Yesterday afternoon produced arguably the lowest point in David Moyes’ managerial career, as Manchester United endured a 2-2 home draw to a Fulham side that sit at the bottom of the Premier League table.
The Scot once again argued that fate had conspired against him, leaning on a series of record-breaking statistics produced by Opta to suggest his Red Devils team were in control of everything but the scoreline during Sunday’s Premier League clash at Old Trafford.
But Moyes will know that this is a results-based business, and the one against the Cottagers was particularly shocking. Before the 2-2 draw with the Premier League champions, Fulham had lost five of their last seven, including an FA Cup defeat to Sheffield United in mid-week, who currently sit in League One’s relegation zone.
Even amid such a dangerous downward spiral, it was the visitors who appeared more confident of achieving something at Old Trafford than Manchester United. Perhaps the squad were still struggling to come to terms with last week’s defeat to Stoke, but that’s hardly an excuse worthy of Premier League champions, or one Moyes would have entertained whilst he was at Everton.
Overall, David Moyes has won just two games out of a possible nine in 2014, and although at this stage the debate remains rather hypothetical, it does force one to consider the worst case scenario. Essentially, at what point does the Scot’s position at Manchester United become untenable?
Let us not get mixed up in hyperbole and exaggeration, the blowback from Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement was always expected this season. The retired Scot is the greatest manager the Premier League has ever seen, one of the most converted in the history of English association football, and one of the best in the modern era of European competition.
He was a monolithic enigma that the Red Devils could never have successfully replaced on a long-term basis without investing time in a manager that that would have to endure a steep learning curve of self-development, but eventually produce results. The other option, of replacing Ferguson with an established world-class head coach of the Jose Mourinho or Carlo Ancelotti variety, would have produced an unstable, almost ad hoc relationship between the club and the manager.
So with that in mind, one can safely assume that Moyes still has the full backing of the board, who had planned all along for a rather turbulent year. Even as early as the summer, members of the Manchester United family were reminding the public whenever possible that it had taken his predecessor three years at Old Trafford to claim his first piece of silverware in 1989, and another three to claim his first league title.
This was an appointment which always looked to the future rather than the current campaign, best illustrated by the six-year contract Moyes was offered by the United hierarchy.
But even so, Moyes’ efforts this season have undoubtedly tested their patience, and their commitment to the Scot’s appointment being a long-term project rather than a quick fix.
Regardless of the pejorative effect Ferguson’s retirement has clearly had on the squad, few envisaged the Red Devils would be nine points away from a Champions League place with just 13 fixtures remaining, especially just a matter of months after they had strolled their way to a Premier League title. Just to put United’s poor showing this year into perspective, their eight league losses since the summer amount to more defeats than last term’s Italian, Spanish, German and French Champions have endured combined this season.
Even with the added influence of £37million mega-signing Juan Mata at his disposal, the Scot still can’t construct anything close to a convincing performance on the pitch, let alone a result, whilst United’s stock price has tumbled to such an extent that the club’s value on the market has lost £395million since May 7th 2013 – the day before Ferguson’s secretly planned retirement had found its way into the tabloids. £220million of that eroded from United’s stock in December 2013 alone.
So what scenario could actually lead to Manchester United pulling the plug on Moyes’ tenure? Had he lost to Fulham yesterday afternoon, would he now be unemployed? Should the Red Devils finish in the bottom half come May-time, would that unprecedented slump in standard be enough due cause to put the Scot’s head on the chopping block?
Or could yet another defeat to an incredibly ordinary Premier League side be enough to trigger a sudden vote of no confidence from the boardroom? Will the stock price only tumble further until United’s corporate interests become endangered? Or will the MoyesOut hashtag receive such online backing that the call for change from the fanbase becomes impossible to ignore?
Only time will tell, but at the moment a lot of factors are working against the Old Trafford boss, by no means exclusive to results. Even Moyes’ lack of confidence is becoming dangerously noticeable; following United’s recent defeat to the Potters, the Guardian’s Jamie Jackson responded to the Scot’s habitual analysis of misfortune by stating “the old standby of bad luck [is] the sign of a manager running out of answers”.
It’s quite clear that at some point before the end of the current campaign, Manchester United will have to stick or twist. The boardroom would like to think they’re forgiving enough to grant David Moyes another chance next season, but whether the Scot warrants another opportunity will undoubtedly depend on if he can create anything remotely positive out of this term’s last 13 fixtures. At this moment in time, Moyes has done nothing to suggest he’s capable of turning it around.
The United boss is delicately balancing on a tight-rope. Causes for longevity, stability, patience and sensibility aside, should the Red Devils’ form become any worse, it will be a standard the reigning Premier League champions cannot possibly abide. It will then become a matter of which force, be it the corporate side, the fans, the players or the boardroom, pushes him out first.