David Moyes sacked: How his time at Manchester United went so very, very sour
With United seemingly in crisis, Glenn Moore charts the twists and turns that have seen their manager’s reputation unravel horribly in less than a year in the job
The offer was, as David Moyes himself related, out of the blue, not least because no one knew Sir Alex Ferguson was about to retire from his post as Manchester United manager having just secured his 13th Premier League title.
“Sir Alex gave me a call and asked me to come to his house,” said Moyes. “I was expecting him to say, ‘I’m going to take one of your players’. But the first thing he said to me was, ‘I’m retiring next week’. And his next words were, ‘You’re the next Manchester United manager’, so I didn’t get the chance to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I was told that I was the next manager and that was enough. It was incredible. Within half an hour he was talking about the squad and the players and the staff. I couldn’t believe it.”
That meeting was in the first week of May last year. Moyes revealed it upon his unveiling as Manchester United manager in July. In the intervening two months United were left in limbo as Moyes saw out his contract at Everton and Ed Woodward waited for David Gill, United’s chief executive, to stand down after a decade running the club. By the time Moyes and Woodward began work in earnest on 1 July Europe’s big clubs had already stolen a march in the transfer market.
Moyes and Woodward’s late start and lack of contacts at this elite level proved damaging. They had one success in the transfer market: they faced down the Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho’s attempt to lure Wayne Rooney away to Stamford Bridge.
But when it came to strengthening the team United missed out on target after target. Gareth Bale and Thiago Alcantara went elsewhere while Cesc Fabregas, Daniele de Rossi, Ander Herrera, Luka Modric, Sami Khedira, Fabio Coentrao and Leighton Baines could not be prised from their clubs.
Moyes did buy the midfielder Marouane Fellaini for £27.5m from his old club Everton in September, but having himself inserted a clause allowing Fellaini to leave for £4m less if a bid was received before the end of July, this seemed like a mixed success even before the Belgian’s patchy season at Old Trafford had started.
Moyes picked up a trophy in his first match, but beating relegated Wigan Athletic to win the Community Shield was nothing to boast about by United’s standards.
The title defence began well, Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck scoring two apiece as United won 4-1 at Swansea. Being held by Chelsea at home, and losing 1-0 at Anfield, then doused expectations but it was when United were crushed 4-1 at the Etihad, then lost 2-1 at home to West Bromwich Albion six days later, that alarm bells began to ring. Albion’s first win over United in more than 30 years left Moyes’ team 12th with seven points from six games. It was their worst start since the 1989-90 season and United were already eight points adrift of leaders Arsenal.
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Signs of recovery
By the start of December Moyes looked to be getting a grip on his task at hand. Having twice come from behind at Tottenham to draw 2-2, suggesting the players’ desire was not a problem, United had gone 12 games unbeaten. That run included a 1-0 home win over leaders Arsenal, a scintillating 5-0 win at Bayer Leverkusen that secured Champions League knock-out stage qualification with a match to spare, and a 4-0 win at home to Norwich City as United progressed into the last eight of the Capital One Cup. Van Persie was injured, but Rooney was scoring and United were two points off fourth-placed Liverpool.
Old Trafford, once a fortress, began to resemble a gift shop with visitors taking the spoils from four games out of six. Everton won there, their manager Roberto Martinez achieving at the first attempt a feat Moyes failed to do in a decade; Newcastle gained their first victory at Old Trafford since 1972; Tottenham, beaten 6-0 at Manchester City, won at United; then Swansea won there for the first time in their history, ending United’s FA Cup ambitions. United did beat Sunderland in the Capital One Cup semi-final second leg at home late in January, but went out on penalties to spoil the news of Juan Mata’s £37m signing.
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Stumbling towards spring
Dogged by inconsistency United were unable to gain the momentum they normally find in spring. Whilst they defeated Cardiff, Crystal Palace and West Bromwich, and held Arsenal at the Emirates on 12th February, they lost at Stoke, drew at home to Fulham, and just scrambled past Olympiakos in the Champions League. Worst of all they were humbled 3-0 at home by a Liverpool side suddenly emerging as title contenders.
Derby defeat sparks dissent
As Ferguson had asked them to, when handing over the reins, Moyes had been supported by United fans and ex-players while he struggled to settle into the role. However, a 3-0 home defeat to Manchester City on 25th March, handing their neighbours a derby double, snapped the patience of some.
A group of fans hired a plane to trail a message calling for Moyes to go over the stadium four days later, but more damaging was Paul Scholes’ verdict. While Scholes said the manager should be given more time he was damning about the team’s inadequacies. In the wake of the derby defeat Scholes’ former team-mate Gary Neville also chipped in. “They need to have a rethink about where they are going. At the moment they have an identity crisis,” Neville said.
The death knell sounds
A spirited Champions League exit to Bayern Munich this month appeared to buy Moyes time, even as it ended hopes of qualification for the Champions League next season. But Moyes went back to Goodison Park at the weekend and watched his team deliver such a lame performance the board concluded the players were no longer prepared to play for him.
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