Sport Soccer

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Wenger, Rodgers and Mourinho all have a clear 'vision' -- but does Moyes?

Manager Arsene Wenger of Arsenal
Manager Arsene Wenger of Arsenal

Glenn Moore

Towards the end of Roman Abramovich's first season as owner of Chelsea, Peter Kenyon -- then the chief executive -- entertained several football writers over breakfast for one of those "off the record" briefings so beloved of people who regard themselves as movers and shakers.

It was made clear that Claudio Ranieri, the manager Abramovich inherited, would be dispensed with at the end of the campaign. We were also told Abramovich's vision: the Russian wanted a team that won in style, ideally one that scored five goals a game, some of them spectacular ones.

This was in keeping with Abramovich deciding he wanted to buy into football after attending an electric night at Old Trafford the previous year when Ronaldo scored a stunning hat-trick as Real Madrid beat United 6-5 on aggre-gate in the Champions League.

HAT-TRICK

Not long after this "power breakfast," Chelsea beat Wolves 5-2 at Stamford Bridge, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scoring a hat-trick and Frank Lampard netting from 30 yards. Ranieri, it seemed, was producing exactly what Abramovich wanted.

It did not save him, of course. The Tinkerman walked, Mourinho came in, and Chelsea ground their way to success. Then Abramovich tired of the politicking, and the pragmatic football, and Mourinho went. So did a series of successors, including Carlo Ancelotti, whose team played the best football of the Abramovich era in scoring 103 goals to win the 2009-10 title (no other Abramovich team has scored more than 75 league goals in a season).

At last: an attractive, winning team. But Chelsea lost in Europe that year to Mourinho's Inter and the following campaign came second in the league. Abramovich lost patience and the Italian was out.

Andre Villas-Boas was told to rebuild, and do so with nimble magicians Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard, but naively thought he would be given time to do so. Roberto Di Matteo subsequently achieved the Holy Grail of the Champions League, but it was a backs-to-the-wall success, so he had to go. And now Jose is back, and, after an initial flurry of high-scoring matches, the team are reverting to type.

It seems Abramovich's idealised vision is clouded by a need to win all the time.

Which brings us to tomorrow's opponents at Stamford Bridge. One of the criticisms of David Moyes is that he is yet to define at United his "vision" of how the game should be played. "What is a David Moyes team?" is the question. Complicating matters is that now he has greater resources he is not expected to reproduce his Everton blueprint,.

Moyes' Everton was, so the popular perception goes, an organised, hard-working, determined team who were hard to beat and frequently played direct football -- using the likes of Duncan Ferguson or Marouane Fellaini as the target, or playing into channels for Nikica Jelavic or Victor Anichebe to chase.

This view neglects the team's evolution withMikel Arteta, Steven Pienaar, Leighton Baines and Leon Osman adding pleasing passing rhythms. That is partly because the late flowering of Moyes' Blues side has been immediately overshadowed by Everton's rapid development into a possession-hungry team under his successor, Roberto Martinez.

Like Brendan Rodgers across Stanley Park, Martinez has a firm "vision" of how he wants his team to play and seems able to transmit it effectively to his players, and to the media. Moyes is yet to do either.

There are mitigating circumstances. While Martinez was fortunate in being able to build on Moyes' back four, and shrewd to bring in Gareth Barry and James McCarthy to speed the transition, Moyes appears to have inherited a team whose status as champions obscured their decline.

This has been exposed by injuries -- to Robin van Persie in particular, but also Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic, key players all, and the sudden fading of Rio Ferdinand.

Add a bungled summer transfer window, which meant Moyes added only Fellaini (another injury victim) to an inherited squad, and it is hardly surprising he has been unable to put his stamp on the team. Nor, however, has he been able to maintain Ferguson's model.

That was a team which valued possession, but not for its own sake. They used it to launch attacks, building to a crescendo when they needed a goal.

Last week Swansea had 65pc of possession in the first half at Old Trafford, while United are as likely to concede late goals this season as score them. United, Ferguson always said, had a duty to attack. They would never die wondering. There is a nagging fear among United watchers that Moyes is at heart defensive and will betray this tradition.

However, that view may be a reaction to his dour demeanour in public, itself a response to the criticism with which he has been assailed. A study of his substitutions suggests they are not as negative as perceived.

Where Moyes is following Ferguson is with his faith in youth, and a desire to use width. Both are encapsulated in the season's revelation, Adnan Januzaj. Since he was promoted to the first team by Moyes, maybe he represents a glimpse into the future. If so, it could be an exciting one.

A team's culture can change. Tony Waddington's Stoke City, in the 1970s, were known for the elegance of their attacking play with artists Alan Hudson, Jimmy Greenhoff and George Eastham (albeit backed by a ruthless back four).

SHACKLES

The next time Stoke flourished in the top flight, under Tony Pulis, they were a very different outfit and while fans initially revelled in being called a "rugby team" they tired of it once the team was established.

Under George Graham, "One-nil to the Arsenal" was a popular North Bank anthem, but few complained when Arsene Wenger released the shackles and encouraged a more expansive style. Yet the quicksilver, short-passing Arsenal of recent years is in itself an evolution.

The early Wenger teams were built on pace and power rather than precision. Thierry Henry and Robert Pires were a delight to watch but Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit were a physically imposing midfield.

Until this season many Arsenal fans would have traded today's more aesthetically pleasing team for that more successful one, some even harking back with longing to Graham's time.

That, in a competitive sport, is the nub. Fans tire of dull football but they also want to win. The lucky ones are the Etihad's season-ticket holders, watching Manchester City chalking up 99 goals as they advance on four fronts.

It has, admittedly, cost a fortune to produce, but Abramovich has spent one of those at Chelsea and United are England's highest-earning club.

As a neighbour, Moyes will feel the comparison with Manuel Pellegrini's cavaliers most keenly, but so should Mourinho. "If City can do it," Abramovich may ask, "why can't we?" (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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