Manchester United’s poor transfer dealings have been well-documented over the course of the summer, but is that the main problem at Old Trafford? Footballing legend Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor, fellow Scotsman David Moyes, appears to be somewhat out of his depth at the helm of one of the most popular clubs in the world.
Losing the first battle
The master of the mind games, José Mourinho, returned to Chelsea in the summer after 6 years away from the club. His managerial adventure has stretched over 4 countries, joining Inter Milan in 2008 after leaving Chelsea in 2007 due to a reported rift with owner Roman Abramovich. His first stint since leaving Chelsea was an extremely successful one; he led Inter to a treble of the Coppa Italia, Serie A and the Champions League in the 2009/10 season. This was the first time an Italian club had ever sealed the treble, and was Inter’s first Champions League trophy since 1965. He deservedly received the first ever FIFA Ballon D’or Best Coach Award for his trophy-winning exploits. In 2010, Europe’s most successful club in history, Real Madrid, came calling and The Special One was on his way. He led Madrid to a Copa del Rey win in his first season and a league title in the following season. By everyone’s expectations, including his own, he had under-performed, arguably living in the shadow of rival’s Barcelona and Pep Guardiola. The then Barcelona boss referred to Mourinho as “the chief, the fucking man” and that he “can’t compete with him” in the press room.
Cue David Moyes’ first mistake. The former Everton boss had a rant about the way United’s fixtures had panned out, apparently saying: ‘it is hard to believe that’s the way the balls came out of the bag’. He appeared bitter about having to face Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City in the opening 5 games. Is it any different from having to play them in November? If anything, it is a good thing. The players are as fresh as they will be all season and the new managers need time to settle in, whilst Liverpool were without Suarez for the game. It shows weakness on Moyes’ part in a number of ways. First of all, it sends such a negative message to the players that they may struggle to motivate themselves for the matches. If your manager doesn’t have confidence in you, who will? Second of all, it sends a positive message to his rival counterparts. Mourinho, Rodgers and Pellegrini must be laughing. If he can’t motivate his players for the big matches, what is he going to do when they face Cardiff, Crystal Palace, Hull and the like? Maybe he can get away with one mistake, he is new to the ‘big time’ after all.
Poor results could speak volumes come the end of the season
What was that? It wasn’t his first mistake? That came back in pre-season, when his side suffered defeats against footballing minnows such as Thai All Star XI and Yokohama. Draws against Cerezo Osaka and AIK Stockholm were also disappointing. In their only home game of pre-season, a fairly strong United on paper lost 3-1 to Sevilla. These results aren’t the kind to make your rivals quiver with fear about. They probably laughed.
However, pre-season isn’t the be-all and end-all. Moyes’ first domestic encounter came in the Community Shield, where United overcame Wigan Athletic 2-0. A brace from Robin van Persie will have certainly reassured Moyes, who secured his first piece of silverware with United with this win. A sign of things to come? Debatable.
The 4-1 away win at Swansea in their opening Premier League fixture was impressive. Despite a rather lacklustre performance, United were clinical in front of goal. The Swans matched them stats-wise, but didn’t have the firepower of United. Their following match against Chelsea resulted in a bore draw, 0-0, at Old Trafford. This was always on the cards as Mourinho had set his side up to seemingly play for a point, failing to field an out-and-out centre forward. Moyes’ hoodoo of failing to win at Anfield followed him from Everton, losing 1-0 courtesy of a Daniel Sturridge goal in their most recent match. 4 points from an available 9 is not the blueprint of champions. Most United fans would have liked at least 5 points from these games. If anything, it would have meant United were unbeaten. The big games are the ones United will have wanted to have won, failing that unbeaten in.
Transfer market failings
The rest of the ‘big six’ already have the upper hand in the league table, but they also have the upper hand in the transfer market. Here as some examples of the talent they have brought in:
- Arsenal: Mesut Özil, Yaya Sanogo
- Chelsea: André Schürrle, Samuel Eto’o, Willian, Marco van Ginkel
- Liverpool: Mamadou Sakho, Victor Moses (loan), Kolo Touré (loan)
- Man City: Fernandinho, Álvaro Negredo, Stefan Jovetić, Jesús Navas
- Tottenham: Paulinho, Erik Lamela, Étienne Capoue, Roberto Soldado, Christian Eriksen
- Manchester United: Marouane Fellaini
United have needed a creative midfielder for over a year now, with the void being filled only briefly by Paul Scholes last season. With Scholes 100% retired, United were set to dip their hands into their deep pockets. Another mistake came when the club publicly announced their pursuit of Cesc Fabregas, which came to nothing, embarrassing the club. They were then knocked back by Kevin Strootman, who decided to join AS Roma instead. Young playmaker Thiago Alcântara, targeted by United, avoided them by switching to Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich. United were quickly running out of targets. Their 1-0 defeat to Liverpool did nothing but highlight their desperation for creativity in the middle of the park. Between them, Giggs, Nani, Young, Carrick and Cleverley could only create four chances. So, United continued to prowl the transfer market for someone to fill the gap.
Athletic Bilbao’s Ander Herrera became the latest target. A bid of €30 million was unsurprisingly rejected; new chief executive Ed Woodward clearly hadn’t researched the player well enough to know that Bilbao only use players from the Basque country, so they would only accept the €36 million release clause. Woodward deemed €36 million to be too much, so resorted to panic-buying. They finally brought in Everton’s Marouane Fellaini, reuniting the player with his old boss Moyes. How much for? £27.5 million. Earlier in the window, United offered £27 million for the pairing of Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines, which was duly rejected. They had just paid £500k extra to sign one half of the two! To make matters worse, if United had acted earlier, they would have got Fellaini for his release clause of £23.5 million. They left it too late; the release clause expired and they had to cough up an extra £4 million. If it wasn’t embarrassing enough already, Woodward had refused to pay an extra £4 million for Herrera, who would be more suitable for United’s needs, but went on to pay an extra £4 million for Fellaini. Madness.
Is Fellaini what United need?
Marouane Fellaini would be a big presence in any team, standing tall at 6 ft 5″. The combative midfielder will undoubtedly add bulk and strength to United’s midfield. They will certainly look stronger in the middle of the park and can utilise the Belgian’s height in aerial battles. Despite his height he is fairly good with his feet, but he is certainly no playmaker. Last season, he contributed 11 goals and 5 assists to Everton. Good record for a physical midfielder? Yes. The type of player United require? No. They already have players with the ability to find the net in Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck. Their problem is that they need people to create chances for them. Fellaini can do this to an extent, but he won’t supply the demand United need.
Where is Kagawa?
Shinji Kagawa’s only appearance for United this season lasted 7 minutes when the Japanese superstar came on from the bench late on in the Community Shield. He joined from Borussia Dortmund in 2012 after impressing for the German side. In 63 starts, he scored 28 goals and provided 12 assists to players such as Lewandowski, Reus and Götze, earning him a move to The Red Devils. In 22 starts for United last season, he scored 6 goals and assisted 5. He is touted as one of the world’s best up-and-coming young attacking midfielders. United’s team perfectly suits a 4-2-3-1 formation, where Kagawa would fit in like a glove. However, David Moyes has appeared to have ignored the unquestionable talent of the midfielder, who finds himself way down the pecking order. The midfielder wants his place back. If Kagawa doesn’t start playing soon, it is likely that he will force a move back to Dortmund after their failed attempts to re-buy him in the summer.
I am almost certain
If Sir Alex Ferguson was still at the reigns of Manchester United, I am almost certain that he would have relished the prospect of playing the big sides first. I am almost certain that even if he didn’t, he wouldn’t complain about it publicly. I am almost certain that United’s pre-season results wouldn’t feature more than one ‘L‘ on the form board. I am almost certain that United would have more than 4 points to their name so far. I am almost certain that United would have been able to attract the names they targeted this summer under Fergie’s tenure. I am almost certain that former chief executive David Gill would have wrapped deals up just weeks into the transfer window. I am almost certain the pair would have realised that Fellaini tick United’s boxes. I am almost certain Shinji Kagawa’s ability would not have been doubted so much that he was left out the squad in a big derby encounter. I am almost certain that this could be the start of United losing their force in the footballing world.
I am almost certain that Manchester United sorely miss the presence, experience, knowledge and ability of Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill.