Comment: Manchester United manager David Moyes recycles endlessly for green shoots of revival

The new manager's answer has been to throw players at the conundrum in a variety of permutations

There is no crisis in the English game quite like a car crash at Manchester United. The morbid interest in the apparent decline of a powerful institution draws the nation’s eyes to Old Trafford hoping to see more blood on the floor. United can’t complain. They have had it their own way long enough.

Five defeats this season was the juicy detail feeding the appetite for gore ahead of tonight’s engagement with Shakhtar Donetsk, two of them successively at home. A run like that would have had Sir Alex Ferguson hopping from one foot to the other but not yet, it seems, David Moyes.

A remarkable feature of Moyes’s early reign has been his demeanour, always measured. He went through his pre-match rituals as if he were taking United’s juniors for a run-out at Carrington. The unconditional support of the board and, for the most part, the fans has effectively stretched an emotional safety net beneath him to protect against the heaviest fall.

Even the Roy Keane propaganda machine, insisting that Fergie is still operational at the club, his ego unable to accept the retreat from power, has not been allowed to disturbed Moyes’s equilibrium. Across the piece his words have been relatively few. He has not fuelled the debate around United’s poor start with incendiary contributions. And he has acknowledged disappointment without abandoning hope.

Perhaps his greatest accomplishment has been to make the debate about the players without blaming them. And so the idea gains traction that a squad that won the title by 11 points last season is somehow in desperate need of remedial attention if not renewal. 

Though Moyes would not want to spend too long browsing Twitter’s more rabid precincts, the majority among the United diaspora buy into the view. United’s midfield has been in need of attention for some time. This has  provided Moyes with a get-out-of-jail card. Ferguson masked the issue by force of will and personality, so the argument goes. It would be unreasonable to expect Moyes to pull the same confidence trick.

His answer has been to throw players at the conundrum with a variety of permutations. Tonight’s kaleidoscope saw Shinji Kagawa deployed in his favoured position in the “hole” behind Wayne Rooney. In support of Kagawa, at the base of the midfield triangle, Moyes restored the same pairing that was so effective in the thrashing of Bayer Leverkusen, Phil Jones and Ryan Giggs.

If it was hard to argue that United got lucky in Germany, it was equally clear that cohesion is not possible without stability. Moyes made eight changes from the side that lost to Newcastle. The nuanced understanding that comes with familiarity has been absent in his regime. The endless recycling of players in the search for nirvana has undermined the project at least as much as the lack of creativity in the middle of the park. That is all Moyes’s own work.

The first half was a microcosm of the story so far, fleeting moments, muscle memory, if you like, lingering from the days of plenty, interspersed with periods of high anxiety as Shakhtar’s meld of domestic and Brazilian talent ripped holes in Moyes’s vision. Some might have imagined spot-fixers were at work. How else to explain the fluffed shots and errant strikes with the United goal at Shakhtar’s mercy? Or maybe it was simply a matter of providence.

Part of Moyes’s appeal is his modesty, a commodity that suited the profile of the post. There is an earnest quality to his approach that sat well with his greatest advocate, Ferguson. It is his essential decency that is working for him in this period of transition. We could do with a change of luck, was the Moyes lament beforehand. And sure enough it came when Jones put his boot through the ball in the 67th minute to fire United in front.

With a draw the requirement to secure progress into the Champions league knockout stages as group winners, Moyes was on his way. If you are going to buy time as manager of United, maintaining interest in Europe is a prerequisite.

The domestic drama continues at Villa Park on Sunday, but at least Moyes travels on the back of a win. Behind the scenes the restructuring has begun. A recruitment infrastructure that had fallen into disrepair under Ferguson is receiving the Moyes treatment.

Though he has yet to reveal a style template that the world can readily associate with him, Moyes demonstrated at Everton his ability to spot a player. His scouting system was a thing of wonder, documented in Michael Calvin’s book The Nowhere Men, a loving treatise on the work of football’s hidden colony of grafters that spend their lives on the road looking for the next big thing.

This is where Moyes can make his mark, and a difference.

More on Manchester United...

Rooney rejects contract talks - reports

Five reasons why Moyes has got off to such a bumpy start

Comment: Moyes recycles endlessly for green shoots of revival

Keane slams Young as 'not good enough' and labels Rio performance 'ridiculous'

Manchester United 1 Shakhtar Donetsk 0 match report

United win will boost confidence, says Buttner

United must 'improve to progress', admits Moyes

Moyes at a loss to explain Premier League woes

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
News
An Apple iPhone 6 stands on display at the Apple Store
businessRegulators give iPhone 6 and 6 Plus the green light
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Britain's internet habits have been revealed in a new survey
tech
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
film
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
music
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
News
i100
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Arts and Entertainment
film
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style