Comment: Fergie fear made Manchester United over-achievers for years… now Moyes is picking up the pieces

By Sean Butters

So it finally happened. After nearly 13 years of excruciating waiting, Manchester United have finally returned to the glorious heights of the treble… treble consecutive defeats, that is.

While we’re on the subject, according to Red Issue (the excellent satirical fanzine) David Moyes still maintains a better win percentage than Sir Matt Busby – read that as you please.

Last night’s 2-1 loss at the Stadium of Light was an exhibition of some of the worst football that United have played since Dave Sexton was in charge 35 years ago.

The only members of the away side that could take anything positive from the first leg of the League Cup semi-final were David De Gea, Ryan Giggs, Nemanja Vidic – only due to his equalising goal – and of course Adnan Januzaj.

In fact, the one thing that may have cheered United fans up about the performance – other than Januzaj – was if you happened to catch the American broadcast, in which the pundit (official title) chose to refer to the players by their first names as if they were regulars at his local pub – or bar if we are using colloquialisms.

You know that the team is in the mire when the most promising player among the reigning champions is an 18-year-old kid who is not yet old enough to understand what nationality he is.

Giggs and Vidic?

The mention of those two great but ageing players in the list of ‘the ones who did alright’ is more depressing for the fans than anything else, while having a talented goalkeeper is irrelevant when there is no defensive stability in front of him.

The lack of midfield steel was evident in the final years of Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure and Moyes believed that the addition of Marouane Fellaini (let’s forget the mess over the release clause) was the solution.

Far from that, the Belgian has fallen way below even his own standards and his lack of confidence appears to have dragged the rest of the team down with him.

Not only is the midfield still without a hard-tackling ball winner it is also devoid of creativity, while the attack and defence have now chosen to follow suit.

United are a crossing team, but what is the point of being over-reliant on swinging the ball in when the only big man up front they currently have available, namely Danny Welbeck, resembles a skydiver without a parachute?

Last night exposed some real weaknesses – any manager, particularly one as experienced as David Moyes, should have seen that a change of tactics is clearly necessary, at least until Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney return.

Speaking of crosses, can anyone shed light on why the team that walked the league title last year think it is excusable to leave an opposing player in two yards of space when defending a set-piece?

As with the Tottenham Hotspur game last week, Moyes again used the referee as his sacrificial lamb last night, which he does have a point about, but the truth is that had United been a bit more inventive in their approach there would be no need to whine about things that are beyond their control.

Instead, they subjected their fans to a display that was about as enticing as left-over Christmas turkey on a hot summer’s morning.

The hard core of fans are still supportive as ever, but they are generally to be found in the Stretford End and even there dissent is starting to manifest, though the opinions are split.

Take this exchange in men’s toilets at half-time during the FA Cup loss to Swansea City on Sunday.

Bloke One: “Moyes is fucking useless. Championship winning team and we’re not even going to make fourth place.”

Bloke Two: “Nah mate, Fergie left him with a shit team and he knew he was doing it. Fancy signing Zaha and then not even playing him in the title run-in.”

Just in case you were suspecting fair-weather fans, when asked, Bloke One said he has been going to games since Ron Atkinson was in charge, the other a season-ticket holder since 1963.

It takes a lot of gall to criticise the man who gave United 13 league titles and two European Cups, but that is the sort of rot that is beginning to set in around south-west Manchester.

The truth is, trying to find a logical explanation is a fruitless exercise, but the most likely reason is that United have been over-achieving since Cristiano Ronaldo packed his bags for Spain, spurred on by the fear of finding themselves on the end of a Beckham-esque dressing room mauling.

James Ducker of the The Times reported that Moyes unleashed hell’s fury at the players after the Swansea game, but judging by last night’s showing he may share Ferguson’s Glaswegian heritage but not the ‘man-management’ (see: volcanic rage).

So is it the players, the manager, or the ghost of United’s past who is now sitting in the Directors’ Box, as recently suggested by some of the media?

In the past months Moyes has gone from saying that United can win this year’s Champions League to saying that there is no way he can re-build the squad in time to save the season.

He also said that Ferguson’s continuing presence is not having the same effect as Sir Matt’s did on Wilf McGuinness all those years ago.

An educated guess would say that Moyes is quickly running out of places to hide, though an educated analysis says that no one can judge him until at least mid-way through his third season in charge.

By then it could be a whole lot better, but there is also room for it to slide the other way.

Image courtesy of Prime7 via YouTube, with thanks.

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