Holding on: David Moyes has endured a difficult start to his reign at Old Trafford. photo: Hase Don

Where did it all go wrong for Manchester United?

During one of the few shifts of my brief bartending career, a drunken Manchester United fan staggered up to the bar and proposed a wager to one of my colleagues: £50 that his team would finish outside of the Champions League places in the 2013/2014 season.

It was the night of the Champions League final, shortly after the announcement of David Moyes’ succession of Sir Alex Ferguson in the Old Trafford hot seat, and although many believed that the season would be one of transition and Moyes’ chances of landing a Premier League title in his maiden season were slim, this suggestion provoked more than a few laughs.

‘Surely you can’t take this man’s money’, we thought. ‘If this were a boxing match, a TKO would be called before the bell had even been rung’. But his level of pessimism towards his team was matched only by his blood-alcohol level and the bet was accepted with glee by my fellow bartender.

It’s fair to say the landscape has changed somewhat since that night, however.

At the time of writing, the Red Devils sit in seventh, seven points behind fourth-placed Liverpool, with Everton and Tottenham in between and Newcastle breathing down their necks in eighth. This dramatic change in United’s fortunes has come to the delight of many football fans across the country, who are now witnessing one of the tightest and most exciting title races in the Premier League era – all without the country’s historically most successful club who have become something of a laughing stock.

Certain fans have called out for Moyes’ dismissal, claiming he has single-handedly replicated the actions of his biblical namesake and brought the Goliath of a football club to its knees. #MoyesOut appears to trend on Twitter after nearly every disappointing result that United have had this season and, to the fans that have been used to success year on year for a while now, there have been many; the latest being a defeat in a frankly awful penalty shootout with strugglers Sunderland in the League Cup semi-final.

So where’s the problem?

The transfer dealings of Manchester United this summer were, at best, confusing. Their search for a creative midfielder to replace the magician that was Paul Scholes after his second and final retirement did not end in the way that most fans wanted or expected. They missed out on almost all of their summer targets; a list including the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Gareth Bale, Ander Herrera, Sami Khedira, Daniele de Rossi, Leighton Baines and even former Red Cristiano Ronaldo, while the other top Premier League teams, perhaps smelling blood in the water, strengthened considerably.

United’s only major capture was Marouane Fellaini on deadline day in a deal surrounded by farce. Everton eventually let the Belgian go for four million pounds more than he would have been available for had United took action before his release clause expired. But however talented Fellaini is, he isn’t in the same mould as Paul Scholes and United still miss that creativity; they cannot even rely on the goals of the injury-prone Robin van Persie, who was so important to their success last year. Many of United’s existing stars have also failed to shine as brightly this year in a similar system to previous seasons, so perhaps not everything is down to Moyes.

Take Sir Alex out of the equation as well – who had been an integral cog in so many aspects of the club for 26 years – and a drop in position was in hindsight inevitable.

#MoyesOut appears to trend on Twitter after nearly every disappointing result that United have had this season

But are they being written off too soon? This is indeed, on the surface at least, the same team that only nine months ago regained the Premier League title from their ‘noisy neighbours’ with four games to spare and were narrowly beaten by Real Madrid in the Champions League after a controversial red card for Nani in the Round of 16.

Moyes has also proven himself as a tactically astute and experienced manager at this level, finishing between fourth and eighth in nine of his eleven full seasons at Everton on a budget dwarfed by the clubs around him, and qualifying for European competition four times.

The signing of Juan Mata, the retention of Wayne Rooney’s services and the emergence of Adnan Januzaj are all promising signs for the club. The signing of Mata could also prompt a welcome freshening of the classic 4-4-2 formation that United have traditionally fielded for decades, and is a statement of intent for the future.

If United can pick up some valuable points against the teams around them, which has been a struggle for them this season, they are certainly capable of finishing fourth, in which case they will have another chance for Moyes to shape the team in his own image this summer.

With a third of the season yet to play, Manchester United’s and David Moyes’ track record of finishing the season strongly and their ability to focus on the league following their exit from the domestic cups, anything can happen between now and May. United aren’t a club in crisis just yet.


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