When the inevitable announcement about Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement hit the headlines, all Manchester United fans were devastated. The day had to come but many never wanted it to end. The club had been built back into the superpower it once was under the late-great Sir Matt Busby and this successful era was coming to an end. But the next thought and question on everyone’s lips was, who will succeed him?
The whole process from the beginning was shambolic.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the succession plan that David Gill so confidently talked about was as haphazard as Titus Bramble’s defending.
As we all watched Sky Sports News and kept up-to-date with speculation and conjecture on Twitter, the two front-runners were evident – Jose Mourinho and David Moyes.
Mourinho was the favourite with Moyes not far behind. Both were logical choices, in the sense that they knew the league, the traditions of the club but had taken two completely different paths in a ten-year span, which brought success on different levels. After a meeting with Bill Kenwright, Moyes announced he wanted to leave Everton and take the job at Old Trafford. That was it.
Instead of the club arranging an interview or at the very least, informal talks with Moyes, to get the job he had to tell his own chairman about his departure and then go sign the contract which was waiting for him in Manchester.
Sir Alex Ferguson is a great manager and wields power beyond belief, but that doesn’t always mean he is right. He got this one completely wrong.
By trusting him, the Glazers “unanimously” agreed that Moyes would be the right choice and Sir Bobby Charlton described him as being “cut from the same cloth” as Sir Alex. Granted, there are similarities between the two men, but one is a winner and the other isn’t.
Even then, the club did not see it necessary to bring Moyes to Manchester to sit down and discuss his vision and philosophy for the club, taking it forward. Instead, they naively let him see out his Everton contract, let him go on holiday and return for only seven days with the players before jetting him off to the other side of the world on a tour.
Now, it would be unprofessional for a manager to begin planning for another job whilst still employed by his current club but why did the club not just pay off his contract and bring him in, in May? Would it have really broken the bank?
Moyes could have become a United employee and gone straight to work on various tasks. Instead, he would join the club, officially on July 1 – big mistake number two. If appointing a manager without thorough talks about their vision is bad, then appointing a manager and giving him just seven days to assess his squad in person, meet his players, get to know them and then implement transfer plans is even worse. Throw in the added element of a new chief executive who is yet to settle into his job himself and then you can see how a well-run club can become quickly destabilised.
After the debacle and failed attempts to sign Cesc Fabregas, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and the hilarious situation with fake agents and Ander Herrera, the deadline day signing of Marouane Fellaini proved how badly prepared the club really were throughout the summer. No direction, and it seemed that set the precedent for what has happened thereafter.
Having been given free reign to bring in his own coaching staff as well as adding two former players to the set-up, you would expect more input as well as taking the advice when given. Instead, it seems the wingmen Moyes has are nothing but sitting ducks. Was it really wise to rid of the experience and knowledge that Phelan and Meuelensteen had built up over time at the club? That is one decision Moyes took and it seems to have backfired on him quite badly too, especially if today’s reports about Ryan Giggs are true.
We are now at a stage where the club are beginning to realise, it just isn’t working. A trophyless season would have been fine if the club had still performed well in big games and finished comfortably in the top four.
Instead, the club is now battling to finish above teams like Everton and Southampton whilst on the brink of Champions League elimination by Olympiacos. An unlucky defeat to Sunderland in the Capital One Cup Semi-Final was excusable but the exit at home to Swansea was not. The players look bereft of ideas in the final third, even with the attacking qualities and experience of players like Mata, Rooney, Van Persie and Januzaj. Fans have been patient and have continuously sung Moyes’ name but now that has gone. Support is waning and rightfully so. The club needs a change, else the empire will crumble before it is too late to save.
That brings me on to who should be appointed in place of Moyes. I am a huge fan of Jürgen Klopp and firmly believe he will be a top manager after Dortmund, but the job at the moment cannot be risked again. An experienced-head with the leadership skills and personality to gain the respect of the players from day one is needed. That man is Louis van Gaal.
Van Gaal is renowned for his teams to play passing, attacking football whilst he himself is one of the best tacticians around. He has spoken about contact with the club previously, back in 2002, but this time we cannot afford to miss out on him.
He would bring a sense of composure back to the club and would be able to envisage where the club needs to improve both short and long-term. He is also an advocate of bringing through young players (worth noting it is he who introduced Holger Badstuber and Thomas Muller into the first-team picture at Bayern whilst also converting Bastian Schweinsteiger from winger to industrious midfielder).
He also has the big game experience and the experience of handling tough situations. The way in which he handled the pressures of managing Barcelona and the fall-out after Holland failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup shows he has a strong mentality, backed up with stubbornness and arrogance – he knows he’s good.
Another factor of Van Gaal’s that goes amiss is his clever use of psychology and his approach to man management. Recently, Van Gaal dropped Van Persie for Holland and challenged the Dutchman to prove himself. Van Persie duly delivered and was rewarded with the captaincy. Van Persie now loves him and is a key player for Van Gaal.
Another example was when Van Gaal was at AZ Alkmaar – he thought he had taken the club as far as he could when they finished 11th but the players thought otherwise and begged him to reverse his decision to resign. Van Gaal agreed and challenged the players to improve. AZ Alkmaar became champions the following season.
The situation at the club is rapidly eroding and something needs to be done quick. As much as United should not get into the habit of sacking a manager after not even a season in charge, it would be in the best interests that it happens with Moyes.
Right now though, the club needs to be strong and make a hard decision but one that the fans want and one that the club badly needs. Else we could see ourselves in a vicious circle of mediocrity.