Time for Moyes to start answering the big questions.
What a time for a break. You’d certainly forgive David Moyes for taking some time out to enjoy some rest and recuperation following a suffocating opening few months to life as manager of Manchester United. The old adage that ‘everyone thinks they can be manager’ was traditionally aimed at the national team job but in today’s globalised world debate on who should make up the first eleven of Manchester United rages untamed. Southampton at home should represent the most routine of fixtures yet given the contrasting fortunes of the two sides thus far it has emerged as the pick of the weekend fixtures at betting sites like news.coral.co.uk.
Rather than engage in some downtime, it is far more likely that workaholic Moyes spent every waking hour wrestling with the challenges he faces over the next few weeks, months and even years. Whereas Ferguson became an expert at managing in the face of restriction from above, his successor has found himself roundly criticised for attempting to manage expectations of a manically demanding fanbase. The facebook and twitter mafia might be expected to hit the panic button more readily than the wise old match goer; but both sets of fan groups have legitimate concerns which need to be addressed over the coming series of fixtures.
So what are these challenges that Moyes needs to approach head on?
As discussed on our latest pod, an increasing number of Reds are reluctantly advocating the demotion of Vidic and Ferdinand as our first choice pairing. The benefits of their experience increasingly fail to compensate for the surrendering of initiative that comes from playing a deep line. One of Ferguson’s many great qualities was judging when a player (or players) were no longer capable of performing at the top-level and the signs are there that Ferdinand and perhaps also Vidic are no longer fit for purpose. Most galling of all for many fans would be the unedifying sight of ‘Captain Wazza’ becoming a permanent fixture.
A monumental decision to make, yet if Moyes has reached this conclusion (and there is no indication he has) then a comparably difficult question presents itself; who should inherit their roles? Bored on international week I mused upon how United would line up as a 3-5-2. It won’t happen. Yet this appeared the only workable formation where all three of our centre backs in waiting could feature. The reality is that a new, premier partnership must be chosen and this is where it becomes tricky. Each have legitimate claims to be tasked with succeeding the best. Jones career teeters on the awkward brink where potential needs to be converted into performance. The convenient shoe-horning of the man touted for great things risks stifling his development and producing a good, but not great, utility man. Jones needs to play in central defence now. Evans has done more than enough to warrant the belief that he can comfortably step into a more senior role. He has excelled when called upon to deputise for the senior duo, yet the willingness for first Ferguson and more recently Moyes to favour the ageing pair must raise question marks over his status. If he is to make it as a first choice player at the club then he needs to be playing now. Smalling was not long ago touted as the natural heir to Ferdinand; with the club praised for the masterstroke of signing a future international for a pittance. Now that belief seems to be increasingly questioned. For me, Smalling has struggled to recover from being ‘Benteke’d’ and awkward performances in a full back role he is plainly unsuited for have done little to rebuild his (or the fans’) confidence that he can reach the heights he was once seemingly destined. However a commanding performance in Kiev was a timely reminder of his quality when played in a consistent role. On the pod Frenchy aired his concerns that Smalling always has a mistake in him, yet the same was said of Ferdinand. The only way to tell whether Smalling is a useful squad player or a potential elite defender is to play him. Moyes selection over the coming games and months could prove pivotal in the careers of five talented defenders.
I’ve been fortunate to witness many sparkling starts to young Manchester United careers. However the thrilling first impact can fast become a burden. For every Giggs there is a Beardsmore, for every Beckham a Macheda. All the indications are that Januzaj has all the attributes to become a player of the highest quality but this formative period is crucial to his development. Logic would suggest using him sparingly and protecting him from the hype. The complicating factor however is that he finds himself a shining light in an underwhelming side. Does Moyes have the courage of his convictions to limit his use of the player fans are hailing their new saviour, or would he best served to play the young man as a symbol of the changing of the guard? The added element to this quandary is of course the lack of agreement on a new contract. Moyes has shown himself less than adept at the PR game and the tetchy public pronouncements of Januaj senior would suggest the relationship between club and player’s representatives need to be handled delicately. An announcement of a new contract would be as much a show of faith in David Moyes as the young man from Kosovo.
ROBIN VAN PERSIE
Let’s be honest here, our best player has underperformed this season. The trickle of fantasy football managers demoting the Dutchman from a captain’s role has become a flood. No need to worry though; even the best of strikers go through bad patches. Yet away with the Netherlands, Robin has looked like his old self. Positive body language and the golden touch in front of goal looked much different from the uncertain, unhappy forward who toe poked into the side netting when through on goal at Sunderland. Several theories have been volunteered as the cause of the dry spell; over-training, a breakdown in relations with Rooney or, in my eyes most likely, the ‘get it wide – get it in’ approach favoured this campaign fails to exploit his world class gifts. Something is wrong – and Moyes needs to find the problem and solve it.
Are these genuine concerns or am I over-reacting? Are their bigger issues Moyes should address first? Have your say in the comments section or tweet us @canmanutdscore .