The Chosen One: Where did it go wrong for David Moyes?

On the 9th May 2013, David Moyes was announced by Manchester United as their new manager; the man to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson.

To a mixture of fanfare and confusion, many questioned whether the man who had not won any major silverware in fifteen years of management (his only ever trophy at that point in time was the Second Division title with Preston North End) was the man to take United forward to further success after 26 years of unmatched prosperity under the stewardship of Ferguson.

Atypically, Ferguson was given an unprecedented say in whom would succeed him as manager.

Ferguson had at one time looked at current Manchester City incumbent, Pep Guardiola as the right man to take over. Ferguson has spoken numerous times over a lunch he had with Guardiola, where he asked him to give him a call before he accepted another management role. Guardiola didn’t. He instead signed for Bayern Munich. Ferguson’s phone never rang.

Current United manager, Jose Mourinho had fluttered his eyelashes towards Old Trafford as his reign as Real Madrid manager came to an acrimonious end. However, disappointingly for Mourinho, United did not seek him out.

Instead, United honoured Ferguson’s request that they appoint his fellow Scot, the then-Everton manager, David Moyes. This continued United’s century-plus long streak of only being managed by men from the United Kingdom and Ireland. A streak that was ultimately broken by Moyes’s permanent successor, Louis Van Gaal.

Others agreed with Ferguson, that his fellow Scot was cut from the same cloth and given the opportunity and budget he could, like Ferguson, achieve success at the club. Moyes was Ferguson’s Chosen One – the man to continue the Ferguson blueprint.

Manchester United had faith. Moyes was given an unprecedented six-year contract, unheard of in the modern game, due to club’s having to pay off the remainder of the contracts when managers are invariably fired.

What is now forgotten, is the pivotal role Moyes played in keeping Wayne Rooney at the club. Rooney and Ferguson had again had a falling out towards the end of the 2012-13 season, and speculation was rife that Rooney would be playing elsewhere in 2013-14. It was an issue that dogged the club until the end of the transfer window, but Moyes was eventually able to convince Rooney his future was at United. Considering Rooney had been critical of Moyes following his departure from Everton to United in 2004, this was no small feat for the new boss.

Rooney did repay the faith – he contributed fully during 2013-14, as United’s top scorer, racking up 19 goals and 15 assists in 38 appearances.

However, it also went very wrong for Moyes between June and August 2013. Some aspects were within his control and some weren’t.

When Moyes joined United, he decided to dispense with the coaching staff who had initially remained in post, following Ferguson’s retirement. Most significantly, assistant manager Mike Phelan and first team coach René Meulensteen were let go. Immensely popular with the players, Ferguson’s most trusted lieutenants had been extremely hands-on during Ferguson’s later years and had been instrumental in one of the most successful periods in United history between 2008 and 2013.

In actuality it was not so surprising that Moyes brought in his own team, most incoming managers do. However, the wisdom of relieving Phelan and Meulensteen from coaching duties entirely and instead, bringing in staff with no prior history of success to a club like United has to be considered an error of judgement.

What was beyond Moyes’s control, however, was the situation upstairs in the boardroom.

United’s Chief Executive, David Gill had followed Ferguson out of the door. Edward Woodward, the Glazer family’s commercial maestro was his replacement. Unfortunately for Moyes, Woodward, although highly respected as a business mastermind, had zero experience in dealing with Football transfers and during that first summer was somewhat out of his depth.

What would have been more helpful for Moyes to ease the transition is if Gill had stayed on throughout the summer and used his considerable experience to deliver his transfer targets.

That didn’t happen and the summer transfer window of 2013 was chaotic. Only one new face was brought in: Marouane Fellaini, on deadline day for four million pounds more than if United had initiated his contract release figure of £23.5 million four weeks earlier.

Other attempted deadline deals for Ander Herrera and Fabio Coentrao didn’t materialise. United’s other targets, namely Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale didn’t happen either.

Moyes, strangely decided against signing Thiago Alcantara who was available to United. Moyes questioned whether he would be too lightweight for the Premier League. The young, skillful playmaker, Alcantara signed for European Champions Bayern Munich instead, scoring two goals in 25 appearances and winning the Bundesliga and Club World Cup. Lightweight or not, he surely would have contributed something special to United had he signed on the dotted line.

Despite these problems, the Moyes era began with a bang three weeks earlier, with a convincing 2-0 victory over FA Cup winners, Wigan Athletic in the Community Shield and an entertaining 4-1 opening Premier League win over Swansea City.

It appeared as if the Premier League Champions had picked up where they left off in 2012-13.

A respectable 0-0 draw with Mourinho’s Chelsea followed. The wheels soon fell off, however, as United lost to Liverpool and Manchester City, the latter a humbling 4-1 defeat. To compound Moyes’s misery, United fell 2-1 to West Brom in their next fixture. Three defeats in their opening six matches was not the start that the Chosen One had anticipated.

If United’s League form was a grave concern, then Moyes managed to save United’s best form for the Champions League group stages, wherein they topped their group with four wins and two draws; most impressively dispatching Bayer Leverkusen 4-1 and 5-0.

Moyes also masterminded a run to the League Cup Semi-Finals, defeating no less than Liverpool en route to that stage. However, they were cruelly defeated on penalties after a catastrophic David De Gea error led to Sunderland scoring in the final minute.

Moyes had no control over that. However, what was becoming clear, was that the United players were not completely buying into Moyes’s approach. A fact confirmed by several of the squad following his dismissal. The team were simply used to Ferguson’s approach and had not dealt with the transition.

United’s problems were highlighted by a disappointing 2-2 draw with rock-bottom Fulham, coincidently now managed by Meulensteen, wherein United seemingly had no clue how to break the Cottagers down other than sending in an incredible 81 crosses, the most in the Premier League since 2006, with little end product.

Famously, the lowest point of the season, at least in Woodward’s mind came on 25th February, when United lost 2-0 loss to Olympiakos in the Second Round First Leg of the Champions League in Greece. Woodward took a photograph of the scoreboard promising himself he would not allow the club to sink to such depths again.

Happily for United, in the return leg at Old Trafford, they showed some of the Ferguson spirit in recovering to win 3-0, with Van Persie scoring a hat-trick as United advanced to the Quarter Finals versus Bayern Munich. They ultimately fell short, but were competitive against the reigning European Champions.

It was not enough for Moyes or United. Moyes only survived as boss for one more match – opposite his former club, Everton. United were comfortably beaten 2-0 by an Everton side who under new manager, Roberto Martinez, were about to achieve their highest points total in the Premier League era, which somewhat diluted Moyes perceived achievements in his preceding eleven years at the helm.

With that defeat, it became mathematically impossible for United to qualify for the Champions League and Moyes was relieved of his duties less than 10 months into a six-year contract.

Ryan Giggs was placed in temporary charge and United immediately began playing more expansively as United won two, drew and lost one of the four remaining games of the season.

Truth be told, Moyes had a near-impossible job. Who could realistically follow Ferguson’s 26 years of success? A combination of short-sighted decisions from Moyes, a squad not ready to let go of the Ferguson era, board level reshuffling, and a healthy dose of bad luck were a lethal cocktail which cost Moyes his dream job in near-record time.

One wonders how United would have fared in 2014-15 if Moyes had remained in post.

Moyes had identified key areas United needed to strengthen and had laid the groundwork for summer transfers for Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera, and Toni Kroos. Incoming manager, Louis Van Gaal signed off the deals for Shaw and Herrera but perplexingly shelved United’s interest in Kroos.

The summer of 2015 saw Woodward grow in stature negotiating deals for superstar forwards, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao. Could Moyes have achieved greater success in this environment? It’s possible but Moyes’s post-United career in which he has seen short spells in charge of Real Sociedad end in the sack and Sunderland end in relegation suggest otherwise.

Moyes’s stature was finally re-enhanced with a 13th placed League finish last season with West Ham United who at the time of his appointment were flirting with relegation. Although, his tenure was not deemed successful enough by West Ham’s board to earn a contract renewal and Moyes is unemployed once more.

Moyes will forever be remembered as the man to take over from the legendary Ferguson – only time will tell if the Chosen One’s reign will be recalled more favourably in future.

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