Football

Manchester United: No more Mr Nice Guy?

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Two of the best? (©GettyImages)
Two of the best? (©GettyImages).

Manchester United need a 'big beast' right now to restore the club to where it should have been had David Moyes never been appointed.

In October 2012 I forecast Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement, arguing that Moyes was not the right candidate (nor was Jose Mourinho), but Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti and Jurgen Klopp were.

We do not start 'witch hunts' here, but it was obvious long ago in so many ways, that Moyes was unsuitable and crystal clear after the Olympiakos debacle. From the moment he ditched Sir Alex's backroom staff and implemented a staff with zero experience of managing a team or a club of this scale, he was courting disaster.

Whatever the ins and outs of Rene Meulensteen's departure, it is clear that he was tactically entirely right for United's style of play and the players always trained with a ball. With Jimmy Lumsden in his stead they faced 'boot camp' style training.

The players increasingly played with little apparent tactical nous, looking unlikely to score and as if they had been flogged like horses until they were mentally and physically exhausted.

This is not the United way.

We take no pleasure in starting the siren calls immediately after the woeful display in Greece. That performance, the tactics and the 'don't lose' attitude belied the exhilarating attacking style that won me as a supporter over 57 years ago and has kept me enthralled ever since.

The signs were very clear then and, for those people who would point to better results since, against weaker teams the players probably felt more confident to express themselves; and in those last three stirring Champions' League battles they showed the 'never say die' spirit that typified their former manager.

Having foreseen the disasters against Liverpool and Manchester City, even before the latter match we were asserting that nothing had changed and that Sir Alex was the man to do the decent thing.

Finally, and long before the Everton match (which showed very clearly that United were going backwards at an alarming rate), we implored the Glazers to take action:

"As soon as practicable the board must meet; the Glazers should propose that the manager be asked to resign; Sir Alex should pass the message personally. And starting immediately they need a proper selection and interview process. The outcome of which should almost certainly be the appointment of a senior professional ideally with experience of winning national championships and the Champions' League, but certainly with unquestioned credibility.

The best candidates would be: Louis van Gaal, Guus Hiddink, Jurgen Klopp, Diego Simeone, or Antonio Conte.

Common sense suggests that his assistant should be a younger, long-term prospect for succession, such as Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs or Frank de Boer. In an ideal world Rene Meulensteen would be re-installed as first team coach.

An appointment within a few weeks would send a message of certainty to prospective signings, including the sheer kudos of the successful candidate himself. The necessary transfer window activity could then be concluded ideally before the World Cup but certainly well before the start of next season.

The renaissance of Manchester United can then begin, this time properly."

No more Mr Nice Guy

It is in no way patronising to state that David Moyes appears to be, as he always has, an honest, decent, thoroughly well-intentioned, wholly committed man of much integrity.

The way his departure has been handled is horrible. Whoever was responsible for the leak on Monday that led to Ian Ladyman and others announcing that Moyes was a 'goner' should be ashamed of themselves.

Of course, finally, it was a business decision to let him go. If we could see what was staring us in the face as long ago as 2 March, you can bet that Sir Alex, Sir Bobby, Ed Woodward and the Glazers will have thought the same thing.

United's notorious loyalty, Fergie's imprimatur and the determination to continue a dynasty may have got in the way, but at the death it was a 'no-brainer'; and so was the timing.

Some time ago it had been suggested that there was a 'get-out' clause in Moyes' contract such that if United failed to qualify for the Champions League it could be terminated with a one-year settlement.

There are, understandably, still United supporters who are horrified that Moyes wasn't given the time that Sir Alex was at the start of his reign. But they overlook a more relevant example of Wilf McGuinness, also a decent guy, who succeeded Sir Matt Busby and who was also clearly out of his depth.

You cannot blame Moyes for accepting the 'once in a lifetime' opportunity that Sir Alex offered him little more than a year ago, but he may eventually reflect that it might have been better to turn it down or better still, to have served an apprenticeship under the Scottish knight first.

It is to be hoped for his sake that he has learned from the experience. Be in no doubt, he will take his time considering his next job and will come back a better manager with a challenge more suited to his limited experience at the 'top table' of success.

But with Jurgen Klopp apparently distancing himself from the United job for now, the greatest likelihood is that, guided rather than told by Sir Alex, the Glazers and Ed Woodward are more likely to go for a 'big beast' this time.

Who should United appoint as manager?

In an ideal world the original suggestions of Guardiola, Ancelotti or Klopp would be the short-list of three now that United are going through a proper recruitment process (where else in big business does a retiring Chief Executive 'anoint' his successor anyhow?)

It is doubtful if any of those three will be available, but if Real Madrid do the usual thing and dump yet another world class manager whether or not he is successful, Ancelotti would be an outstanding candidate. He was treated shabbily at Chelsea and Sir Alex has a huge regard for him.

Louis van Gaal's name has been touted so widely that even despite his own massive self-publicity machine you have to consider him to be a serious contender.

Diego Simeone and Antonio Conte's time will come and they would certainly bring a Latin flair to United, playing the kind of football that Real Madrid and Brazil played when Sir Alex fell in love with 'the beautiful game'.

When Sir Alex last announced his retirement, probably the best candidate at the time was Ottmar Hitzfeld, hugely admired by the 'great Scot'. The nearest equivalent right now (and a possible surprise candidate) would be Jupp Heynckes.

One of the best managers in world football he was shabbily treated by Bayern Munich once they realised Pep Guardiola was available and, having won the Champions League, he was dispensed with.

Which all leads us to the best way for United to dig themselves out of this mess.

There can be no doubt that Sir Alex had the likes of Ryan Giggs, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Gary Neville in mind as future United managers long before he retired, but the timing was too soon.

Ironically his unplanned scenario of Moyes' rapid demise accelerates the possibility of the latter happening, but not yet. In our view the three best candidates would be Ancelotti, Heynckes and Van Gaal. The latter may have his detractors because of his previous 'confrontational' style, but the mess that Moyes has left requires clear and decisive leadership, plus continuity.

So the 'dream ticket' would be one of the above three as manager, with Giggs as Assistant and heir apparent. The restoration of Meulensteen as first team coach would be hugely popular with the players and entirely plausible if fellow Dutchman Van Gaal was manager.

Chris Woods should be kept as goalkeeping coach and there is no reason to dispense with the services of Phil Neville, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes on the coaching team. Warren Joyce should definitely remain as Under 21 coach because of the welter of young talent he is bringing through (like James Wilson, Saidi Janko and Andreas Perreira). Rio Ferdinand could certainly be added as a defensive coach.

None of the above guarantees success but there are ominous echoes of when Brian Clough took over at Leeds for his ill-fated 44 day reign. In the end it was the 'big beasts' in the dressing room who drove him away.

And indeed, whatever the other ins and outs of the sorry and regrettable saga at United, either individually or collectively the players do not emerge with great credit, especially the ones who are leaving, those who were reluctant to play, any who privately briefed their reservations and those who beat a path to Sir Alex's front door.

David Moyes was, is and remains a decent man; the manner of his departure belies United's tradition of doing the right thing the right way. It now behoves the Board and their chosen successor to clear this mess up, rebuild the squad, put the train back on the tracks and take us back to the glory days.

If Liverpool can go from 7th to 1st in one season with a squad inferior to United's through firm leadership and playing committed attacking football, so can we.

Reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated...

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Topics:
Football
Manchester United
Premier League
Ryan Giggs
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