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Comment: Patience at Manchester United for David Moyes will run out soon enough

Sir Alex Ferguson was allowed to go over three years before he started to win trophies with United

How quickly the pendulum swings. Two games ago Manchester United were two points off a Champions League place and being reconsidered as outside title candidates. Today the talk is of crisis or, in the words of David Moyes, of a team in need of urgent overhaul.

Moyes takes his side to Sunderland on Tuesday night for the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final seeking to avoid a third successive defeat. The bookies have shortened his odds for the sack to 14-1. You would have struggled to get 1,000-1 on his predecessor being led to the gallows.

Four defeats in six at Old Trafford is clearly unsustainable. So is the idea that Moyes has time to turn things around. Football is a different beast to the one Sir Alex Ferguson encountered when he came south from Aberdeen almost 30 years ago. Back then all he had to worry about was knocking Liverpool off their perch.

Today United’s immediate rivals are no longer domestic, necessarily. They include Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Nor is the competition measured only in points, but pounds. The Forbes Rich List is a table that matters as much as any other for the prestige it confers on a blue-chip brand at the top of a global business worth billions. Football generates money on an industrial scale and failure is not an option.

The legs have gone on the quaint notion that Moyes can wander the corridors of Old Trafford sucking on his pipe as Fergie did, weeding out the bad eggs, cultivating youth and waiting patiently for the tide to turn. There is no scope for a Mark Robins to pop out of the margins three years down the line to save his job. United can sustain one blank year in the Champions League if they have to. Not two. It won’t matter if Fergie thinks Moyes might deliver, given space, or that the owners agree that he is a nice bloke. Sentiment will not come into it if United enter 2015 stuck in the midden.

Moyes has done a half-decent job of persuading the football community that a squad good enough to clean out the Premier League by 11 points last season is a now a basket case. He has persuaded Wayne Rooney back into the fold and signed Adnan Januzaj to a long-term deal. But whether you agree that he has done a good job or not, the make-up of his team is only part of the issue. What is in urgent need of attention is the interior structures of a house built 27 years ago.

Sir Alex Ferguson watches Manchester United from the stands

For example, Moyes inherited an antiquated scouting system overseen by Fergie’s brother, Martin, that bore no relation to the sophisticated outreach programme that he had installed at Everton, which had as many as 500 players classified and logged in an ante-chamber at Goodison Park.

Ferguson was the last of the great empire builders. The success he forged gave him power and earned him the respect of the American ownership, who saw no reason to interfere with methods, however outmoded, that had served the club well in an era of unprecedented returns. That is changing under the stewardship of new chief executive Ed Woodward, who has to justify his own position in a different way to the man he succeeded, David Gill.

Fergie was arguably heading for the fall Moyes has inherited. In the years 1998-2005 the club’s net transfer spend was £129m, 12 per cent of revenue. In the final eight years of Ferguson’s reign the net spend increased to £153m, but at only six per cent of revenue that represented a 50 per cent reduction in money available for transfers.

Being neither cash- nor time-rich, Moyes has it all to do to avoid the fate of Wilf McGuinness, who lasted just 18 months following United’s first great empire builder, Sir Matt Busby, 45 years ago.


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