LONDON – When David Moyes was the manager of Everton, he told a television interviewer that he would never criticize his players in public — “only in the dressing room.”
As a successful Everton manager for 11 years Moyes had a certain standing in the game, a respect, with people nodding in approval when his name was mentioned. He kept the club competitive on a small budget playing pragmatic football. He was going a first-class job at Goodison Park.
When Real Madrid wanted a new coach they went for Carlo Ancelotti, who had won titles in Italy, England and France plus two Champions Leagues.
When Bayern Munich needed a successor to Jupp Heynckes, they brought in Pep Guardiola whose Barcelona had dominated European football for three years.
When Paris St-Germain looked for the man to build a super-team funded by Qatari money they chose Laurent Blanc, who had led Bordeaux to the League 1 title and had taken France to the quarterfinals of Euro 2012.
At Sir Alex Ferguson’s recommendation, Manchester United confirmed that his successor was Moyes, who had never won a trophy with Everton and whose experience in the Champions League was minimal. Under Moyes, despite top seven finishes, Everton had too often stumbled when glory was within touching distance, notably in the F.A. Cup final against Chelsea in 2009, the 2012 F.A. Cup semifinal against Liverpool and last year’s 3-0 F.A. Cup quarterfinal home loss to Wigan.
Ferguson saw much of himself in Moyes as a person; they are both Glaswegians, their appetite for work is insatiable, their personalities made them confident and comfortable in front of the media. But professionally Moyes was never going to be able to make the giant step up from Everton to United.
Players, especially champions, need a managerial CV to admire and Moyes’ was blank. He was still the manager of Everton to his new players, but unlike when he was at Goodison Park he criticized individual United players in public.
Moyes’ firing this week was inevitable and a decent man became a statistic. There was never a time when Moyes looked comfortable in English football’s biggest job, never a time when he made United’s power brokers and fans confident he could take the club forward.
While the squad needed strengthening, Moyes still inherited the champions of England and spent almost £70 million on Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata.
United will have its worst season in Premier League history and will almost certainly miss out on even the Europa League. The decline has been stunning, swift and unexpected.
His training methods bored the United players whose respect Moyes did not lose because he never had it. Many players downed tools on him weeks ago and while they made public words of support for the manager, they were empty statements.
Significantly, when he left Moyes thanked the coaching staff and fans, but made no mention of the players. Similarly, the silence from the players’ Twitter accounts was deafening.
The League Managers’ Association criticized United for the way it handled Moyes’ dismissal, yet said nothing when the Scot was in negotiations with it while he was still at Everton. It was a sad end of an error.
While Moyes had a six-year contract, a clause stipulated he could be dumped if the club failed to finish in the top four in any season. The 2-0 defeat by Everton triggered this clause and the Glazers were not going to trust a man who had shown little evidence that he was up to the job with a summer transfer spending spree.
In hindsight, who should United have appointed?
If success was the only consideration, then Jose Mourinho would have been its pick, but as we discover each week the Portuguese brings the sort of controversy and disciplinary excesses that do not fit in with United’s DNA.
Carlo Ancelotti had led Chelsea to the double in 2010 and may have relished a return to England after finishing with PSG, but the Italian is unlikely to be fretting that he joined Real Madrid.
Rather than draw up a list of candidates, United chose from a short-list of one and less than a year after identifying Moyes as his successor, Ferguson was part of the group of directors who decided he should be sacked.
It will not be a quick fix for whoever United appoint as Moyes’s permanent successor. Apart from buying a new back-four and a dominant midfielder, the next manager will have to restore the pride that was previously taken for granted at Old Trafford.
It is no exaggeration to say that the heart has been ripped out of the club after 11 defeats in 34 league games.
This time, United’s latest outgoing manager will have no say in who follows him. Ryan Giggs has taken temporary charge as United begin its search for the man who follows the man who followed Fergie.
The problem United has is that the usual suspects . . . Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp . . . have pledged its futures to Bayern and Borussia Dortmund. Also, Barcelona will be seeking a new manager soon which is likely to be more appealing for prospective candidates than Manchester United, which will not be playing European football next season.
Louis van Gaal has put himself in the frame for most potential posts, but at 63 he is hardly a long-term investment and has averaged three years at his last six jobs. His autocratic style of management would not fit in well at Old Trafford while his approach to the media tends to be to treat any critical question as a personal insult.
The Dutch coach would not be available until after their World Cup fate has been decided, though if the Netherlands underachieves as it did at Euro 2012 that will be sooner rather than later.
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JUST WHEN you think there are no new depths to which Mourinho can sink in his world of paranoia, self-pity and conspiracy theories, the Chelsea manager pulls another rabbit out of the hat.
This week he was charged yet again by the Football Association with improper conduct for effectively saying Mike Riley, head of the elite referees and his match officials were out to get Chelsea.
The sad thing is, in Mourinho’s mind it is true. I estimate Mourinho has faced around 20 disciplinary charges during his time with Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid. Each time they were picking on Mourinho for no reason other than they didn’t like him and/or his team.
Even Chelsea fans have tired of his predictable outbursts against authority following a defeat. On Planet Mourinho, Chelsea is never beaten because it played badly or the opposition was better — only because of a refereeing conspiracy started at the highest level. The media, who usually love a ready-made back-page headline, are also bored with writing the same story.
Mourinho thought he was being clever by thanking referee Mike Dean for his “fantastic” performance when Chelsea lost 2-1 to Sunderland and Riley for the way he organized the refereeing system. The F.A. rightly interpreted his sarcasm as questioning the men’s integrity and my guess is that Mourinho will throw his toys out of the pram and not attend any domestic news conferences.
Rui Faria, one of Mourinho’s coaching team, faces a stadium ban after he had to be physically restrained from confronting Dean, while Ramires will be given a four-game suspension for elbowing Sebastian Larsson. Another quiet week for a Mourinho team.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.