David Moyes and Manchester United have never felt like a snug fit. This could be considered strange, as in many ways he is the closest man possible to his predecessor; a hard-working Scot with a fierce temperament and a penchant for loyalty. But while Alex Ferguson built-up the role of Manchester United manager for himself, Moyes has so far behaved like a man who’s wearing someone else’s shoes.
We are certainly not watching the same David Moyes that we saw at Everton. Moyes was a man in control. His fit in the role was only in question to the extent that he consistently attempted to stretch it; protesting at his limited resources and yearning for greater ambition from the club’s ownership. It may also seem strange that a man so clearly ready for a new challenge would find himself as lost as Moyes has when he actually got it.
And yet this is exactly how Moyes is behaving, like a man without convictions. You feel his every decision is made after an inner consultation between what he wants to do and what he feels he should do. And what he should do is what a ‘Manchester United Manager’ would do. In attempting to meet this vague ideal, David Moyes is only creating for himself a recipe for disaster.
Olympiakos 2 – 0 Manchester United. David Moyes watched on from the touchline; a man torn. Even in a season that continues to surprise in reaching new lows, this felt special. It wasn’t just the result; results can be forgiven. It was the manner of the defeat that was particularly shocking.
It’s very hard to imagine Moyes’ Everton side losing in such a limp fashion. And that’s because they wouldn’t have. The David Moyes era Everton would have attempted to bully Olympiakos, and if they had the cheek to resist, the Greek Champions would have found one Marouane Fellaini charging around their box, elbows flailing, while balls were battered in his direction. It really would have been better not to protest.
In spite of having his battering-ram-in-chief at his disposal, Moyes chose to leave him on the bench. His response to going two nil down was to introduce Shinji Kagawa, perhaps the pure anthesis to Fellaini. This move felt more like an attempt to appease the fans and commentariat than the tactical substitution that the manager felt would have the greatest impact.
The problem for Moyes is that the way he feels he should play and his strengths as a manager are at odds with each other. The idea of a Manchester United style of play is a high-tempo attacking game in which the ball is kept close to the ground. The a-typical Moyes team is defensively well organised and pragmatic, always choosing caution if in doubt. Moyes’ attempts to marry these two ideals have only been successful in creating a dysfunctional system that is lacking in the strengths of either.
The tragedy in trying to serve these two Gods is that the results satisfy neither. Moyes’ insecurity in attempting to be something that he’s not only does himself and the club a disservice. Given the precarious nature of his current employment situation, one wonders whether he would be better to tear down the ideals of how a ‘Manchester United team’ should play and instigate pure, unadulterated Moyesism. At least in this scenario, he would go out under his own terms.
A single coherent concept is always stronger than a confused combination of two. If David Moyes is unable to turn himself into a Manchester United manager, then he should stop trying to be something he’s not and start being Moyes.