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Tuesday, April 22, 2014 

Moyes deserved better.

The sacking of David Moyes as Manchester United manager after less than 10 months is pretty much a perfect summation of everything wrong with modern football at the highest level.

First, the sheer sense of entitlement, both of the modern fan and the modern owner/board.  Manchester United won the Premier League last season by 11 points with more or less the same team.  Manchester United have not finished outside the top four in the league in more than 20 years.  Ergo, for Moyes to achieve neither of these things in his first season in charge meant he had to go.  The game has changed since the days when managers of the "top" sides were allowed to bed in, as Alex Ferguson himself was.  Except, as Brendan Rodgers has proved at Liverpool, a year to establish yourself can make all the difference.  Last season a team reliant on Steven Gerrard and Luiz Suarez failed to qualify for the Champions League; this season, a team reliant on Steven Gerrard, Luiz Suarez and Daniel Sturridge looks set to win the title, an outcome absolutely no one predicted.  Believing it is your right to always be challenging for everything when you either refuse to or cannot afford to spend the £100m or more on new players your opponents have is deluded.

Second, the still rising cult of the player.  Moyes should have known his time was bound to be short when Wayne Rooney, of all people, apparently gained the right to be informed of moves to sign players as part of the panicked deal put together to stop him from leaving the club, having pulled exactly the same trick just a couple of years earlier.  Rooney is the embodiment of where football in this country has been headed for some time: an overconfident, over hyped and grossly overrated slab of passive aggressive impotence. Whether for club or country, his performances in the most important games have never been more than perfunctory. If he had been born anywhere other than England he would be regarded as an also-ran, a great player on his day, but little more than that. The irony here is his deal seems to have made him one of the few not to come into conflict with Moyes. Rather than being given the chance to dispose of the ageing, declining squad left him by Ferguson and build a new team, the same players still likely to leave this summer have triumphed, just as the squads at Chelsea and Spurs both did over Andre Villas-Boas.

Third then is the dichotomy between the billionaires owning the top sides for whom money is no object and those, like the Glazers, who prefer to use their purchase more for debt leveraging. Say what you like about Fergie, and I have and will say plenty, he made the best of the hand given him by the Glazers. He also chose the right moment to get out, bequeathing Moyes a team that won the league last season thanks to the failings/rebuilding process of their rivals rather than due to sweeping all in their path aside. Despite knowing they couldn't keep getting away with it, the new chairman Ed Woodward chased impossibilities and cocked up comprehensively on Leighton Baines. January brought only Juan Mata, who it seems Jose Mourinho was right to let leave. The damage done, the blame has been laid on Moyes. If there's any solace he can take, it's that the mega spending City also look set to end the season having won nothing (update: they did of course win the Capital One Cup, but whether that counts as success for Sheikh Mansour is another matter), as will Chelsea, unless the "Special One" inspires his side past Atletico Madrid and then either Real or Bayern Munich.

Fourth is the collusion between the media and the top clubs. Look for a divergent opinion today on Moyes and you'll have trouble: the same journalists and pundits who thought he was the right choice last year all say he had to be sacked today, albeit with caveats.  Unless you provide great copy day in day out, ala Harry Redknapp, or are universally liked as Roberto Martinez seems to be, those hacks assigned to cover a particular area or even just one club are always going to be more inclined to favour building relationships with the club instead of the manager.  After all, they're always going to be there while the manager could be gone tomorrow.  Some managers are able to overcome this either through tyranny, as Fergie so often did, banishing or refusing to speak to hacks for the merest of perceived slights, or developing favourites, but once a club enters "crisis" mode, which can be as a result of as little as a couple of losses, neither often counts for much.

Last is the elevation of certain managers to genius status.  This isn't to deny that some figures have through the strength of their personality, choice of tactics and insight into the game shaped individual players and teams to the point where they have been the crucial factor.  For all Manchester United's riches, it would be perverse to deny Fergie didn't have something special, while you can also point towards Brian Clough, Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola as others deserving of similar status.  When though it's reached the point that plenty of pundits picked Chelsea to win the league at the beginning of the season purely on the back of the return of Mourinho, ignoring his team's obvious weaknesses, all it does is encourage precisely the kind of behaviour Maureen has displayed at a couple of points this season.  They begin to believe football can't do without them, when it most certainly can.  It also denigrates those who don't blame referees, or everything other than the deficiencies of their players when they lose.

This isn't to pretend Moyes doesn't have to face some criticism for the way United have played this season.  At times his team set-up was baffling, as were the games when his main instruction seemed to be to urge them to try and break the world record for the number of crosses into the box.  He has though been sorely let down: by players who regardless of advancing years haven't given their all; by injuries, with van Persie crocked for long periods of the season, as have been Ferdinand and Vidic; by the board and vice chairman; and ultimately, Alex Ferguson.  The man who chose his successor has given no indication that he tried to defend Moyes, and neither has he made any comment now he's been dispensed with.  Just as he so often pointed the finger elsewhere when his charges failed, so now he won't take any responsibility.  Moyes, over promoted or not when he hadn't won a trophy, deserved better.

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