Thursday, April 24, 2014

Moyes debacle is the end product of a far wider United story.

Whilst professional football has always been at the least a costly hobby for the wealthy and a vehicle to get rich quick for many, it is really since the Sky era was ushered in that the unquenchable thirst for riches was truly unleashed.

Now what does all of that have to do with poor Davie Moyes you may ask? Because it is Manchester United's finances that have brought the club to where it is currently. It is a story that has played out over more than a decade but crystalised only in this season horribilus.

It is also worth noting that whilst Ferguson's legacy on the pitch for United is without parallel, his legacy off it is far from bullet proof.

After the Monopolies and Mergers committee had blocked Sky's takeover at the turn of the century, the majority owners at United were the Irish duo of JP McManus and John Magnier.

Ferguson entered into a private dispute with Magnier over the ownership of the racehorse Rock of Gibraltar. This in turn led to a bitter boardroom battle with the other members seeking a party to buy out the duo who now intended to have Ferguson removed.

This of course led to the introduction of the Glazers and the leveraged buyout that followed and the large debt that the club accordingly assumed - so unpalatable to a huge number of United fans.

When the Glazers took control of the club, United were in rude health. They had a young Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, Rio Ferdinand in his pomp and a still highly capable core group of Scholes, Keane, Neville and Giggs.

The Glazers also had an ally in a manager who had been more than tacit in ushering them in. It would seem unlikely the banks would have offered up the money had Ferguson not guaranteed his continued role and it also suited him hugely to have Magnier and McManus gone.

Now it clearly hasn't all been bad at United since the Glazers arrived with multiple Premiership titles and another Champions League trophy on the shelf.

During this period however, United have been a team in a slow but steady decline. Around the turn of the century, United's squad was truly fearsome and they routinely added players of the calibre of Jaap Stam, Van Nistelrooy, Juan Sebastien Veron (yes he flunked), Rio Ferdinand and the teenage prodigies of Rooney and Ronaldo.

They scoured Europe for the best players and paid huge fees to secure them. Few could compete.

There have been countless articles on the cost of financing United's debt since the Glazers took over by people far more qualified and informed than myself.

What is without question is that the structure of the Glazer's ownership has cost United an inordinate amount of money which could otherwise have been spent on players. The evaporation of the 80M for Ronaldo being a prime example.

In very basic terms, since the Glazers came in, there have been few players added to the squad who have been better than the ones they have replaced.

Since the beginning of their stewardship, United have lost Ronaldo (as mentioned above), Van Nistelrooy, Gary Neville and Roy Keane. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs were both encouraged to play on into their dotage as there was simply not a better alternative.

Ferdinand and Vidic are set to leave now (they have both been in decline for some time already also) and the replacements again are not of their standard in their pomp.

Whilst David De Gea is steadily proving himself a worthy successor to Van Der Sar, few current players stand up to the burgeoning list of retirees and players moved on.

United are by various reports, one of the top three richest clubs in the world in terms of revenue and possibly the largest by valuation so what is the reason for the transfer policy that has brought us here?

Ferguson has constantly stated his support for the Glazers and that if he has asked for money, he has received it. One must come to the conclusion then that Ferguson's judgement has been poor for some time in the transfer market.

Or, the other explanation is that it has been a marriage of convenience where the club has patched its' team up for as long as it could keep winning given Ferguson's truly exceptional management skills.

In return for his coaxing the very best out of a declining squad, he was left with complete autonomy and could name his own retirment date and successor.

Of course it is true that Ferguson won the league last season with a team that has only since lost an already ineffective Paul Scholes and had since added Fellaini, Mata and Januzaj.

Ferguson's purchase of Van Persie for 24M looks more and more a short term selfish measure simply to ensure he went out on a high with little interest in what happened next.

Last season it would seem was a slightly bizarre one with Arsenal, City (in particular) and Chelsea all waiving United through to win the title without the remotest challenge.

Van Persie had an incredible first six months and it was a team highly capable of knowing how much to do to win. Had it been the Premiership of this season however it seems unlikely they would have won anything. Still they did and should be congratulated for doing so.

There were a huge amount of column inches written about how it was was one of the poorest United teams in many a year. Ferguson's assertion in his farewell speech that he was leaving the squad in the strongest of positions sounded laughable.

Everyone could see the cracks that were now becoming gaping holes.

Moyes' appointment outwardly seemed a sound enough one. United needed to rebuild to some degree and were looking for continuity whilst they did so. Here was another tough no nonsense Glaswegian who would be in it for the long run.

It made sense for the Glazers and Ferguson too. At Everton, Moyes had done a good job working on a budget and for the Glazers this was important.

United is not run like Real Madrid where everything is pumped back into the team smashing transfer records season after season, United is run nowadays for the share price, financial prudence is required.

For Ferguson too, whilst I'm sure he honestly believed Moyes to be a good candidate, he also offered up a solution that would probably not best his achievements in the short term.

That possibly sounds a bit egotistical even for Ferguson but one shouldn't underestimate how important that legacy is to a man such as he who has held dominion over all those around him for so long unchallenged.

Jose Mourinho was available and coveted the job. Mourinho however usually wants a sizeable transfer budget and is prone to winning trophies and lots of them which possibly suited neither the Glazers on the first part and Ferguson on the second.

Whilst the outward similarities between Moyes and Ferguson are obvious, the character differences appear to be marked.

Whilst at Aberdeen, Ferguson took the fight directly to the West of Scotland, roughing up Rangers and Celtic and in the process rocking the very establishment and winning trophies by the dozen.

Moyes at Everton simply couldn't cope with the teams that were above him.

Comparisons between the start of Ferguson's tenure at United and Moyes' own are also entirely irrelevant. Whilst results were mixed in both cases, Ferguson was steadily stamping his own authority all over the club as he rooted out the drinking culture. United were also coming from a far lower base.

Moyes by comparison seemed in limbo, he had neither disposed with nor managed to harness the existing talent that had provided Ferguson's backbone.

His own signings Fellaini and Mata had done nothing to improve things either. He was in no man's land.

I have to say I'm on the fence as to whether sacking Moyes right now was the right thing to do. Personally I'd have given him one more season but such is the nature of the Summer that faces United in the transfer market, could the Glazers really trust him with such a big job? Again however, that situation is not of Moyes' doing.

It is Ferguson and the Glazers that over time reduced the United squad to what it is today, substandard for the level that they wish to be at. It was also not David Moyes that allowed Ferguson and David Gill to both leave in tandem.

Ushering in a manager to replace the most successful of all time and giving him a rookie football CEO to assist him was folly to say the least. Whilst Gill is not and never has been involved in team matters, it seems unlikely that United would have fallen so quickly had he stayed on another season.

Certainly United's nonsensical Summer transfer woes would have transpired far differently had Gill still been around. Whilst there does seem to be some recurring noise surrounding the Fabregas deal, the majority of the deals mooted seemed unlikely at best.

United also backed themselves into a huge corner over the Wayne Rooney contract and have made an enormous financial commitment to a player fast approaching his thirties.

Whilst the Glazers may not wish to spend big, they simply are going to have to as success on the pitch is the cornerstone for the continued success of their investment regardless of United's size. Jose Mourinho seems more and more like a missed open goal.

Moyes' other failing was in his handling of the media. Ferguson was almost tyrannical in his dominance of the press, treating journalists with venom and scorn in equal measure.

Respected commentators such as Alan Green have felt the full force and Ferguson famously wouldn't speak to the BBC for the longest of times due to a documentary on his son's activities as an agent.

Moyes by contrast would appear entirely clueless offering no explanation for poor performances. Mourinho or Ferguson or even Benitez or Wenger would go on the attack, deflecting criticism often on to the officials or anyone else they could think of, often each other.

To hear Moyes suggest that Liverpool were favourites when they came to Old Trafford and that City 'were where United wanted to be' was simple media suicide.

Of course none of this is to say that United cannot recover and recover quickly. A season outside of the Champions League is far from a disaster for such an institution and even with the huge debt, the club's revenues are absurdly big.

Only Barca, Real, Bayern (and possibly AC Milan and Juve if Italian football recovers) can really hope to match them in that respect (although a newly crowned Liverpool with a bigger stadium on the way will have something to say about that too).

United's next appointment is clearly key. The two leading candidates - given that Klopp has ruled himself out - are very different people and managers.

Louis Van Gaal is the obvious choice given his freedom of contract from July and his track record. He is a huge presence, plays attacking football, is a serial winner but he can also be a divisive character. It would also be unlikely he would enjoy Ferguson's continued presence at Old Trafford.

This is of course another elephant in the room that few have really grappled with given Ferguson's lengthy shadow being cast often over Moyes at games. It clearly did Moyes no favours whatsoever.

Carlo Ancelotti offers a more middle of the road option. He is hugely popular wherever he goes and has a good record of coaxing performances from ageing players - he did so both at AC Milan and at Chelsea.

He offers stability, good football and great know how in the Champions League once United can find their way back to the top four.

Davie Moyes' reign at United will not be remembered fondly, indeed it will be oft mocked and his reputation will take time to rebuild, indeed going abroad as Bobby Robson and Steve McLaren did may be a good option.

It would however be churlish to place all of the blame at Moyes' door and not recognise the more than a decade process at United that inevitably led us here.

Whilst United's performances on the pitch reside solely with the players and the manager, Ferguson and his relationship with the Glazers did much to lead Moyes into what rapidly became the impossible job - No Nonsense.