poorly plumbed house and with every detail, a little more of Moyes's credibility evaporated.

Redemption

Both went abroad in search of redemption and while McClaren impressively won the Dutch league with FC Twente for the first time in the club's history, his departure to, and subsequent sacking from, Wolfsburg set in motion a cycle of events which leaves him now looking like a bit of a joke figure

Moyes isn't quite at that stage yet but while his fling with Real Sociedad could be treated in the same way as a rebound relationship mis-judgement after a painful break-up, there are increasing signs the Moyes is, once again, heading down a similar path to McClaren.

When he became Newcastle manager just 15 months ago, McClaren was relatively upbeat about the club's prospects even within an ownership structure that could generously be described as chaotic.

Yet despite spending £50million in the summer, it only took McClaren until after his fifth game at the helm to remind everyone just what a difficult job he had on his hands.

"There is more pain to come, absolutely," said McClaren after the 2-0 defeat at West Ham. "Don't think it is going to be rosy all the way. We didn't expect that.

"In the process of trying to change things around in a football club it is a little bit like a car crash, you know it is going to happen, and you can't do anything. You just wait for it to happen."

It was a stunningly negative and naïve statement from a manager who - given the level of analysis given to every utterance by an England manager - should have known far better than to offer a soundbite which would simultaneously alienate players and supporters.

In fairness to Moyes, he didn't follow McClaren down the path of dampening expectations after five games - instead he took a shorter path and did it after just two.

"Fans would be right (if they feared relegation) because that's what we've had here for four years,' said Moyes, after the Black Cats' defeat to Middlesbrough. "Why would it suddenly change? I think we will be in a relegation fight.

"People will be flat because they'll be hoping something can dramatically change, but it can't dramatically change."

There's an argument that Moyes was simply being realistic but wondering why something would "suddenly" change two games into his tenure is setting himself up for a similar fall when he moaned about the difficultly of the fixture list the season after Manchester United had won the Premier League title.

After Saturday's defeat to Crystal Palace, he decided to criticise the players while insinuating he was doing all that he could.

"For us to not have someone deal with Benteke at the death, to have a five-yard run and have no challenge, is just incredible," said the Scot after his side blew a 2-0 lead with half an hour remaining to lose 3-2.

"We need our players to assume a level of responsibility that it's not all down to me and my staff."

Perhaps that "someone" to watch Benteke or take responsibility could have been John O'Shea who Moyes left sitting on the bench throughout while making his final two substitutions after 86 minutes. But, then, he may have had to take a closer look at himself and his staff.

At Middlesbrough and Everton, both McClaren and Moyes experienced the media through the prism of their relative success while defeats were usually treated as things that were meant to happen to those sort of clubs anyway.

With England and Manchester United, neither seemed to realise that the opposite is the case where nobody gives you credit for winning, but your head is on the block following defeats.

The tetchy relationship between media and manager reared its head for McClaren in an argument with a Daily Mail journalist where McClaren performed that feat perfected by those in the public eye of not having read an article, but knowing everything that is in it.

Last weekend, David Moyes glared at a Sky Sports reporter when questioned as to why Patrick van Aanholt was suddenly pulled from the team to face Tottenham while taking part in the warm-up.

Two days later, Moyes pointed the finger at the FA, who waited until just before kick-off to raise their concerns about the defender's heart tests. Yet, it was peculiar, again for a man of his experience, that he chose to let the story bubble rather than simply revealing what happened.

Had he done so, the story would have been about a manager protecting his player, instead, the vacuum was filled with speculation.

Questionable

It could be argued that they have been unfortunate to be at clubs like Newcastle and Sunderland with questionable ownership structures and beliefs but both should have known what they were getting themselves in for.

McClaren wasn't at the wheel when Newcastle's unsteady ship finally got mired in the relegation rocks but he played a large part in their luck eventually running out.

Sunderland's policy for avoiding relegation in recent seasons has involved sacking managers during the season and hoping for a dead Black Cat bounce to keep their heads above water.

Not since the 2010-11 season with Steve Bruce have Sunderland finished the season with the same manager they started it with - Martin O'Neill, Paulo Di Canio, Gus Poyet, Dick Advocaat and Sam Allardyce all arriving and leaving the club more or less in the same position as they found them. Yet this is the environment where Moyes chose to re-launch his career in English management.

If he and Sunderland survive, he will have exceeded his limited expectations. If he doesn't, like McClaren, he will struggle to come back from it and probably should have seen it coming.

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