A 2-1 win over West Ham on Saturday afternoon gave Louis van Gaal some respite from an otherwise difficult start as Manchester United boss, but Wayne Rooney’s red card for an exuberant professional foul on Alex Song, deemed violent conduct by referee Lee Mason, typified how tensions are still high at Old Trafford.
Indeed, despite spending £150million in the transfer market this summer, the Red Devils find themselves in seventh place in the Premier League – the exact position they finished last season under van Gaal’s ill-fortuned predecessor, David Moyes.
Few United fans will be calling for the Scot’s return at LVG’s expense; after all, the former Everton boss recorded the worst title defence in the history of the 38-game Premier League season during his torrid ten months at Old Trafford.
But with both managers suffering from similar issues and undergoing paralleled stints of poor form, can we all agree that the problems at Manchester United stem far deeper than simply the man in the dugout? Furthermore, as David Moyes claimed in August; can we all agree that he should have been given more time – and money – to prove himself at Old Trafford?
Things admittedly looked bleak under Moyes, especially towards the end. The underlying logic behind his sacking – apart from a dramatic fall in United’s share price – was the lack of obvious progress in terms of performances; the absence of signs to suggest better times would be just around the corner. In fact, as the season dragged on, it felt as if United were regressing further.
But Moyes thought he was walking into a summer transfer window with a £150million cheque; the funds he should have been allocated twelve months earlier when it was clear Manchester United’s great era of dominance had come to an end for many of the players, as well as Sir Alex Ferguson. Should rumours be believed, he already had a deal in place to sign German World Cup winner Toni Kroos and we know that Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera were signings that van Gaal essentially inherited from Moyes.
Not that the former United gaffer was banned from spending big. The Red Devils outlaid around £65million in two transfer windows under Moyes, breaking the club’s record transfer fee to bring Juan Mata to Old Trafford last January. By no means small fries, but van Gaal was allowed to near-triple that sum and demolish that record transfer fee once again, this time on Angel Di Maria, after just a handful of first competitive fixtures as United boss.
There’s been a considerably higher sense of patience surrounding van Gaal too. Losses to Swansea City and Leicester City were disappointing but accepted as eggs broken in the Dutchman’s plans to revolutionise United’s philosophical roots. A shock 4-0 defeat to MK Dons in the League Cup was seen as an opportunity to focus more on other competitions – you can’t imagine David Moyes, even at the beginning of his short Red Devils career, being given the benefit of the doubt in that kind of manner.
And Moyes had to deal with arguably tougher circumstances last season. Granted, he inherited a side that strolled their way to a Premier League title the year previous, but it’s no secret that Ferguson’s immense quality as a manager had been paving over the cracks – particularly in regards to a lack of recruitment in defence and midfield – for several seasons.
Tellingly, only twelve players who recorded one or more league start for United during the 2012/13 campaign are on the club’s books for current season and some of them, such as Chris Smalling, Ashley Young and Anders Lindegaard, probably shouldn’t be.
Moyes’ limited reputation, having never won silverware at Goodison Park, gave United cold feet and they replaced him with a manager who, in dramatic contrast, boasts an incredible CV, featuring spells with Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and the Netherlands national team. Van Gaal’s Carrington arrival immediately followed an incredible World Cup campaign with Oranje, demolishing low expectations pre-tournament to mastermind their way to the third place play-off.
But that in itself epitomises why Moyes should have been given more time. LVG remains one of the most respected and qualified managers in world football, yet, like Moyes, he’s struggled with formations, selection policies and balancing out the new with old at United.
Some results have arguably been worse under the Dutchman; United never conceded five goals under Moyes as they did to Leicester City this month. They also beat Swansea 4-1 on the opening day of last season. Most troublingly, van Gaal is yet to face any opposition that finished above his side last year. In direct contrast, Moyes had faced Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal by mid-November.
Van Gaal’s ambition is to build Manchester United a new identity, a transition process that will inevitably lead to teething pains, but Moyes was never given that luxury; he was obliged to provide continuity from the previous regime. Perhaps with more time, money and distance from Ferguson, tacit consent would have naturally moved towards the Scot being allowed the freedom to create his own United.
Of course, it’s now all just hypothetical conjecture. One can easily claim David Moyes should have been given more time because it can never actually be proved or disproved. An argument of ignorance, as it’s known.
Yet, in my opinion, a situation emerged where it became easier to make Moyes a scapegoat for many of the problems that still exist at Old Trafford, particularly a lack of long-term investment in a malnourished squad, a poor showing from chief executive Ed Woodward in summer 2013 and the fact Ferguson is virtually irreplaceable as a manager, than offer him the support LVG now receives.
With more time and money, Moyes could have been a success at Manchester United. Unfortunately, the club weren’t prepared to wait that long.