Great relief for Old Trafford regulars. I heard the comment “long suffering” somewhere in the media on the night Olympiakos succumbed to Robin van Persie and wondered when did United and their fans have to endure long periods of deprivation? Perhaps 1967-93, the so-called barren period when they won just seven trophies, including the European Cup in 1968, four FA Cups, a European Cup Winners Cup in 1991 and a Football League Cup a year later. In that period, they never won the League, each season that passed being heralded as “24 years since United were champions” as if they had a divine right to be the top club in the country. It didn’t help that the period in question was the golden age of Liverpool.
But as Liverpool faded and moved from Championship contenders to top six club, United came to the fore, boosted by their decision to “go public”, something which made them vulnerable to the type of takeover that was enacted when the current owners came in. The very thing that acted as a springboard to sustained success was to be the club’s weak spot. “The club belongs to the fans,” has never been further from the truth.
When the Glazers’ took over, saddling the club with leveraged debt, it was the start of a new era. Here were owners looking for a return on their investment. They’ve done very nicely out of it, but the predicted fall of United never happened because they still had the momentum provided by Sir Alex Ferguson and a squad of players that were nurtured as far back as the late 1980s/early 1990s. This provided United with a natural source of talent that could fuel success for around a decade. Just consider the so-called “Class of 92” and their appearances for the club: Giggs (670), Beckham (265) , Scholes (499), Butt (269), Neville G (400) and Neville P (263).
With only Giggs remaining, and United’s team largely market constructed, Ferguson’s retirement came at a time when the sands were shifting once more, not unlike – but certainly to a lesser extent – the end of the Busby era when Best, Law and Charlton were coming to the end of their effectiveness. With a lesser flow of home-grown talent coming through at Old Trafford, United’s future managers would have to demonstrate their prowess in the transfer market. Out goes Ferguson, in comes Moyes who is now totally at the mercy of the market economy that is football. Ferguson was obviously judged on his buying skills, too, but he also had the strong underbelly of home-spun to call upon and prop up any shortcomings. It’s fair to say that he left behind a squad that was past its best.
The decline in the quality and consistency of the current squad has been handed on to Moyes, and although his two signings, Fellaine and Mata, may yet come good, the problems in defence and midfield have still to be addressed. In some ways, instead of loading up Wayne Rooney’s bulging wallet even more than it is already, United may have been wiser to sell him and use the cash to rebuild what looks like an average collection.
If Moyes survives the summer, and it has to be 50/50 at the moment, then his summer buying will determine his future in the way that United’s post-Busby expenditure defined the McGuinness-O’Farrell –Docherty narrative. Moyes cannot afford a Ted MacDougall or Ian Storey-Moore kind of experience with his next signings, indeed a Garry Birtles or Diego Forlan would spell certain disaster. Spend badly and the door will open quickly in 2014-15. And he should start with Tony Kroos, if he can lure him from Germany.
Is Moyes to blame for United’s current predicament? Not entirely, but as an experienced manager, he should have been aware that the club’s squad was on the downward spiral. Would a club like United ever admit to a need to rebuild? I doubt it because it would imply they had taken their eye of the ball, and would be interpreted as criticism of the Ferguson regime. One pointer to the way life has changed is that players are starting to announce they are leaving the club – witness Vidic’s defection to Italy and rumours that Evra, Ferdinand and RVP are on their way.
Moyes was a conservative choice because United were never going to go for a media-hungry hired gun of the Mourinho, Pellegrini, Mancini kind. He may lack a bit of charisma, but that quality has never won trophies, only column inches. He’s definitely more Wenger than Wagner. But Moyes had never managed at a club the size of United. In other words, there is no time for consolidation, surveying the situation and squad development over two or three years – it has to be as instant as Nescafe. And that’s where the problem lies – the Rolling Stones’ “Time is on my side” is never going to be a song on the Old Trafford playlist.
United will probably not win the Champions League and they may not even get into Europe next season, that’s why the win over Olympiakos, in all probability, will only provide temporary relief. This will be a major blow and will only serve to shorten the threshold of tolerance of the men from the US. If Moyes gets through to the start of next season, and the purse strings have loosened to bring a new-look team to Old Trafford, he will have to hit the ground running – fast. If he doesn’t, then United will be looking for someone who better understands the task in hand. Ryan Giggs, perhaps?
Regardless of Moyes’ own future, headlines like “10 years without a title” and “long-suffering” are extremely premature and without much foundation. Want to know what failure really looks like? Look at the League Two table sometime…