The brooding figure of Alex Ferguson at every United home game is by now a familiar sight. This was no more obvious than at the game against Liverpool, where he watched the players he used to coach – and the man he appointed to take over from him – display their collective impotence against a Liverpool side who were brimming with confidence, despite their occasional penchant for individual errors.
As good as Liverpool have been this season, there are moments when, under pressure, they commit errors. However, their hosts on Sunday never came close to applying such pressure on them. Inside 9 months of lifting their 20th league title, fired to it as they were by Robin van Persie, Manchester United have become a car being driven in reverse by David Moyes.
Last summer saw handovers at a number of Europe’s biggest clubs. Pellegrini came in at City, Martino at Camp Nou, Ancellotti provided a welcome relief to what had become a toxic Mourinho circus at the Bernabeu, while The Special One went back to Stamford Bridge for a reprise, which is not going too badly. Bayern, the European champions, replaced one treble winning coach with another, and just when it seemed impossible to imagine FC Hollywood going into another gear, they have done just that.
Of all these changes, the one at Old Trafford has been the worst by some distance. Manchester United have their lowest number of points after 30 games in Premier League history, and will finish behind Liverpool for only the second time in 23 seasons. It also looks likely that Spurs and Everton will finish ahead of United for the first time since 1990.
A lot of those defending David Moyes have talked about how he needs time to shape the squad in his image. David Moyes has already shaped the squad. Alex Ferguson inherited a team who were 19th out of 22 teams and had not won the league in 19 years. David Moyes inherited the Premiership champions and put them out of the Champions League places inside 7 months.
So, it is not so much a decline as it is a dead drop, and it is perfectly fitting that Alex Ferguson has a front row seat. It was he who, coming from a trophy laden spell north of the border with Aberdeen, woke up the sleeping United juggernaut and turned them into a powerhouse club and true global giant. It was he who, after over 25 years of building a dynasty, personally handed it over to a fellow Scotsman of very modest achievements. It is he who must ultimately take the blame.
His achievements with Manchester United have seen Ferguson invited to speak in several places about leadership and management, and rightly so. However, the ultimate test of a leader is leaving behind a structure that will outlast him. Events at Old Trafford are yet more proof of how much easier it is to destroy, of how easy it is to reverse in a few months what took years to put together. What makes it worse is that this happens under a man anointed by Ferguson, and who, by all accounts, still enjoys Ferguson’s support.
It is time for someone close enough to Sir Alex to tell him that he is on the verge of destroying his legacy, or at least tarnishing it to a significant extent. Things will not get better under David Moyes, and if this season is any indication, United have less margin for error than at any time over the last two decades. There is no longer a top four set in stone, but a top six, with Liverpool and Spurs closing in all the time. Abroad, in addition to the traditional European powers, clubs like PSG and Monaco can compete at the top end of the market. Some are of the opinion that United can afford two seasons outside the Champions League places, but they forget that Liverpool are ahead of schedule in their evolution, that Spurs will eventually get it right in their choice of manager, and Arsenal are more willing to splash the cash these days, plus they still have Wenger. Players are driven by money to a large extent, but they also want to be on the biggest stages. An inability to offer CL football means the club will have to pay a premium.
In addition, United’s success on the commercial side, which the Glazers have gleefully exploited, is hinged entirely on serial victory. Once that exterior begins to come apart, revenues will be hit. For a club that has been either the most valuable or second most valuable in world football for years and years, the decision making process regarding Ferguson’s successor has been a clear disaster.
How could it be possible that the next coach of such a big club was between just two candidates? Why was a thorough search not conducted in order to make the best possible choice? Why was the biggest decision in nearly three decades at Old Trafford, essentially left to one man? This practice of simply pulling names out of thin air appears to be common in football according to this article, but it is probably compounded by the fact that the Glazers don’t know a lot about the football side and just outsourced that part to Ferguson.
The time has finally come for both the Glazers and Ferguson to admit that this experiment has been a failure, and use the summer to make amends. It would be a huge mistake to hand over significant transfer funds to ‘rebuild’, when 65 million pounds has already been used to acquire Mata and Fellaini, but the team still play like zombies who have never met before.
The most important signing United can make right now is a new coach who has a clear, progressive plan that gets the best out of the players already at the club, and those who will be signed. Under David Moyes, Manchester United are going nowhere fast. The time to cut him loose is now.
If this does not happen, Alex Ferguson will continue to watch many more games with a grim look on his face, in circumstances mostly of his own making. He may yet live long enough to see everything he worked for utterly rubbished by a man he handpicked. God forbid.