David Moyes is under the pump.
Anointed by Sir Alex Ferguson as the right man to take Manchester United into the next generation when the venerable Scot decided to step down, Moyes is being given a crash course in the pressure that comes with managing the world’s most famous football club.
Journalist Henry Winter wrote that Moyes was a ‘sound appointment’ and cautioned him to be himself instead of a replica of his storied predecessor, while Oliver Kay declared him a ‘kindred spirit’ of Ferguson.
Instead of opting for a Jose Mourinho-clone (read: passionate continental type), United chose a staid Scotsman, a man who would hopefully provide a smooth transition from one era to another.
So far, the road has been anything but smooth – and Moyes may be starting to confront the doubt that his best may not be good enough.
Three years ago I wrote about the prevalence of Glasgow-born managers in the English Premier League and speculated about how men hailing from the west of Scotland could make up 40 per cent – eight out of 20 – of the workforce in the world’s most competitive football league. That number has halved since then.
Of the managers occupying the top six places in the EPL – and yes, there’s a long way to go – two are Portuguese, one is French, one is Chilean, one is Northern Irish and one is Spanish.
Adding to Moyes’ woes is the form of his former side Everton.
After a rocky start there, Moyes converted the Goodison faithful with a string of punch-above-their-weight finishes.
In his last six seasons on Merseyside, Moyes led Everton to finish fifth, fifth, eighth, seventh, seventh and sixth.
Most people thought Moyes was wringing every last drop out of a low-budget squad but, after seeing the football the Toffees are producing this season with a subtly augmented team, perhaps Moyes was the thing holding them back.
Roberto Martinez’s Everton are in fifth place, six points better off than United who are ninth, but Martinez – at least so far – has them playing with a colour and flair largely absent under his predecessor.
Moyes gives the impression of a man immune to panic, and certainly securing a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League in the New Year is a strong step forward.
United fans may be getting restless, but they will remember or have been told of the ballad of Ferguson, who endured three trophy-less years at Old Trafford before transforming the club into the modern goliath they have become.
But, in 2013, patience doesn’t stretch as far as it used to. It looks as though Moyes’ message is getting lost in translation, and he needs to clarify it shortly or he could see his Red dream evaporate.
The burning questions
Were United right to keep Wayne Rooney?
The early indicators suggest yes – Rooney has scored eight goals in 13 league appearances this term, while Robin van Persie, to whom Rooney played second fiddle last term, has seven. One of the hallmarks of Ferguson’s reign was a keen awareness of when to move players on in the interests of regenerating the squad. Moyes’ approach to United life so far seems to be ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’, and only time will tell if he should have done more to refresh the dressing room.
Are wholesale changes needed?
When you’re 13 points behind the leaders, something needs to change – whether splashing the cash is the answer remains to be seen. The United squad is still very strong, but Ferguson was a master motivator and may have been able to extract something from the second-tier players that Moyes has been unable to so far.
Is the aura gone?
United have lost back-to-back home games for the first time since 2002. For Everton, it was their first league win at Old Trafford since 1992 while for Newcastle, they hadn’t taken all the points from a trip to United since 1972. Forget the players on the field – without the firebrand Ferguson patrolling the sidelines United are an altogether less frightening proposition. At least in the short term, while the Red Devils are still trying to find their feet under their new gaffer, teams that have been whipping boys for decades will fancy their chances of coming out on top.