The Glazer family and the board lost patience with the 50-year-old Scot and pulled the plug on his 11-month reign Tuesday morning. The last straw was a listless performance against Moyes’s former club, Everton. The body language of his players during the game spoke volumes: Moyes looked as if he has lost the dressing room.
United was justified in removing him. By any measure, this year has been a disaster for the reigning champions. United won the Premier League by eleven points last year; this year they have lost a record eleven league games. They managed to beat a top-six side just once. They are out of the Champions League for the first time in 19 years and they are on course for their worst finish since 1990. United need a major rebuild, and with the Glazers looking at spending close to $300m next year on the club, it is fair to think that Moyes is not the man to oversee it. By most measures, he has come up short at Old Trafford.
To be fair, Moyes was handed a poisoned chalice. He succeeded one of the greatest managers in the game in Sir Alex Ferguson and took over a team that was ageing and slow, with glaring holes in midfield and the back. But it is inarguable that he has made the least of the hand he was dealt, stumbling in his management of the team and his staff, and never seeming quite comfortable at the helm of what is one of the world’s greatest clubs.
His first mistake may ultimately be seen as his gravest: in an attempt to put his own stamp on the club, he dismissed long-serving backroom staff that had prospered under Ferguson. Out went Rene Meulensteen and Mike Phelan, and in came Phil Neville, Steve Round and Jimmy Lumsden that never seemed to win the trust of the players. It was a peculiar move, and one that in retrospect seems to have signalled a lack of confidence in the task ahead.
Moyes also never settled on a team, chopping and changing from game to game. (Damningly, Rio Ferdinand criticized his manager in public this winter for his habit of naming the team right before kickoff, claiming it wasted the players’ energy unnecessarily.) And Moyes’ additions to the team were as curious as his omissions. Marouane Fellaini, a player plucked from Everton at great expense, looked like a bust from the word go, his graceless play signalling that he was never really a United player at all. In contrast, Shinji Kagawa, so influential when he could get on the field, was often left to rot on the bench. Juan Mata - unquestionably a great talent - doesn’t fit into United’s current system, and his capture smelled like panic, plain and simple.
Even Moyes’ moments of success seem tainted. Moyes apparently won back a disaffected Wayne Rooney, and the striker’s performances have been a lone bright spot. Yet many observers have noted that the contract the striker won this February - the richest in team history - actually came when Rooney had United over a barrel. Had United failed to retain him, the uproar from the fans would have been intense, meaning that Rooney benefited from a seller’s market.
And of course, then there’s Everton. Moyes’ aura came from the perception that he had overachieved on Merseyside, shepherding a team with little money and getting them to punch above their weight. Roberto Martinez’s tenure has exploded that, and now many are wondering if, in fact, Everton were held back by Moyes’ caution. (That’s unfair, but football has rarely been fair.)
But perhaps the greatest damage came when Moyes stepped in front of the press. Alternately defiant and apologetic, Moyes never projected the confidence or gravitas one has come to expect from United. While it is too much to expect that anyone could replace the belligerent, brazen man from Govan, it was jarring to hear Moyes concede the Champions League back in the group stages and worse to hear him backpedal in March. He never sounded as if he expected United would win, never projected the inevitability we all associated with that team. And with that United’s invincibility vanished. Suddenly, they were just another club from Manchester.
Ferguson anointed Moyes because he came off as respectful and diligent, which is another way of saying Moyes didn’t challenge Ferguson’s cocksure swagger. It is a classic mistake made by the powerful and the arrogant, and in retrospect, United should have ignored their old gaffer and gone for an arrogant man with a track record (like Ferguson) and not a man who had done well enough with a lesser team, and lesser expectations.
One thing that is left unsaid in all this: firing Moyes won’t fix United. They are still saddled with a lot of ageing and substandard players, and an attempt to buy their way out of this mess comes with substantial risk. This may prove to be just another low point in a difficult period for a proud team. United’s fans certainly will hope that this is not the case, and that the rot stops here.