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Sunday 22 April 2018

Alan Hansen: Ageing United need to learn lessons of Liverpool's demise

David Moyes - who has taken on the hardest job in football
David Moyes - who has taken on the hardest job in football

Alan Hansen

David Moyes now knows he has taken on the hardest job in football at the hardest possible time. He is having to meet the challenge of replacing Alex Ferguson as Manchester United manager at the same time as breaking up a team which, in my opinion, was only able to win two of the last three Premier League titles because of the sheer force of Ferguson's will and personality.

It is too early to say we are now witnessing the end of the empire at Old Trafford, but alarm bells are ringing and there are clear similarities between the United of 2013 and the last Liverpool team to win the title back in 1990.

I played in that Liverpool team 23 years ago and it was in the bottom three of the eight title-winning sides I played in at Anfield.

It was an ageing team, one which Kenny Dalglish was looking to break up and build again with new players. In the past the club had combined winning and rebuilding, but this time was different. Liverpool floundered because they failed to replace good players with better ones and the club has paid a heavy price since.

United have more depth and quality than the 1990 Liverpool side, but I would say that the two first-teams are comparable in terms of the issues they faced. Both could be described as ageing teams that needed breaking up, but with issues over those brought in as younger replacements.

Having won the title last season with a team that could hardly be described as one of the club's best-ever, United made a mistake this summer by failing to add the quality that they clearly need. Moyes' first objective should have been to look at every position and ask whether he could get better players in each department.

If not, then United should still have gone out and signed three or four players who were just as good as they had because the secret to success is strengthening while you are on top, regardless of how you won the year before.

However, United only added Marouane Fellaini, who is a good player, but not what they need right now. They need creativity. United failed in the transfer market, which is unusual because players would usually flood to Old Trafford, but perhaps some targets felt they are no longer such an attractive proposition now that Ferguson is no longer in charge.

The Ferguson factor cannot be overestimated, on and off the pitch. It was a massive element of United's success, particularly in recent seasons.

If Ferguson's United had just suffered their third defeat in four games against West Brom at the weekend, we all know how he would have responded. He would be spitting blood, but he would also create an 'us against the world' mentality, tell his players not to feel sorry for themselves and say, 'we're Manchester United, we have fought back before and we will do it again'. Moyes cannot deliver that message because he was not there last season when United were regularly fighting back from a goal down to win matches.

There would not be a credibility issue for the new manager if United were unbeaten and everything was going great, but he has started with three defeats in six league games, so he is an obvious target and people will be pointing the finger.

Under Ferguson, United's players would look across to the touchline and see the man who had delivered countless titles, a man who had taken them through adversity in the past. Moyes does not have those credentials and he has to overcome that, as well as getting it right on the pitch.

He knows he has to rebuild his United squad, but it would have been much easier to do that had the team finished fifth last season rather than top, 11 points clear of the field. That winning margin cannot mask the issues United and Moyes have, however.

The likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Tom Cleverley had been billed as the future not so long ago, but none of them has progressed as United would have hoped and expected.

They have not turned into bad players, but time is not on Moyes' side in terms of them realising their potential and becoming the key men that Ferguson had suggested they would be.

And that reality makes it harder for Moyes to do what he has to do in breaking up the team. If the younger players fail to replace the older ones, and the club cannot find the top-quality additions that are required, sooner or later you will hit a brick wall.

United are not there yet, but there are worrying issues to be addressed. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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