Moyes eager to break Sunderland's cycle of sack, survive and struggle
David Moyes went to watch Manchester City and Monaco's Champions League tie as the manager of Sunderland on a scouting mission, with today's Premier League game at the Stadium of Light in mind. He left as a football fan, smiling through the pain.
"I watched something else," he said. "I thought I had watched football until I went to see Man City and Monaco and saw the quality of the players.
"You could even hear the sound of the players' boots hitting the ball, it was like a finely-tuned orchestra the way they were connecting with the ball, whipping the crosses in. Every player's technical skills looked and sounded magnificent.
"The quality of the crosses Monaco put in, the quality of the counter-attacking from Man City, it was a joy to watch. It really was."
As he recalled that breathtaking night a fortnight ago, it was easy to forget that it's his job to try and stop Pep Guardiola's side this afternoon. Moyes also went to watch City's 5-1 FA Cup drubbing of Huddersfield during the week.
"Part of the reason to go to games is to try and become better and get your teams to play as well as Monaco or Manchester City did," he said. "If they do, that would be something. Hopefully they've used up their goals anyway."
Sunderland are a long way from Manchester City, and Moyes's previous employers Manchester United. Moyes has been dealt one of the worst hands imaginable by owner Ellis Short. The Sunderland job is a serious test of his resolve after the failures at Old Trafford and Real Sociedad.
Sam Allardyce may have been Short's sixth manager in as many years but he looked like the genuine answer to their continued problems. He appeared capable of ending the cycle of relegation battles. Allardyce had the keys to the club and was planning significant changes to build for Premier League security.
But his doomed appointment as England manager in the summer had a profound effect on the club, and Short. They all had to wait for the inevitable, losing out in the transfer market before Allardyce finally left. Short's patience with the FA and football snapped as Moyes finally arrived. So, Sunderland fell short in the transfer market and they are bottom of the league again. And in another relegation fight.
Moyes may not win many admirers for his delivery, but he has been open and honest to Sunderland supporters from the start. His most optimistic take on their plight is that he is confident it will go to the last game of the season. The outcome will be irrelevant to the dozens of staff who will have been made redundant by then.
Moyes said: "The redundancies are really tough. It is hard on the people here, and we know we are responsible, and maybe other people could lose their jobs.
"When I came I didn't know the club would be for sale. My job has not changed and I've got to do everything I can to make sure we stay in the Premier League.
"We want to build in the Premier League. We want to say 'right, we got over the first hurdle and stayed up, let's take a breath of air and go again'.
"But at the moment, we are still gasping for air. We would like to be safe and not in the situation we're in, and planning for next year, and how can we get away from this, but unfortunately we are not in that position at the moment.
"We want to break the cycle of Sunderland being in the relegation fight every year, at this time of the year. But here we are in another fight against relegation."
London-based, American-born Short, who earned his billions through trust funds, took over from Niall Quinn in 2011 with little knowledge of football. He has had a poor return for his millions, and his name was dragged into the Adam Johnson case and the club's awareness of the 29-year-old winger's activities with a minor before his arrest and imprisonment.
Six managers in as many years has had implications throughout the club. And Short's reward for his trigger-happy policy? Sunderland have finished 13th, 17th, 14th, 16th and 17th, each one a relegation scrap. And they are still pulling in 40,000-plus crowds every week - even if there is a huge exodus before the final whistle on the many occasions Sunderland have been humiliated at the Stadium of Light in the Premier League.
He may have kept the club afloat but Short's erratic managerial, boardroom and football technical department appointments are at the root of Sunderland's continued struggles at the wrong end of the Premier League table.
He sacked Steve Bruce within a month, and after he had just achieved the club's only top-ten finish in 15 years. Since then he has hired and fired Martin O'Neill, Paolo di Canio, Gus Poyet and Dick Advocaat, usually in March and before the Tyne-Wear derby. Allardyce came a year ago, and Moyes took over in August.
There is no Newcastle game but the neighbours are on their way back to the Premier League, make no mistake. And if Rafa Benitez can resolve his transfer policy issues with Mike Ashley, Sunderland could be left behind by their great rivals once again, blowing a rare nine-year stint in the top flight.
Any previous short-term success for Sunderland managers does not concern Moyes; nor does any impact made by the new arrivals at Hull or Swansea, Crystal Palace.
He knows he should be the manager to stabilise the club and build on his close relationship with new chief executive Martin Bain. It's just the owner has a short fuse in March.
Moyes said: "The players should not need any boost. It would say more about the players if they only get a new boost from a new manager. They should be doing it now, shouldn't they?
"If that's the case, that's wrong. I would have thought the players have seen too many managers to want to be linked with anyone else. We have had too many changes here and maybe we need to look inwardly, rather than at another manager.
"Ultimately, the manager has to take the rap. I accept that, I have done it before and no doubt I will have to do it again."
Moyes is without nine players this weekend, including three - Duncan Watmore, Paddy McNair and Lee Cattermole - who are probably out for the season. Those are the numbers he has been fighting with for most of it. And if he did not have the goals of Jermain Defoe, Sunderland would be down already. Only Sergio Aguero, Harry Kane and Diego Costa have scored more in the last year.
One constant is John O'Shea. The Ireland international may be used sparingly to protect ageing limbs but he has been here before and no Sunderland player has played more times in the Premier League.
- Sunderland v Manchester City, Sky Sports 1, 4.0
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