Friday 13 December 2019

Jim White: New boss facing unenviable task of reversing squad's steady decline

Robin van Persie is just one of a number of Manchester United players who failed to deliver for David Moyes this season. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Robin van Persie is just one of a number of Manchester United players who failed to deliver for David Moyes this season. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Jim White

There is a mood of optimism around Old Trafford.

 The grumpy, tetchy gloom has lifted; the fug of incompetence has been cleared; the hapless and the hopeless have been expunged. David Moyes, a man so far out of his depth he needed an aqualung as he floundered in the technical area, has been put out of his – and everyone else's – misery. A nice guy, but it is best for all concerned he has gone. And taken his mates with him.

Now, with the Class of '92 in temporary charge, the club are back in the hands of those who understand them. And with Louis van Gaal or Carlo Ancelotti on the horizon, once more Manchester United are to be steered by those who are not scared of the club's scale, who will not shrink in furthering traditions. After a season to forget, all is well again in Manchester's red half. Problems are a thing of the past now the Chosen One has been deselected.

If you believe that, then you presumably believe that Kevin Pietersen is a team player, that Mike Riley enjoys weekly kitchen suppers round at Jose Mourinho's place and that Formula One is purely a test of driving skill.

For all his mistakes the reason United are not in contention at the point of the season that the destination of trophies is decided is not entirely due to Moyes. More to the point, the issues that ultimately cost him his job are still extant: in his 10 months in charge he did nothing to resolve the problems threatening to consume the club.

It is true that Moyes inherited from Alex Ferguson a squad which had just won the title. But it was also a squad coming to the end of its cycle, a squad in which old stalwarts had not been adequately replaced, in which the holes caused by corporate parsimony were glaringly obvious. With a back four ageing simultaneously, with a giant hole where central midfield should be, with the second-rate and the over-promoted masquerading as the next generation, it had been driven way beyond its potential by the genius of the man in charge.

Blessed with a full season of fitness from Robin van Persie, in his last season Ferguson had given new definition to the term papering over the cracks. The moment he stood down, his successor fell helplessly through the now-exposed fissures.

It was evident in United's Champions League tie with Bayern Munich how serious were the issues facing Moyes. The truth is, since the moment Cristiano Ronaldo was sold to Real Madrid, the club have been in steady decline. Just compare the United team that won the Champions League in 2008 to the one that played against Bayern, and precipitous slippage is evident in every position. The 2008 team trip off the tongue; the 2014 team tripped over their own laces.

This is the issue that will face whoever replaces Moyes: he too will inherit a squad that has been allowed to slip so far behind the elite it will need major surgery. Moreover, that surgery will now have to be conducted without the lure of Champions League football. In order to reclaim their position at the top of the game, United need absolute quality. But absolute quality tends to restrict itself to clubs in the Champions League. A vicious circle threatens which could well consume any incumbent. But hey, now's not the time to cavil. David Moyes has gone. The real United are back. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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