As if David Moyes’ reputation wasn’t taking enough of a battering as it is cue Sky Sports showing clips of him and his former Everton side getting thrashed 7-0 by Arsenal in 2005 before the two clubs’ respective 1-1 draw last Sunday. Ah, so it wasn’t all plain sailing during his glorious spell with the Toffees. Earlier in the day Paul Merson stated that it was ‘‘unheard of’’ in his time in the game for Manchester United to be in their present league position of ninth, while others point out that it’s their worst start after 15 games since the 2001-02 campaign. They will say that it’s a sign of Moyes’ capabilities that a virtually unchanged squad from last season’s title winning one is now struggling under him and that that is undoubtedly down to the Scotsman.
Yes, this is the club’s worst start since 2001-02, but who was in charge then I wonder. Alex Ferguson, of course. That side had won the league only months prior as well. The previous three campaigns in fact. They won the treble in 1999; the league by 18 points in 2000; and then won it again by mid April 2001 by 10 points – which would likely have been more had they not selected ‘weaker’ sides for the remaining three games that they duly lost.
A lot of the focus on the current side’s struggles have been centred on the club’s transfer dealings. Or rather the lack of them. But the team of 2001 had a lot of investment into it with world-class players such as Ruud van Nistelrooy, Juan Sebastian Veron and Laurent Blanc added to the already stellar cast that included the likes of Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers. All were still in their 20s and at their ‘peak’ – as the generalised view goes – apart from Keane. Even if they did sell Jaap Stam (a decision Ferguson cites as one of his biggest regrets) they still had a quite phenomenal squad. So the predicament that Moyes’ team are in is more understandable as it’s been said enough times that the side he has inherited, player for player, is the weakest the club have had since the early 90s (this in itself could be a topic of debate, but I would say the weakest since 1990 or 1991).
Moyes and his men have 22 points and five defeats from 15 league matches compared with the 21 points and six defeats from the same number of games that Keane and co had gathered. In their worst period between matches nine and 15 they lost five, drew one and won only one in those seven games. Obviously, statistics can change dramatically as they then went onto to win their next contest to go fifth in the table, while the current one could lose. This could even see them in the bottom half come the end of this week should their next opponents Aston Villa (three points behind) beat them by three goals, and Swansea City immediately below them (also trailing by three points) win their match away at Norwich City.
People will say Ferguson’s team then had the class players to get out of that stupor 12 years ago, and that their subsequent 18 wins in the remaining 23 of that season won’t happen for this year’s batch. But Moyes was brought in to build a side, not be forever in debt to a sugar daddy or mummy piling him with money to buy anyone that has impressed him while watching La Liga on the tele. It will take time. At Everton he was driving to reserve and youth team matches on a wet Tuesday night at basement grounds all round Britain in order to unearth the latest talent. Not only Tuesdays, but Thursdays as well! This must have greatly impressed Ferguson who often bumped into him on these jaunts. Can you imagine Jose Mourinho doing that? We’ve seen with 90 odd per cent of Roberto Martinez’s side how good Moyes was at snapping up and nurturing players.
The pinpoints of the debate surrounding Moyes can be looked at in many different ways. Some will say that his former club are reaping the benefits of his good work, while others will opine that, looking at them, he should have done better (don’t forget, folks, that he turned them from regular relegation contenders into one that regularly challenged the top four, even breaking into it one year, plus the Toffees now have Gareth Barry, Romelu Lukaku and Gerald Deulofeu). Others will think that it’s an accurate depiction of Moyes’ ‘real’ qualities that Martinez is getting more out of the same group of players than Moyes did. But Wigan Athletic under Martinez had a poor defensive record in the Premiership. He never did sort it out. And now he is benefiting from Moyes’ good work on that part of the pitch at Everton.
Aside from the aforementioned loan signings, players peak at different periods so that could well have a role to play. The same applies to Manchester United’s personnel – maybe Moyes has acquired them at the wrong time. The Goodison Park outfit could be where United’s are now come May. It’s not all doom and gloom: the Red Devils came top of their tricky Champions League group with superb home and away wins against Bayer Leverkusen (who currently sit second in the lauded Bundesliga a whole six points clear of the universally feted Borussia Dortmund), had the joint best defensive record in the competition and are in the quarter-finals of the League Cup.
A caller into Talksport used a Napoleon Bonaparte quote to sum up the Scotsman and his fortunes – something to do with the murderous dictator preferring ‘‘lucky men’’ to ‘‘good men’’ in his command – saying that Moyes hasn’t got the knack for making his own luck. I would rather go by the famous Winston Churchill recording: ‘‘This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning.’’ We should take those words on board and assess the situation in a couple of seasons before we start spouting off that Moyes is not good enough – unless they get relegated. With more clubs improving this season I think this would have been one of those rare campaigns where even Alex Ferguson would have struggled.
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 Yes, that Fergie, not the Duchess Of York. Although at the peak of her celebrity, it wasn’t unheard of for Manchester United to be languishing in the nether reaches of the table either.