Thursday 22 March 2018

'I'm looking forward to winning trophies and being successful again'

Struggling Sunderland boss David Moyes says he wasn't given enough time at Manchester United

David Moyes is tackling another ‘mission impossible’ at Sunderland. Photo: Reuters
David Moyes is tackling another ‘mission impossible’ at Sunderland. Photo: Reuters

Colin Young

'Would you have done anything differently?" What a question to put to David Moyes after the week he's had. This one referred to his all-too-brief time at the helm of Manchester United - not Real Sociedad, not Sunderland, not the two defeats in the last week, not the pending, inevitable relegation, not the female reporter on the receiving end of the inappropriate off-camera ticking-off.

"I have been asked this question 100,000 times," the former Manchester United boss said. "And I've thought about it really hard. There are some small things I might have done differently but the truth is, I don't think I'd have done an awful lot differently.

"I wanted to buy top players, I wanted to slowly change the squad around because the squad had just won the league.

"I knew there were some ageing players and it had to be done but I knew it couldn't be done in the first season and it would be wrong to do that in the first season.

"For me, it was a longer drawn-out process, and because of the length of my contract, that was the way I saw it being."

Moyes wanted time. He got the third-shortest spell in Manchester United history. Succeeding Ferguson was always going to be 'mission impossible', and so it proved for the Scot who cut his managerial teeth at Preston and Everton. United abruptly ended his reign as manager - and as Alex Ferguson's chosen successor - less than 24 hours after they had failed to qualify for the Champions League.

United did reached the quarter-finals of that competition, but Bayern Munich beat them convincingly. It was Sunderland who won the League Cup semi-final at Old Trafford, denying Moyes a Manchester derby Wembley final. Swansea City knocked them out of the FA Cup in the third round.

Moyes may have left £5 million better off but his reputation was in tatters, further damaged by criticism from the camp following his departure. Forgotten were the outstanding achievements at Everton which had convinced the United board to back Ferguson's judgement in the first place.

While his successor, Louis van Gaal, was faring little better and openly fighting the fights Moyes had tried to quell, the Scot headed off to Real Sociedad in November 2013. They did beat Barcelona but he struggled, so did his team, and he was gone within a year.

And then came Sunderland. Moyes was the obvious appointment but he was six weeks too late. By the time the FA had messed Sunderland and Sam Allardyce about, and prolonged his inevitable appointment, owner Ellis Short had lost patience, and the willingness to finance another season, despite the riches on offer thanks to Allardyce's miracle rescue act the previous season.

Moyes arrived to euphoric scenes at a pre-season friendly at Rotherham. The fans sang his name and he waved and smiled and looked and sounded optimistic. Then Short took away the brochure, and the money, and the smile, and put the club up for sale. Sunderland scrimped and scraped in the transfer market. They are bottom of the Premier League for a reason. Without Jermain Defoe, Sunderland would have been relegated by now. As it is, they have 20 points; their recently recalled England striker may have scored a World Cup goal but he and Sunderland have not scored for more than 10 hours. They have surely run out of time.

Moyes was asked which has been the tougher year to endure, since he decided to leave the cushy number at Goodison in May 2013. Manchester United or Sunderland?

He said: "They are both equally as hard in different ways. At Manchester United the pressure was to win every game and compete on every front.

"And I have heard people say 'isn't it great Leicester reached the Champions League quarter-finals?', well you have to remember we reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League that year and we lost to Pep's Bayern Munich. Sometimes those things [are forgotten].

"This year has been different because from me being someone who had a really good, high win rate over the years, suddenly now it is one of the lowest. I hope people look at this and think maybe it's not just down to the manager. It can't be up here as third- or fourth-best in Premier League history, to now this one season be down here. So that has been tough. In my ten years of management, I am not used to losing games the majority of weeks.

"Management changes and your group of players… and different managers know that you need players around you who can show what they can do. There are different stages in managerial careers. I still think the best is still to come, that's the way I look at it, I really do. I am looking forward to winning trophies and being successful again."

Moyes's hands may have been tied by Short, and he has been blighted by injuries to key, experienced players such as Lee Cattermole and Jan Kirchhoff, the lively Duncan Watmore and freebie Victor Anichebe, but he must accept some responsibility for his side's plight.

There is nothing in his team selections which has suggested, since Christmas, that they are capable of the basics of any Sunderland team, which is to fight and grind out results, particularly at home. Moyes said this week the club needs a base of players who understand the region and its supporters. Bar Defoe, and a handful of others, this group is as disengaged from their fan-base as I can remember in 20 years in the North East.

Allardyce had the Sunderland supporters in the palm of his hand and the ability to convince Short he could change the fortunes of the club, through his methods. His departure left another 'mission impossible' for his successor. Moyes's (mis)fortune is that Short has lost interest to such an extent that he hasn't sacked him yet. The American has history: Steve Bruce, Martin O'Neill, Paolo di Canio, Gus Poyet, Dick Advocaat, Allardyce…

From the opening-day defeat at home to Middlesbrough - their North East neighbours who also looked destined for relegation - Moyes has been realistic about his plight, and that of his team. Perhaps too realistic, pessimistic and down-beat.

"I don't think I have been any lower than normal," he said in his defence. "I just think I was totally realistic from day one and maybe that is not what everyone wants to hear nowadays. Maybe we have to spin a story to make it sound good but my personality is to be realistic."

The FA will decide how much they liked Moyes's personality coming through in the now very public remarks made to the BBC reporter who, like the Sunderland manager, thought a private apology would be an end to the matter.

There is not much room left on the moral high ground many have claimed since the incident leaked. Moyes was precluded from further comment and will leave it until his meeting with the FA tomorrow. He looked relieved.

"It's been no more draining than any other week," he observed. "We have had three games and that is enough for any manager."

Moyes knew the media would be watching him and his every word prior to the visit of his former club at Stadium of Light this afternoon. But with enough troubles of his own, he probably welcomed the opportunity to offer his observations on the first 10 months of Jose Mourinho's reign.

Moyes said his successor (plus-one) needs what he never had: time. "You have to win trophies at Manchester United and Jose has a trophy under his belt quickly. I lost to Sunderland on penalty kicks to get to the final. It is small margins at times which can change how things go.

"That's what I'm talking about now - if we can get a small margin to go our way, it could alter things. But I think winning at a club like Manchester United is a big thing and you quickly learn that.

"You have to win at that club. They will be up there competing every year. Every manager needs a bit of time and whoever is at Manchester United needs a bit of time to understand the club, the size and how it works, etc.

"I don't think you ever get offered the Manchester United job if you're a bad manager. You only get that position if you've had something to show previously.

"Sir Alex was given a good period to change things around when he came in there. And he turned it around. I speak to his assistant Archie Knox and he told me some great stories about how it was at that time.

"I do think that anybody who comes into the club needs a bit of time. I don't think you can quickly turn it around because it's a big beast.

"It's becoming like that for all clubs. Some clubs have had a little bit of success from changing the managers quite quickly. But other clubs, the majority that change managers quickly, it's proven that it's not speeding up the recovery process."

If Mourinho's United side win at Sunderland today, they keep the top four in their sights, and with it a return to the Champions League next season. It's all about timing.

Moyes said: "It will be very tight. I think it has been very close but United at times have been very good at timing, whether they are winning championships or coming good at this stage of the season. Over the years that's what Sir Alex did really well, he timed those things really well.

"I think United have to be in the Champions League and they are a club who can cope with being in it. They are used to it, they know how it works and with the quality of signings they make, they can handle Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday-Wednesday."

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