Saturday 14 December 2019

Sacking Moyes an act of humanity not brutality

Head coach Juergen Klopp of Borussia Dortmund
Head coach Juergen Klopp of Borussia Dortmund

James Lawton

The sacking of David Moyes was, curiously but inarguably, in the end more merciful than brutal. It was deliverance for both the victim and the perpetrator.

For Moyes, it marked the cessation of a personal humiliation unprecedented in the history of English football and a nightmare he could never have envisaged as he proudly donned his club blazer as the anointed successor to his wildly successful mentor Alex Ferguson.

For United, it was the time when they had to bring back to their affairs the hard-edged certainties demanded in a game that has never been so ruthless, never so unforgiving of errors of judgment in the vital matter of managerial appointments.

That was the reality finally imposed by American owners who would surely have acted so much sooner on their home ground of gridiron football if their Tampa Bay Buccaneers had experienced the kind of collapse that United entered from the first days of the season.

Decline under Moyes was so swift, so profound, that it demanded only one solution and yesterday's indication that the fate of the fallen manager was decided when the club's Champions League tenure was first imperilled by a shocking defeat at the hands of lightweight Olympiakos was surely the least surprising aspect of an inevitable sacking.

Moyes failed on so many fronts but the killing deficiency was his inability to protect the European revenue life-blood.

FANCIFUL

It was this ineradicable fact which made the claim that the club owed him more time seem so fanciful, especially on the lips of the normally hard-nosed former club captain Gary Neville.

There were two certainties in yesterday's dawn. One was that Moyes was doomed, irretrievably, and the other was that United had to appoint a man of nous, achievement and an essential toughness in dealing with a demoralised club and a broken, time-expired squad.

This made the old Dutch pro, 62-year-old Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal, a logical enough favourite in the betting at 6/4, but this was only after Jurgen Klopp, 20 years his junior but with a superb record at Dortmund, re-stated once more his determination to stay in the Ruhr Valley until at least 2018.

Klopp has not only put himself out of the United running, he also delivered something that was hard not to see as a rebuke to Old Trafford governance when he said, "No-one (in Dortmund) needs to worry. We are all still a bit in love with this club and the way things are handled here."

That was in response, specifically, to strong rumours that he was heading for Barcelona and the job of the embattled Gerardo Martino, but there was no break in a common front when the United vacancy became official. Dortmund could not have been more emphatic when they announced that Klopp was their treasured property – and with no ifs and buts.

What would United pay now for such a sense of unity and confidence in the direction of a team which at the weekend delivered a club record fourth consecutive appearance in the Champions League?

Certainly hugely more than the £5m or so they are expected to settle on the sad record of unfounded confidence represented by Moyes' £6m-a-year contract that was supposed to run until 2017.

Instead, the word is, they will probably opt for the veteran Van Gaal, who can crucially claim a Champions League triumph with Ajax and, despite his eventual dismissal at Bayern, the laying down of the foundations of the club's current strength as reigning European champions and semi-finalists.

Van Gaal plainly knows the value of forging strong links with key players.

As Dutch coach, he has invested heavily in Robin van Persie, the hammer of Ferguson's last title triumph, one which became a little more remarkable with each piece of fresh evidence that Moyes was incapable of maintaining a fraction of such a competitive edge.

Van Gaal took Arjen Robben to Bayern and quickly elevated such pillars of the team as the young Germans Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Muller.

His record is not so studded with silver as that of his protege at Barcelona, Jose Mourinho, but he is a man plainly capable of hard and perceptive decisions and clearly his appeal dwarfs that for some sentimental lunge in favour of the iconic old player but unproven coach Ryan Giggs.

There is also speculation over a return to England by Carlo Ancelotti, who is not apparently enamoured by the often frenetic ambience of Real Madrid, and his upwardly mobile young cross-town rival Diego Simeone, who has swept Atletico into the elite of both Spanish and European football at a blistering pace.

What is most clear is that United, having indulged the paternal instincts of Ferguson in the matter of his fellow Glaswegian Moyes, can now settle for nothing less than the imprint of a man who knows his way around the highest levels of the game.

In Van Gaal they would also have one with a healthy sense of his own weight. At Barcelona, he was taken with the self-confidence and nerve of the young Mourinho, sufficiently so to have him at his side as an assistant and a confidant.

INSPIRED

Mourinho, despite his current pressure in the wake of Liverpool's inspired young contender for a high place in the ranking of the game's top coaches, Brendan Rodgers, is still the name that echoes most hauntingly around a stricken Old Trafford.

The decision to ignore Mourinho, after failed overtures to Guardiola, became progressively bizarre with each mis-step by Moyes, each underlining of the extent of the gamble taken by United when they invested in a much respected pro – but also one who had never felt the rush that comes with winning a single major trophy.

One of Van Gaal's first moves as Dutch coach was to appoint Van Persie as captain. He saw beyond the brooding of the striker a natural-born winner when properly handled.

It is, maybe, an instinct that United are now right to be weighing in gold.

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