Most Manchester United fans balked at the prospect of signing of Leighton Baines last summer. Baines was seen as an ageing full-back who, was overvalued, and overrated.
And while there’s no doubt that David Moyes’ interest in his former defender was unimaginative, there’s good reason to believe that Moyes would still be Manchester United manager if he got his man. In this context, last summers transfer mishap may be perceived as the best thing that could have happened for the club.
Full-backs tend to be relatively less influential than players in other positions. It’s often said that you don’t need great full-backs to have a great team. Last season for instance, Manchester United won the Premier League by 11 points with two defensively suspect full-backs, one who was past his best, and another lacking in maturity.
This is not the case for teams managed by David Moyes. The Scot likes his central midfielders to stay behind the ball, and seeks creation through the channels, where his wide players are instructed to overload the opposition full-backs in order to gain an advantage. This isn’t a bad tactic, as a lot of wide midfielders in modern football are hybrid forwards who tend not track back as diligently as traditional wingers.
For Moyesball to work, David Moyes needs full-backs that are capable of getting up and down the flanks and putting quality delivers into the box. Neither of Manchester United’s full-backs are capable of both. Evra can put in a decent delivery, but doesn’t get back at the speed necessary. And Rafael has the energy to patrol the flank, but is an unreliable crosser of the ball.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that Moyes targeted both Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman during his time at Old Trafford, as they are better than their Manchester United counterparts in both regards. And it’s quite possible that if Moyes had been able to bring Baines in last summer, he’d still be manager of Manchester United.
This season, Baines has created 45 chances in 30 games, putting him second behind Kevin Mirallas in the creation stakes at Everton. This is 8 more than Evra has managed so far this year, which while significant, is not spectacular.
However, these stats have to be put into context of the type of football being played. Last year, under Moyesball, Baines created 116 chances in his 38 Premier League games, an average of more than 3 per game. Evra, by contrast, created 24 chances in his 34 games.
This tells us two things: firstly, Evra created more chances when playing in a Moyes system which gives greater creative responsibility to the full-backs, but more importantly, secondly, that we would expect Leighton Baines to have created significantly more than Evra has if Moyes had been successful in bringing him to Manchester United.
If Baines had played for David Moyes’ Man United as he did for David Moyes’ Everton, we would have seen the team create an average of two more goalscoring opportunities per game. This could potentially have a massive difference on United’s league position, and we’d certainly expect them to be a lot higher than 7th.
Given the feeling that the Manchester United board would have supported Moyes if he was even in contention for Champions League qualification, it’s quite likely he’d still be in job if he’d been able to sign Baines. In this context, many Manchester United fans may feel like their shambolic summer transfer dealings were a blessing in disguise.
Most have come to the conclusion that David Moyes was not right for Manchester United – Moyes played limited, defensive football and Manchester United are a club about pushing boundaries.
But if we make that argument, we’d have to conclude that Mourinho wasn’t right for Man United either. And there were very few making that argument last summer, and even fewer now given everything that’s happened in between.
The fact is, David Moyes didn’t have the players required to play the style of football he wanted to. He first attempted to persist in insolence, and then sought to compromise. Neither worked, and David Moyes failed. But his failure owes more to an inability to bring in the players he needed, than any sort of ideological mismatch.