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Dublin: 13°C Monday 21 September 2020

Why David Moyes is the William H Macy of English football

The coach oversaw another highly disappointing performance from Manchester United last night.

Moyes has endured a disappointing tenure as United boss so far.
Moyes has endured a disappointing tenure as United boss so far.

IF THIS YEAR’S Premier League season was made into a Hollywood movie, the part of David Moyes would undoubtedly be played by William H Macy — the archetypal luckless anti-hero that nothing seems to ever go right for, despite having the best of intentions.

What invariably makes Macy’s characters so compelling is that — while they may be bumbling, inept and deeply uncool — they are so hapless that you cannot help but feel a degree of sympathy for them.

Moyes, similarly, has seldom enjoyed good fortune since taking over at United. Even the odd occasions when it feels as if he may be turning a corner are increasingly beginning to resemble anomalies – the 1-0 League Cup win over Liverpool, for instance, was followed by a 2-1 league loss at home to West Brom, while the 1-0 defeat of Arsenal came just before a 2-2 draw with relegation-threatened Cardiff. Moreover, after their consummate 5-0 destruction of Bayer Leverkusen, which was so impressive that it would have had critics hailing them as potential Champions League winners any other year, they managed just one point from the ensuing three league games. Six consecutive wins thereafter were followed by three consecutive losses. To paraphrase The Godfather (and continue the Hollywood theme), just when Moyes thought he was out… they pulled him back in.

And of course, last night, the optimism derived from their 2-0 win over Palace at the weekend all but evaporated amid a tame loss by the same scoreline to Olympiakos. The game represented United’s season in microcosm – “flat,” as Roy Keane memorably described it, and the antithesis to the type of imperious performances they had been routinely delivering for more than two decades pre-Moyes.

Yet what makes this Greek tragedy so universal is not the fact that it epitomises the sudden downfall of one of the game’s most prestigious and decorated clubs. United fans and romantics who reminisce about the ‘Busby Babes’ will undoubtedly regret that the side are no longer the force that they once were, but the average football fan will, if not savour, certainly feel a sense of relief that recent events have finally occurred.

For many years, the Red Devils seemed to have a near-monopoly on success in the English game. So isn’t it about time someone else experienced unremitting glory for a change?

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester United v Swansea City - Old Trafford Source: EMPICS Sport

(Manchester United in happier times)

Nevertheless, the true sadness intrinsic to United’s ostensibly limitless descent can be found in the increasingly withered and worried face of David Moyes. Even the most ardent anti-United fans would have felt an ounce of empathy for the 50-year-old when the BT Sport cameras began focusing almost unerringly on his depressed demeanour during the club’s embarrassing FA Cup defeat by Swansea last month.

Similarly, on Tuesday night, the United manager was commendably gracious in defeat, taking responsibility for the loss and making it almost impossible for ABUs to revel in his disappointment. Therefore, as he demonstrated on that occasion and on many other instances throughout the season, Moyes appears to be one of football’s few remaining good guys. He is a beacon of dignity in contrast with, say, Jose Mourinho. There is a nastiness and sense of insecurity in Mourinho’s behaviour — from his over-the-top condemnation of Stephen Hunt following his innocuous challenge on Petr Cech to his recent disreputable description of Arsene Wenger as a “failure” — that is seemingly absent from Moyes’ nature, notwithstanding the odd frustrated referee-related quip he has made in this most pressurised of campaigns.

All of which makes most of the people in football want to see him succeed — there is an ostensible decency about Moyes, which is an all-too-rare characteristic in the modern game, with its increasingly toxic financial focus. It also explains why the majority of commentators seem eager to effectively absolve the Scottish coach from blame, despite the disaster that is enfolding on his watch.

The arguments in Moyes’ favour are, of course, not entirely unreasonable. He undeniably inherited a team that was weaker than their status as Premier League champions suggested. He has been unlucky with injuries to key players, including Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney. And he could not be held primarily responsible for the club’s struggle to attract big names in the summer transfer window — executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward’s lack of experience in such matters was surely a greater factor.

Nonetheless, at the same time, the season so far could not have gone much worse for the Old Trafford outfit. The Champions League — the competition that they are unlikely to even qualify for next season — remains the one distant hope in their increasingly doomed-looking bid to win a major trophy in Moyes’ first season — something that’s failed to happen only five times since Alex Ferguson won the first trophy of his tenure, the FA Cup, in 1990.

But despite this impending fiasco, the gut reaction among the majority has been to virtually abdicate David Moyes from responsibility and point the finger largely at the players who granted, by most accounts, are underperforming.

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Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Group C - Benfica v Manchester United - Estadio da Luz Source: Mike Egerton

(Ex-United great Roy Keane has defended David Moyes in the wake of criticism)

Even the invariably acid-tongued Keane has consistently insisted that Moyes needs time, though he came close to attacking the ex-Everton boss on ITV last night when he suggested that some of United’s inept performers were “trying their best,” and explaining how it wasn’t “their fault” that they were getting picked.

Yet Keane is not alone in his instinct to back Moyes — few eminent football pundits have called for the latter to be sacked. And to suggest he should be given time at a club that has traditionally afforded it to managers is by no means unreasonable, especially given how successful this policy has been, but to infer that he is blameless is a step too far.

His tactics frequently seem uninspired — René Meulensteen — speaking after bottom-of-the-table Fulham recently secured a surprise draw with United at Old Trafford, admitted that, with an efficiently organised defence, their attack was relatively easy to combat.

In addition, there is a lingering perception that Moyes is innately conservative in his footballing approach, adopting a style that will bring a team so far but lacks the level of daring that his predecessor and the majority of the all-time great football managers have frequently demonstrated. For instance, it’s impossible to imagine Moyes dropping Rooney, as Ferguson did for their vital Champions League tie against Real Madrid last year — a gamble that arguably would have paid off were it not for one highly contentious refereeing decision.

And this unadventurous philosophy, favoured by Moyes, was evident once more last night. Adnan Januzaj — United’s teenage midfield prodigy was left out of the matchday squad, whereas players such as Ashley Young and Tom Cleverley — who have persistently flattered to deceive this year — were retained. The way United finished the game — with Rooney in midfield and Kagawa behind the lone striker Van Persie, problematic though it was, at least had a sense of imagination about it and would have been a far better selection to start with. Consequently, United’s performance improved noticeably in the final few minutes, but by then, it was too late.

While the pundits may continue to argue that Moyes needs time, the fans are seldom so forgiving. #MoyesOut began trending on Twitter in light of the 2-0 loss, and talk already turned to who the club could replace him with in the summer.

Whatever happens, Moyes’ first post-season conversation with the club’s American owners will surely resemble the opening scene of Fargo – the movie in which William H Macy is most irrevocably associated. An alternate conversation might go as follows…

Moyes: I’m in a bit of trouble…

Glazer: What kind of trouble are you in, David?

Moyes: Well, that’s, that’s… I’m not gonna go into, inta… see, I just need money!

However, whether they persist in trusting him — as Carl Showalter ill-advisedly did with Jerry Lundegaard — is another matter.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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