SENDAI – Former Manchester United and England striker Andy Cole isn’t buying the explanation that David Moyes’ squad is “aging” as the reason for its disastrous campaign.
United is in seventh place with six matches left to play this season, 17 points off the pace of Premier League rival Liverpool. While Moyes’ side is coming off a 4-1 home win over Aston Villa on Saturday, there is every possibility it may not qualify for the Europa League, let alone the Champions League.
Moyes has said United is getting old, and that even his predecessor Alex Ferguson would struggle with the current squad.
But Cole, back in Japan to work on United’s ongoing project with beverage company Kagome to help rebuild disaster areas hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, pointed out that the team is only one season removed from winning the Premier League at a canter, with largely the same players Ferguson had at his disposal.
Moyes has only bought Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini, while bringing 19-year-old Adnan Januzaj into the fold.
“It was always going to be difficult to replace a manager of that stature,” Cole said in an interview with Kyodo News, referring to Ferguson who ran Old Trafford for 26 years.
“But it’s still a very good team. You talk about an aging team, well, every team gets older; that’s always the process. But it’s the same team that won the league by 11 points last season, and it’s the same players — just two players have come in and one young player who was on the fringes.
“I don’t think anyone in the wildest dreams expected Manchester United would be in the position they are in right now. If not win the Premiership at least be in the top four — and none of those are going to happen this season.
“It’s a case of trying to win as many games from now this season to finish in the Europa League. To put your finger on it, there’s a lot of buts and ifs and whys. No one could have expected what’s happened this year.”
Cole said he doesn’t know where to begin with all that’s going wrong at United, but the fact that it hasn’t been able to compete with the big clubs like Manchester City and Liverpool spells out a lot.
“I look at it and it’s a combination of everything,” he said. “Maybe the tactics might not be right on a given day but it’s everything rolled into one. There have been times this season where we haven’t been at the races.
“We haven’t been good enough to beat the big teams. Fair enough, we beat Arsenal but we’re not beating the rest of the big teams which is strange for Manchester United. And not being disrespectful, we’ve lost to some of the lesser teams as well.
“When we lost to Manchester City 6-1 the season before last, we were still fighting, trying to score five to make it 6-6. But you look at the defeat other day, we lost 3-0 and it was a totally different kind of defeat.
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow at the moment.”
Mirroring the club’s struggles is Shinji Kagawa, who set up Wayne Rooney’s goal in the Villa game but has yet to score himself this season for United.
Cole believes Kagawa’s difficult times are down to his playing largely on the left wing for Moyes. Cerezo Osaka’s ex-United forward Diego Forlan also recently said that Kagawa is a natural central midfielder and is currently playing out of position.
But Cole doesn’t question Kagawa’s talent, and is convinced he can make the grade at Old Trafford.
“You can’t go to the Bundesliga and be the best player there for two years and all of a sudden, can’t play the game anymore,” Cole said.
“The Bundesliga’s not a Mickey Mouse league; it’s a proper league and at this present time, it’s probably stronger than the Premiership, just like the Spanish league. They’re quality leagues with quality players.
“It’s not as if he were playing in some weak league or whatever. He was playing in a very strong league and it’s why Manchester United bought him in the first place.”
Cole, who was also in the Tohoku region last year for the project, heads to Morioka on Tuesday as part of his tour before leaving Thursday.
“That was my first time I witnessed any form of disaster,” he said, looking back on last year’s trip. “It was just mind blowing, and then you go to the elementary school to see what the kids are like, you’d never believe anything had happened.
“I couldn’t get my head around it because I know if anything like that happened in England, people will still be talking about it now. It’s a testament to the Japanese people.”