I imagine that as vocal detractors once mocked the failings of Manchester United they secretly realised that their window in which to strike would scarcely be open for long. As much as ‘Believe’ became a potent word in the build-up to United’s major battles, it was the club’s capacity to rouse a resurrection that became timeless. In what will soon be looked back upon as the Fergie-era, Manchester United became the club that lubricated so many squeaky bums.
As United fans now brace themselves for a spring and summer paddling in the same discontent winter harboured, solace will be found only if one very important record stays intact. Should Manchester United fail to uphold their Premier League standard of qualifying for the Champions League, what has been so far a relatively mild blame-game for David Moyes could quickly become an all-out national man-hunt. Falling out of the running for the Premier League will be tolerated, as will the poor showing in the F.A. Cup, the exit in the League Cup to Sunderland and a potential Quarter or Semi-Final finish in this season’s Champions League. However, if Manchester United begin the 2014/15 season as competitors in the Europa League or quite simply the Premier League alone, David Moyes may all of a sudden feel quite closer to his previous home; no disposable income and meteoric expectations.
Surprising though it may be given the actions of so many other clubs, David Moyes’ job is quite unlikely to be at risk though. It is the peculiar persona of the contemporary Manchester United fan to dutifully expect success. However, in keeping with the latter years of the Ferguson era – anything post-Cristiano Ronaldo – they/we have usually accepted Prosecco as Champagne so long as its fizzy and close in colour. While the introduction of Robin Van Persie in the 2012/13 season illuminated football’s worldly dimensions, it is not wholly inaccurate to believe that despite United’s impressive tally of two titles and one Champions League Final appearance in the four seasons since Ronaldo’s departure, they have rarely been a team the neutral would take care not to miss in the last four years. This recent success has had a consistent touch of functionality about it that I personally find hard to shake. What we now find ourselves witnessing is one of two things. Either David Moyes is trying and ultimately failing to implement the sternness necessary and provided previously by Ferguson to breed success in this environment, or, certainly more hopefully, Moyes is dismantling the previous plan but perhaps doing so just a fraction too quickly. With a nod to either alternative one issue unanimously possesses the source of the problem; midfield.
Given the sturdy brilliance of United’s defence and the fluency of their supremely talented front line, it was the overlooked susceptibility of their midfield during times of recent success that allowed for this untimely rot. As Europe came to worship at Barcelona’s door in which midfield domination was key, United did little to compliment the one player still in his personal peak whose talents suited that particular style of play – Michael Carrick. Sticking true to their personal aesthetic – and this is not a bad thing because they did make it work up until this season – United invested trust in its wings. Moyes, to his credit has not looked to recreate what has been an effective system for United during its golden Ferguson era. He has however been equally adherent to some of Ferguson’s lesser valued leftovers. While many will condemn the frailties of United’s flank options – particularly Nani, Young and despite his industrious efforts, Valencia – the sorry truth lies in what targets they are permitted. If presented with a fit Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, the cracks can be paved over. However, the anomaly of this scenario coming together for United this season has usually signified the deployment of Danny Welbeck in an advanced forward role. Thus we cross Moyes’ first pitfall.
Assuming his fitness remains, Danny Welbeck will be in attendance at this year’s World Cup Finals. He is a living testimony to the possibility of great rewards should you be willing to work very hard. Welbeck, like his compatriot for club and country Tom Cleverly are master purveyors of the ‘right’ attitude. For this, they have been entrusted with promoting Manchester United’s best interests during this time of great transition. It is to their great misfortune therefore that their value to the team is of such scant proportion to the value they purport to the club. In conjunction with the telling of the tale of United ’92, these two Manchester United men are a convenience that hopefully shall not retain the status of a bad habit for a Moyes looking to shape his Manchester United. While the issue of a new forward is not likely to be on the table this January, David Moyes could do with addressing the situation that requires Cleverly – the more harmful of the two – to be such a consistent presence in this stuttering United side.
Of his persistence with the old, Moyes is similarly reaping some of the benefits associated with the new through Adnan Januzaj. Sir Alex Ferguson may have handed him a debut, but should Januzaj escalate accordingly he will be the first bona fide star of Moyes’ Manchester United. The potential fermenting in Januzaj, Jones, De Gea, Rafael and Smalling suggest that damage control and steady progression will be Moyes’ initial concern. Achieve as much and he will be yielded time accordingly. However, while this season has offered United a glimpse of a world they have rarely touched upon in a half-century, the introduction of Moyes offers cause for great hope in its own right. Why? Because he isn’t Alex Ferguson.
In the months of United’s recent decline, the consistent glare of Alex Ferguson has been a stick with which the media has sought to beat Moyes with. The heretical aspect with which some United fans now consider Ferguson – the man – of which I count myself as one do not see this as a wholly negative media tactic. Moyes’ not being Ferguson is a prospect suggesting the plausibility for a wholly regenerated club. While Ferguson’s successes built the empire, it was the emperor’s parting swipe at those who’d fought valiantly for him that has left a sour feeling for some. It is a source of conflict for those who prefer their heroes to distinguish their glories with a touch of humility and class. Ferguson’s autobiography lacked both. It will never act as a determining factor while considering the greatness of the manager, but as for the man, it was one too many self-confessed ‘correct decisions’. The manner in which Moyes has met this early detraction allows those still willing to ‘believe’ that a new brand of resurrection is a matter of when and not if.