So, David Moyes; should he stay, or should he go? It seems scarcely credible that, only a few months into the Scotsman’s tenure at Old Trafford, his departure should even be in question. Yet nerves are fraying as the former Everton manager presides over one of the most lacklustre title defences in recent memory. His side have taken only five points from a possible 24 against the other top 8 teams in the league, and are eleven points behind leaders Arsenal. They have already been knocked out of the FA Cup. They have lost five times at Old Trafford this season, including four of their last six. They are often playing football that is uninspired. Meanwhile, Moyes – who lacks the charisma of his predecessor, but then again who doesn’t – is very often defeatist about his team’s prospects.
Despite all this, David Moyes should stay, though it at present seems unlikely that he will see out the full six years of his contract. (There have, in fairness to him, been positive indications, most notably in the UEFA Champions League, and the Premier League victory over Arsenal). Peering at the recent balance sheets, the Glazers are realising just how much of the club’s commercial value was down to the unparalleled brilliance of Sir Alex Ferguson. Years of endless success were music to their ears. But unfortunately for their bank accounts, Mozart isn’t composing the tunes anymore.
This is about more than the Glazers, and about more than Moyes. It’s about whether the club wants to become as voraciously and ruthlessly corporate with its managers as it is with its financial planning. The club would be ill-advised to go down this route, and not merely for sentimental reasons. If Old Trafford develops a reputation as a place where managers feel that they have to sleep with one eye open, then Manchester United may easily become the British version of Inter Milan: a club with a great and proud history, overshadowed by a wealthy and nearby rival, whose attempts at future success are continually ravaged by internal instability. No: this is what, in American sports, is often referred to as “a teachable moment”, and what the Glazers could usefully, if implausibly, do is the following:
1) Have a private meeting with Moyes and give him reassurance that his job is safe in the immediate term, and that they’ll review matters at the end of the second season. No need for public votes of confidence – they spook shareholders and supporters, and most of all managers.
2) Make a mental note that Moyes, for all his competence as a manager, may have been handed shoes too big to fill, and that he may not see out his full six years at Old Trafford. Consider that two years, including a large transfer budget, is enough time for Moyes to bring significant improvement from the current ailing squad (say, a top-five finish by of the end of 2014/15. If he falls far short of that, then it’s probably time to say goodbye).
3) Give Moyes and Ed Woodward real money to spend this January transfer window and summer, and tell them that they expect them to spend most or all of it, and that they will be judged by how much they spend – the more the better – and how well they spend it. Tell him that ultimately the key to Manchester United’s success as a club is their success on the pitch, and they therefore expect to see improvements to the squad. After all, you don’t go to a fancy black tie do without a crisp tuxedo, and right now the team’s threads are looking a little tattered.
4) Make sure that some of the club’s greatest players are part of the delegation who approach potential signings, if they aren’t already (look at the sway that Zinedine Zidane had in bringing Raphael Varane to the Bernabeu). A welcome committee of David Beckham and Paul Scholes, for example, might turn the head of any young player.
5) Begin very, very discreet conversations with one or two managers about their career plans over the next three years: say, if they might consider taking over the summer after next if things go spectacularly wrong for Moyes in 2014/15. (As in, mid-table dressing room revolt wrong). And if that means quietly sounding out, say, Louis van Gaal or Luciano Spalletti with the possibility of a three-year contract, then so be it: a contingency plan never hurt. Just don’t get caught doing it, or that would publicly undermine Moyes.
6) Reflect anew on how, actually, to run a successful football club what matters is the football first, not the money, and nothing more.