Off the Mark Special: David Moyes and Manchester United were never right for each other
And so it came, with a devastating thump, after a visit to his former stomping ground Goodison Park.
Manchester United had taken David Moyes from Everton in the summer because of the good work he had done on that particular patch of Merseyside, stabilising the club and generally making them a nuisance for the bigger sides in the land.
But that is really all they were. A nuisance. And only ever one when they played at home, too.
Whenever Moyes’s Everton faced a big game or a big opportunity they would often go into their shells and fail to grasp the nettle. In 11 years at Goodison Moyes never won a trophy, a Merseyside derby at Anfield, an away match at any of the other big clubs or even many friends. He did well to keep Everton in the mix for the European places whilst lacking the capital of some of their rivals, but as was evident from the boos he received on Sunday, by the end he wasn’t as universally liked as many would have had you believe.
All of which made Manchester United’s decision to appoint him in the summer a very strange one, until you consider who it was who made it.
Sir Alex Ferguson will quite rightly have seen something of himself in Moyes when he decided upon his replacement. And not just because he’s a fellow Scot.
In 1986 when Ferguson came down to Manchester from Aberdeen he would have shared that same hunger, desire and ability to organise a team as Moyes undoubtedly has, but the football landscape has changed so much since then. Ferguson should know that, as he’s someone who helped change it.
Quite rightly regarded as one of the greatest managerial figures there’s ever been in the game – perhaps even the greatest – Ferguson will nonetheless tell you that the secret behind his longevity at United was surrounding himself with other minds and opinions. Steve McClaren, Carlos Queiroz and Mike Phelan were just three of his sounding boards and there were more.
Moyes has his trusted lieutenants too of course, and brought Steve Round and Phil Neville on board when he got the United job, but a failure to keep hold at least one of Phelan or Rene Meulensteen, the men Ferguson left behind, was his first error. It was to prove the first of many.
At a time in football when flexibility, tactical awareness, flair and daring are proving so successful across Europe’s major leagues and in continental competition, Moyes went to Old Trafford with a firm belief that his rigid methods at Everton would translate. He couldn’t have been more wrong.
This season United have basically lost to every talented team they’ve played, with the honourable exception of Arsenal. Make of that what you will.
Liverpool, Manchester City and Everton all beat them twice. Chelsea, Tottenham, Olympiakos and Bayern Munich once. Swansea knocked them out of the FA Cup, Sunderland out of the League Cup, West Brom and Newcastle won at Old Trafford for the first time in decades.
The defeats might have been easier for the club’s fans to take if they could see their team playing attractive, expansive football, but there was absolutely no sign of that, and nor was there an indication that any was coming.
And yet through it all, there was this mistaken belief – a belief bordering on arrogance – that everything would eventually be okay because this was Manchester United.
But Manchester United shouldn’t be seventh in the table, 23 points behind leaders Liverpool and providing fodder for Twitter jokers who have somewhat jealously watched them constantly win for 20 years. That belief eventually eroded, and then Moyes was laid bare.
Change was necessary at the club, and so it seems to have come to pass.
Moyes will forever remain a curious footnote in United’s history, and the club’s supporters must now worry just how much of the future he’ll have affected too.
Because the next appointment they make simply can’t be the wrong one again.