With the recent sacking of David Moyes, Manchester United once again face an uncertain future. Andy Twomey takes a look at five key problems that the latest manager will face.
1. More dynamism in the midfield
The Manchester United midfield lacks energy. One of the key signings United will surely make in the transfer window will be a midfielder who injects some much needed ambition and drive to the team. United’s main rivals in the league all have this type of player, Manchester City (Fernandinho or Toure), Chelsea (Ramires or Matic), and Liverpool have found a gem this season at playing the role in the form of Jordan Henderson. United’s main option in this department is Darren Fletcher, who given his age and health problems, is not a long term option. The other option is Marouane Fellaini who was a massive disappointment in his debut season and has serious questions marks over his mobility in a team that traditionally plays a high tempo game.
United need someone in the engine room, a box to box midfielder who isn’t afraid to put his foot in when needed. This has been lacking in the team since the departure of Roy Keane and it will surely be top of the shopping list for the incoming manager.
2. Clear out the deadwood
Roy Keane said in the press this week that the United players should be “ashamed of themselves” and it’s difficult to argue with the club’s former captain. Certain players simply have not delivered in recent times. Ashley Young, Nani, Tom Cleverley and Fellaini, among others, have routinely failed to make any impact on games and their contributions are nowhere near what is required from championship winning players.
Similarly, age is a problem in the current squad. Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra and the new interim manager Ryan Giggs are all either expected to leave or retire at the end of the current season. That is the core of a title-winning defence and a United legend all leaving in one season, the resulting void will be difficult to fill.
Perhaps most worryingly of all is that the jury still remains out on some players who at one stage represented a bright future for the club. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are undoubtedly talented but have not started regularly together and both have been played out of position. They have also both committed crucial mistakes at various points of the season that cost United valuable points. Will the incoming manager be willing to bank on their future promise, or will he look elsewhere and rebuild the faltering defence? Whatever the new man decides, major reinvestment will be required, a stark contrast to David Moyes’ activity in the transfer window last summer.
3. The backroom staff
It is difficult to believe that David Moyes was praised for forming his own United backroom team and putting his own stamp on the new regime just last summer. This now looks to have been a serious error from the former manager.
As United’s season crumbled, the spotlight duly shined upon the backroom staff and many began to wonder why nobody with experience in the running of the club or, with an in-depth knowledge of the players at the club, was kept for the new team. René Meulensteen was offered a background role, but a coach with his experience of the setup should have possibly been made a priority. In hindsight, this may have brought about a more seamless transition for Moyes. The only coach from the Moyes regime to escape with any praise is goalkeeping coach Chris Woods, who did a fantastic job on David De Gea, and he is being kept on as part of Ryan Giggs’ interim team.
The new manager must consequently decide the extent of the changes he wishes to make. Holding onto some of the coaches from the previous regime may seem unwise, given their link to one of the worst seasons in recent United history. That being said, surely someone with an intimate understanding of the club will be kept on, with Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes evidently fitting the bill.
4. The number 10 dilemma
Most managers might not consider it problematic to have three players with the abilities of Wayne Rooney, Shinji Kagawa and Juan Mata in their squad, but David Moyes found out it is an undeniable predicament. All three players love the number 10 role behind the main striker and all three players have shown their capabilities in the position at varying points of the season. However, the problem lies in playing all three players in the same team. When all three play together, two are required to take up wide positions or drop into central midfield.
The new manager faces a significant challenge, how to fit all three into a manageable system, if it is possible. Presumably Mata and Rooney will not be content in bit part roles as they are two of the highest earners at the club and have considerable reputations. If Robin Van Persie is fit he too will be expecting to play every game, this may well mean that three players are competing for one position which is far from ideal.
The new man coming in will need stability, and to maintain stability you need to have a consistent starting 11. Moyes picked 51 different starting teams in 51 games. One of the main reasons behind this was the fact that he could not fit in all the attacking players in a system that suited his style of play. Against Everton on Saturday, Wayne Rooney started up top with Mata and Kagawa constantly switching between the number 10 position and wider positions on the wing. United had plenty of possession but they looked toothless going forward, mostly owing to the uncertainty of what positions they were supposed to take up. The players will need to know where they stand from the outset, which may lead to (the often unhappy) Kagawa departing the club.
5. Leadership on and off the pitch
Club captain Nemanja Vidic has already announced his departure to Inter Milan in the summer and regular stand-in captain Patrice Evra also looks set to depart. This leaves yet another dilemma for the incoming manager. The club’s highest earner, Wayne Rooney, seems the obvious choice. He has captained the side already this season and looked to be Moyes’ choice. However, he has looked disinterested and frustrated for large parts of the season and his commitment to the team was called into question again before he signed a new contract. The new manager may question his ability to lead the team and may need to try to get Rooney interested and performing consistently again before appointing him permanent team captain. The current bookies favourite for the manager’s job, Louis Van Gaal, would surely favour Robin Van Persie for the captaincy if appointed given their close association in the current Dutch national team set up. Again, such a decision may run the risk of unsettling players who have been at the club for longer.
Perhaps a much bigger problem is the lack of leadership off the pitch. The majority of football fans will not question David Moyes’ intentions for the club. He was committed, hard working and generally well liked. Despite this Moyes’ leadership skills and man management have to be called into question. At no point in the season did Moyes look like he would berate a player for under performing, drop someone for making a mistake, or question a player’s commitment to the team. Instead, excuses were offered. Would a manager such as Ferguson or Mourinho allow suicidal defending from Patrice Evra or Nemanja Vidic go unpunished? Both players were consistently caught out all season long yet Moyes more often than not stuck by his players.
Tactically, the Scottish manager came up short in big games. United were out-classed by Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez each time Moyes met the Merseyside managers this season. Against Fulham earlier in the season Moyes praised his team for bombarding the opposition with hopeless crosses, and he was ill-advised in deploying a 4-3-3 formation in the 3-0 home defeat against City, which lead to the former manager saying:
“We have played a very good side, playing at the sort of level we are aspiring to.”
For a Manchester United manager to say that his team aspires to play like one of their biggest rivals is unforgivable. Moyes’ inability to stamp his authority on the team and show that his was the only voice that needed to be heard was one of the main reasons behind his sacking. Yes, the players are also largely to blame, but Moyes will surely recognise that the job was a step too far.
The incoming manager will need to be decisive and show the players that they answer only to him. United will need a character that can manage all the different personalities in the dressing room, in the mould of Jurgen Klopp, Carlo Ancellotti or Louis Van Gaal. A manager who is used to winning at the highest level and, more importantly, one who is willing to assert his authority over an underperforming squad. Whether this style of manager would be willing to join the club remains to be seen.
Andy Twomey, Pundit Arena.