LONDON – The television camera zoomed in on David Moyes’ face and there was no hiding place for the Manchester United manager.
With his team losing 2-1 to Premier League basement club Sunderland in the first leg of the League Cup, a United player under no pressure gave the ball away in midfield, passing it to an opponent.
The frustration, the helplessness and the pressure of a manager at the highest level of English football was perfectly, if savagely, illustrated, in a 10-second cameo.
Suddenly Moyes’ hair seemed to have more flecks of grey, his face more worry lines, his eyes a little deeper. The media has, inevitably, highlighted the “crisis” at Old Trafford while the statisticians are having a field day — it was United’s eighth defeat this season . . . United has now lost 25 percent of their matches, eight of 32 . . . last season it lost only 10 of 54.
“Three weeks to save his skin” screamed one headline, and you wonder if the newspaper really believed this or just wanted to lead the way in the most ludicrous of coverage. United did not give Moyes a six-year contract to sack him after six months.
The 4,000 traveling fans at the Stadium of Light sang “David Moyes’ red and white army” throughout another 90 minutes of underachieving. They realize that while Moyes inherited the English champions from Sir Alex Ferguson, he was left an aging squad with too many players reaching their sell-by date.
The United that won the title was the best team of last season, but that was then. The domination of the championship team was never going to continue, especially with Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool strengthening their squads.
United signed only Marouane Fellani for £27.5 million last summer and the former Everton midfielder has disappointed so far, his progress not helped by injury.
For the last three seasons Fellaini has been showered with compliments and the Belgium international will surely adapt to his new surroundings and the challenge ahead of him when he is fully fit.
United should have been more active in the transfer market, though the finger should not necessarily be pointed at Moyes. He did not start work at Old Trafford until July 1, and apart from Ferguson’s departure, chief executive David Gill, one of football’s best negotiators, also moved on.
His successor, Ed Woodward, was slow to close one or two deals, meaning United missed out on Cesc Fabregas and Robert Lewandowski. Moyes deserves a full summer transfer window to reshape the squad and then we can judge him next season.
The January window is notoriously difficult, though it remains to be seen how much money the Glazers will make available. The latest accounts showed United to be £667 million in debt and this week their shares on the New York Stock Exchange dropped to a record low of $13.65, yet to protect their investment the Glazers must make money available for new players, notably a central defender and a playmaker.
Where Moyes loses the sympathy vote is his continued criticism of match officials, as if they are the catalyst for United’s demise.
After the Sunderland defeat he said that United is “having to play the referees as well as the opposition,” unhappy that Andre Marriner awarded a penalty when Tom Cleverley was adjudged to have brought down Adam Johnson.
It was an unnecessary, silly challenge by the United midfielder and gave the referee a decision to make. Some say the penalty was harsh, but harsh is not incorrect.
Predictably, Moyes made no mention of how generous Marriner was in not sending off Rafael who, having already been cautioned for dissent, made a nasty challenge on Fabio Borini which should have been a second yellow card offense.
It was ever thus.
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MANUEL PELLEGRINI managed to keep a straight face, for which the Manchester City manager can only be congratulated. After its 6-0 demolition of West Ham in the first leg of the League Cup semifinal at Etihad Stadium, the Chilean said: “I think the result we have here, it is not absolutely finished, but an important step.”
Football is not littered with 7-0 comebacks and it remains to be seen how many will fork out £42 for the game at Upton Park. Sky Sports must be delighted to have broadcast rights for the match.
City was irresistible, its finishing, especially that of Alvaro Negredo, clinical. On this form, City could beat Europe’s best, let alone one of the Premier League’s worst.
Two days after losing 5-0 at Nottingham Forest in the F.A. Cup, the Hammers were knocked for six. West Ham was as bad as a team could be and at the end of the game Roger Johnson, signed on loan from Wolves, threw his shirt into the crowd. The fan who caught it threw it back.
Sam Allardyce, the 13th-highest paid manager in the world, earning £3 million a year according to a recent survey, was given a vote of confidence the day before the game. If Hammers fans had their way, Big Sam would be shown the exit door.
“F—- off Allardyce,” chanted the traveling fans. Big Sam would cost big bucks to pay off, but it would be loose change compared to the £40 million minimum reward for a club retaining Premier League status.
Extra pressure comes from the club’s pending relocation. In two years West Ham is moving to the Olympic Stadium used for the London 2012 Games, and to fill it, it must find around 20,000 extra fans. A visit by Yeovil, Peterborough, Preston or Rotherham is unlikely to see “sold out” signs.
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THOSE WHO BELIEVE footballers are thick and overpaid had their argument strengthened by Michael Chopra and Chris Smalling this week. The Blackpool player decided it would be a terrific idea to tweet: “****** joke this come in training only 6 ****** players here then find out the fitness coach taken the football session #joke.”
Everybody suffers the occasional frustration at work, but we can usually resist the temptation to tell the world about it in an abusive manner. Chopra, who in 2011 claimed to have lost £2 million from gambling, found himself £15,000 worse off after a club fine.
Smalling hosted a fancy dress party and the Manchester United defender can argue that what he does in the privacy of his home is up to him. But at a time when just about everyone has a camera facility on their telephone it is naive to think an England international dressing as a suicide bomber, complete with towel around his head, would stay private.
When a photo of Smalling found its way to the front page of The Sun, his management company released a statement saying that it was “an attempted comedy play on the popular jager bomb drink” and the player “fully accepts in hindsight it was an ill-thought out and insensitive decision.”
A suicide bomber, is it really a good idea?
Didn’t it occur to him before?
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SO THE 2022 World Cup in Qatar will not be held during the summer, FIFA confirmed this week.
In further surprise announcements, world football’s ruling body also revealed the Pope is Catholic, the sun will rise in the east, fish swim in the sea and hitting your thumb with a hammer is painful.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.