Saturday 21 April 2018

Moyes under the cosh

WHAT to make of the fix David Moyes finds himself in.

Right out the gate it's important to recognise that many of the problems he faces were not of his making. That Alex Ferguson was able to lead this bunch of players – minus Fellaini – to an eleven point triumph in last year's championship tells us two things: that Ferguson was truly a force of nature and that the rest of the Premier League was caught napping.

Man City with the best squad in the league couldn't get it together often enough to be a genuine threat. Tottenham with the best first team didn't have the depth required for a sustained title challenge, so much so that a late surge by Arsenal knocked them out of the top four.

United's problems were manifest. They didn't then – nor do they now – have the depth and quality at midfield, which a club of its size and ambition should warrant. Fete Ryan Giggs for his brilliance and longevity all you like, it's still an indictment of the club that a forty year old is a mainstay of their midfield.

Anderson never worked out and has never been moved on. Darren Fletcher has never been replaced either. He's still on the books, but having played four games last year, eight the year before and none to date this season he's not an option for Moyes.

This scenario didn't just develop overnight. This didn't happen on Moyes' watch. This is a problem created by Alex Ferguson. A problem that has left Moyes occasionally selecting Chris Smalling – signed as a centre-back – in the middle of the park.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, managers see different things in players, players adapt and change over time, it just seems strange that a club as wealthy and successful as United would find themselves in a situation where they would have to do so out of necessity.

Where Moyes does have a problem is with Fellaini. The Belgian hasn't settled yet, he hasn't been the answer to United's midfield issues that they needed him to be. With a £29m price tag he really had to be, that's on Moyes, not Fergie, not anybody else.

Moyes made the call, he's the one who hasn't yet – and it could still come good for Fellaini – got the best out of his very expensive signing. He hasn't yet got the best out of Shinji Kawaga either. This isn't the Shinji Kawaga of his Dortmund days.

A prompter, a puller of strings, a scorer of goals for midfield that's what United were looking for when they considered a bid to hi-jack Ozil's move from Real Madrid to Arsenal. In Kawaga they have that type of player... if – and that's the crucial thing – if they get the best out of him. Again that's down to Moyes, not anybody else.

The Scot hasn't helped his cause with some ill-judged comments to the media either. The one a few weeks ago about how would have been happy with a draw before the game with Cardiff had many Mancunian heads spinning.

Happy with a draw? Against a newly promoted side? That's not very Manchester United. His comments at the weekend after defeat to Newcastle, in our view, further served to undermine him.

"I was due to take Robin [Van Persie] off after sixty or seventy minutes," he said.

"But I think if I'd taken him off everyone would have said: 'What are you doing?' But in truth Robin needed to come off after seventy minutes maximum, but I had to keep him on. We were chasing the game, we had to get a goal back."

That tells us that he's (a worried about what people think about him and (b that he's willing to be swayed by that. If the best thing for Van Persie – and by extention Manchester United, who need him back to full fitness ASAP – was for him to be withdrawn after sixty minutes then that's what he should have done.

A stronger manager, a manager not as insecure in his position would have taken Van Persie off if that's what he thought should have been done. Moyes needs to become that manager.

The funny thing is we all thought Moyes was that manager. He certainly was that manager at Everton. It's amazing what the pressure cooker atmosphere of a big club can do to a manager. While at Everton he was regularly referred to as "Steely Scot David Moyes", not the type of man to be swayed by popular sentiment as he seems to have been with the Van Persie call.

He deserved the chance to manage a big club. It's now up to him to prove he deserves to keep the gig. Otherwise all his years of striving to get to this point will have been for nought.