Richard Sadlier: Moyes letting the truth get in the way of motivation
United's manager has to convince the players that he is the right man for the job, says Richard Sadlier
Football is an unfair business. People complain about the scrutiny of the media and the pressure to succeed, but within the dressing room judgments are swifter and more ruthless.
How could the manager of the reigning champions suggest his squad was two players short of a serious title challenge? How could a Manchester United manager speak so frankly about disappointing days that may lie ahead? I wouldn't disagree with David Moyes' assessment of his Manchester United squad, especially after yesterday's defeat, but if his players see things differently, he could be in trouble.
It's not irrelevant to compare Moyes with his predecessor because it's exactly what will be happening among the players. They knew what was expected of them under Alex Ferguson. Their job was to satisfy his extraordinary hunger for success and that was it. There were no excuses made in advance of failures and every public comment he made had them in mind. He grasped the impact of everything he said and the dressing room was always his target audience. In that regard, his approach to management was the exact opposite to that of Paolo Di Canio.
If Ferguson's legacy is that of the greatest manager of the modern era, Di Canio's will be precisely the opposite. In perhaps the most spectacular example of how not to be a Premier League manager, Di Canio achieved the extraordinary feat of alienating himself from almost everyone at the club from the start of his reign and never recovered.
Not once did he look like he grasped the value of building relationships with anyone around him and paid the price last week when he was sacked. Once details emerged of how he went about the job, you'd almost wonder how he lasted as long as 175 days.
He delayed Steven Fletcher's return to full training by a week because he believed he wasn't mentally ready. This was on the back of seeing Fletcher share a joke with the first team squad as they ran past where he was working. He undermined the medical staff by giving decision-making powers to a clinic in Rome. And the stadium staff were warned not to interact with players on the day of a game. Disciplinary measures would be taken against anyone caught shaking players' hands or wishing them well prior to kick-off because he believed this would affect their focus.
On one occasion when a player on the fringes of the first-team squad entered the gym to join the players for exercises, he was told to go to the adjoining gym area, look through the window and copy what they were doing from there. I assume the intention was to make him aspire even more to be part of the squad, but it only lowered his opinion of Di Canio and his methods. And it drew the same response from all the other players.
But his public criticisms of the players were tame in comparison to what he was saying to their faces in private. A strategy of almost constant confrontation was adopted with the most predictable of outcomes. As a direct result of his management style, six of the 14 players brought to the club during the summer are said to have asked to be sent out on loan. "You never wanted to let him down," was Roy Keane's line on Ferguson when he retired, but it seems Di Canio inspired an entirely different reaction.
The United players' response to Moyes will be the determining factor in his longevity. He is very different to Di Canio with a record he can point to but not one he can point to very often in a dressing room full of title winners.
Early indications support most pre-season predictions about Manchester United. They are unlikely to finish in the top two and are by no means guaranteed a place in the top four. Ferguson's
departure ensured a lowering of expectations but the appointment of Moyes has reduced them further. Ferguson had an unwavering belief in the ability of his players to win matches and that conviction followed them out onto the field. Measured remarks can't really compare.
Moyes' comments about the strengths and weaknesses of the squad might have had a basis in reality but he has other things to do before he can live in the real world. Primarily he must demonstrate to the United squad that he is the right man to be their manager and that requires a subtle negotiation as he tries to change all that he wants to change while talking about the legacy of Alex Ferguson.
"But he's won nothing," Mourinho is supposed to have said when Moyes was appointed manager. A new book in Spain makes this claim and also says that Chelsea's manager cried when he heard he wasn't succeeding Ferguson. Moyes has to win over a powerful dressing room and he also knows that there are those on the outside who think they could do a better job as well.