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Moyes’ Manchester United dream rapidly turning sour

by Christopher Davies

Imagine you are Malcolm Glazer, the owner of Manchester United who is the Howard Hughes of sport. Glazer, also the owner of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, never speaks to the media, probably doesn’t even read newspapers.

On the recommendation of Sir Alex Ferguson, the Glazer family gave David Moyes a lucrative six-year contract as his successor. While expectations this season, even for the reigning champions, were probably no more than winning a domestic cup, nobody expected a slump of unprecedented levels.

Yes, an aging side needed some new blood, but to go from winning the title by 11 points to being 11 points off the Champions League qualification places and needing to win 10 of the remaining 11 games simply to equal its worst season since the Premier League was formed in 1992 . . . that was on no one’s radar.

Glazer keeps his thoughts between himself and sons Avram and Joel, who are co-chairmen of United and according to the various back pages on Thursday, Moyes has a month, 12 games or the summer transfer window to “save himself.”

Alternatively, some papers said Moyes has the “complete backing” of the Glazers. In other words, nobody knows.

But Glazer senior must be asking himself the sort of questions the press and supporters are, so let us eavesdrop on the most private man in English football and provide some answers.

United won the Premier League by 11 points last season. . .

It was a fluke year. A one-off. At the start of the season the United powerbrokers thought third place would probably be the best it could achieve. United took advantage of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City taking its eye off the ball in the transfer market and Ferguson squeezed every last ounce from a team that was always going to need serious surgery despite winning the title.

Moyes had done well with Everton, where he was not high maintenance. . .

In 11 seasons under Moyes, Everton spent £140 million, an average of £6.3 million each transfer window. He recouped all but £8 million, so in 11 seasons the club effectively spent less than £1 million per year.

While Everton did not win anything, it was always competitive despite spending virtually nothing.

So why has it gone so wrong for Moyes and United this season?

Moyes did not join United until July 1 and the loss of chief executive David Gill, one of football’s most experienced negotiators, was crucial. His successor, Ed Woodward, failed to close deals for certain players so United signed only Marouane Fellaini from Everton in a deal worth £27.5 million.

Injuries and a suspension have restricted the Belgium international to just eight appearances. Many United fans are critical of Fellaini, but the midfielder was showered with praise for his displays for Everton over the previous two seasons.

Some players, notably Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, have lost the speed needed at the highest level. Tom Cleverley is not good enough, ditto Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, Nani, Anderson, Fabio and Alexander Buttner. The jury is still out on Shinji Kagawa and Chris Smalling.

Surely the manager must take the blame for a side going from champions to a team nobody fears?

Moyes is not blameless, some of his team selections and tactics have been questioned. But Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat by Olympiakos in Athens underlined United’s decline, if, indeed, it was needed.

There was a disturbing lack of passion and urgency from the players, and though some feel it is the manager’s job to motivate them, when you are being paid a king’s ransom to represent the most successful club in England, surely that is motivation enough. The team is unrecognizable from the Ferguson era, where there was a confidence, a swagger and self-belief.

“United need six top-quality players,” said former captain Roy Keane on TV. “I would think David Moyes has been shocked. When he went into United in the summer he probably looked at the players and was expecting great things. Privately he’s probably been shocked at the lack of quality that he’s working with.”

What should the board of directors do?

The United fans have given the manager plenty of vocal support, but their loyalty is being severely tested with every defeat and their frustration is spilling over. To sack Moyes would be a kick in the teeth to Ferguson, who chose his successor; it would also be expensive as the five years remaining on Moyes’ contract are probably worth £35 million.

Despite this season’s slump, which no one was prepared for, Moyes deserves a full summer transfer window to reshape the team as he wishes. If United loses to its two biggest rivals, Liverpool and Manchester City, in the coming month and fails to overcome Olympiakos in the second leg at Old Trafford, the pressure on Moyes will reach overdrive.

The board should already have made a decision about its manager — which is to back him, not sack him — and not bow to the inevitable media hysteria if United’s season continues its downward spiral.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.