Bale, Fabregas, Kroos: How Man Utd could have lined up under David Moyes

  • Kobe Tong
Moyes reflects on Man Utd spell.

David Moyes has taken his tenure at Manchester United as a major source of learning.

The West Ham United boss was given the impossible task of stepping into Sir Alex Ferguson’s shoes in 2013, duly drawing the curtain on a wildly successful 11 years with Everton.

And while it’s no secret that things didn’t work out for Moyes across just 10 months at Old Trafford, the experience of taking on such a high-profile job has nevertheless made him an even better coach.

Moyes on his Man Utd tenure

During a fascinating appearance on the High Performance Podcast, the 58-year-old looked back on his spell at United with an admirable level of self-awareness, intelligence and reflection.

Nevertheless, Moyes was still happy to admit that there would have been certain things that he would have done differently if he could go back in time and take the reins at United all over again.

The Scotsman remarked while chatting to Jake Humphrey and Professor Damian Hughes: “I felt that keeping at least one or two of Sir Alex’s staff would have been really important, which I did try and do.

“In the end, it didn’t quite work that way. I tried to add Ryan Giggs, Phil Neville, people who had experience.

“But me going into Manchester United, if I could fix it and go back, I needed Rene Meulensteen to stay or Mike Phelan to stay. I’ve admitted and said that. If I got that opportunity again, that’s what I would do.”

Moyes in his Man Utd days.
Football – Manchester United v Bayern Munich – UEFA Champions League Quarter Final First Leg – Old Trafford, Manchester, England – 1/4/14 Manchester United’s manager David Moyes at full time Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Jason Cairnduff Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

Moyes’ transfer ambitions

And no doubt another great source of ‘what could have been?’ for Moyes during his time at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ would be what United could, and perhaps should, have achieved in the transfer market.

While the winter purchase of Juan Mata was undoubtedly a coup, there’s no denying that Moyes’ sole summer transfer window at the reins of Old Trafford was an incredibly frustrating one.

Read more: The High Performance Podcast hub

With Marouane Fellaini proving the only major incoming, you couldn’t help feeling that United had fallen short of Alan Hansen’s immortal advice: “the trick is to be buy while you’re strong.”

Nevertheless, it most certainly wasn’t down to a lack of trying from Moyes, who has happily admitted to some of the grand transfer plans that he hoped to achieve from the off in 2013.

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What Moyes’ Man Utd XI could have looked like

So, in light of Moyes’ fascinating reflections on his time as United manager, we wanted to put our tinfoil hats on and imagine how the Red Devils could have lined up if they nailed all of their transfer ambitions.

From world-beating midfielders to a Premier League-proven winger, you can’t help wondering what might have been for Moyes when you check out our hypothetical line-up down below:

GK: David de Gea

At the expense of stating the obvious, there was absolutely no need to invest in a new goalkeeper with De Gea going onto win the first of his four Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year awards in Moyes’ solitary season.

Man Utd's De Gea at Old Trafford.
Soccer Football – Champions League – Round of 16 Second Leg – Manchester United v Atletico Madrid – Old Trafford, Manchester, Britain – March 15, 2022 Manchester United’s David de Gea reacts REUTERS/Phil Noble

LB: Leighton Baines

While Baines might not feel like a fashionable choice these days, lest we forget that he was a regular for England at the time and remains one of the Premier League’s most underrated full-backs ever.

However, in the end, Moyes’ widely reported interest in his former Everton lieutenant never led to a complete agreement with Baines later explaining in 2014: “The whole thing in the summer was letting things unfold.

“I could have signed a contract at any time in the summer and put it all to bed.” But in the end, it was Everton who won the tug-of-war and Baines never left until his retirement in 2020.

Everton's Baines in 2013.
Football – Austria Vienna v Everton – Pre Season Friendly – Franz Horr Stadium, Vienna, Austria – 14/7/13 Everton’s Leighton Baines Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Andrew Couldridge Livepic

CB: Nemanja Vidic

Yes, there were murmurings that Phil Jagielka was on United’s radar, but we’re erring on the side of caution with the former England man having signed a new long-term contract at Everton earlier in the year.

Plus, Vidic is hardly a bad alternative with the Premier League icon still amassing 34 appearances during Moyes’ season despite it ultimately proving to be his last in the famous red jersey.

CB: Phil Jones

No centre-back made more appearances during Moyes’ tenure than Jones, so he swaggers into the XI by default as the second of three players to still call Old Trafford their home.

Man Utd's Jones and Moyes.
Football – Sunderland v Manchester United – Barclays Premier League – Stadium of Light – 5/10/13 Manchester United Manager David Moyes and Phil Jones (R) congratulate Adnan Januzaj (C) after the final whistle Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Craig Brough Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or live services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

RB: Rafael 

Say what you like about Rafael’s time with United, but the simple fact of the matter is that he was the club’s starting right-back at the time, even if – like Vidic – his time would soon be up.

CM: Cesc Fabregas

A near-miss for United with Fabregas ultimately staying at Barcelona for one more season, before sealing a move to Chelsea that saw him win his first and last Premier League titles.

According to the Guardian, Moyes explained in 2016: “The other one I came really close to getting was Cesc Fàbregas, who we thought we would get [from Barcelona] right up until the last minute.”

He then added: “The Cesc one was disappointing, it was very close.”

Fabregas scores for Barcelona.
Barcelona’s Cesc Fabregas (R) celebrates his goal against Celta Vigo with teammate Marc Bartra during their Spanish first division soccer match at the Balaidos stadium in Vigo October 29, 2013. REUTERS/Miguel Vidal (SPAIN – Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

CM: Marouane Fellaini 

It would be rude of us not to include the one major player that Moyes did indeed sign during that fateful summer of 2013, even if Fellaini actually produced his best performances under Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.

CM: Toni Kroos

In what sounds like the most painful miss of the bunch, Moyes actually revealed that Kroos – who went onto stay at Bayern Munich until a 2014 move to Real Madrid – had actually agreed to a United move.

“Toni Kroos had agreed to come in the summer,” Moyes reflected. “I’d agreed it with Toni himself and his agent. It was a done deal, so that was the level I was targeting – but sometimes you don’t get deals done.”

Kroos scores for Bayern.
Football – Arsenal v Bayern Munich – UEFA Champions League Second Round First Leg – Emirates Stadium, London, England – 19/2/14 Bayern Munich’s Toni Kroos (C) celebrates scoring their first goal with team mates Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Tony O’Brien Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

LW: Wayne Rooney

As much as we could have shuffled Mata into the team here, we simply had to find a place for Wayne Rooney with the club’s all-time leading scorer topping the goal charts under Moyes’ watch.

ST: Robin van Persie

In the end, Van Persie was already showing signs of tailing off near the back end of Moyes’ tenure, but we couldn’t leave him out fresh from a season where he won a second consecutive Premier League Golden Boot.

Van Persie in his Man Utd days.
Football – Manchester United v Hull City – Barclays Premier League – Old Trafford – 29/11/14 Robin Van Persie celebrates after scoring the third goal for Manchester United Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Jason Cairnduff Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or “live” services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

RW: Gareth Bale

Boy would this have been the jewel in United’s crown. Take it away, David: “When I first went in to United my real target was Gareth Bale.

“I felt all along that Gareth Bale was a Manchester United player and I fought to get him [from Tottenham] right up until the last minute.

“We actually offered him a bigger deal than Real Madrid but Gareth had his mind made up on going to Madrid. He was, though, in my mind, the player I really wanted.”

Bale scores for Tottenham.
Football – Tottenham Hotspur v Southampton – Barclays Premier League – White Hart Lane – 4/5/13 Gareth Bale celebrates after scoring the first goal for Tottenham Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Andrew Couldridge Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or live services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

Bonus: Cristiano Ronaldo

Oh, and Moyes even explained that: “Sir Alex [Ferguson] had told me there was always a chance Ronaldo might come back from Real Madrid,” but we didn’t want to completely jump the shark!

What could have been?

Just how realistic it would have been for Moyes to pull off all of those signings remains to be seen, but the evidence certainly suggests that he threw the kitchen sink at his high-reaching ambitions.

When you think about all the turmoil that United have been through since Ferguson hung up his hairdryer, you can’t help thinking that they should have given Moyes far more time to shine.

Besides, you’d be forgiven for looking at our imaginary XI and thinking that Moyes, by no fault of his own, could just have been a few negotiations away from getting the fresh faces and time that he deserved.

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