Manchester United manager David Moyes has declared that even Sir Alex Ferguson would have faced difficulties keeping the club within the elite this season, with the current ageing squad.
Moyes has consistently said that his inheritance is not as strong as many had assumed and as fans prepared a fly-by protest before today's home match with Aston Villa, his declaration that Ferguson would have struggled represented a new defence against those who question whether he is the right man to succeed his compatriot.
“I actually think if Sir Alex was here this year it would be difficult for [him] as well and I’m sure he’d be aware of it,“ Moyes said. ”I think people are aware there’s a squad that is a bit more ageing, so I think it would have been a tough season for probably whoever was in charge of Manchester United.”
The United board did feel that Ferguson overachieved, with the internal pre-season consensus being that last season's squad were good enough to finish third, with their over performance making them champions. But the level of decline this season has shocked the board, who did not expect a struggle of these proportions, leaving United lying seventh.
Moyes admitted that he had not earned the right to have the Chosen One” Stretford End banner which bears his image, as supporters prepared a planned fly-past of Old Trafford before today’s game with the message “Wrong One – Moyes Out” in protest against it.
Moyes, who was more bullish and far less defensive than he had been in a prickly press conference preceding the 3-0 midweek defeat to Manchester City, said he had no problem with the club placing there. “But I’ve said right from day one here that until I’m successful I’ve got no need for any banners; no need for anything. When I’ve won trophies… I can have a banner up there rightly.”
Moyes said he was aware of the fly-past protest planned by the Red Issue website five to ten minutes before kick-off, and that “people are entitled to do that.” But he said that the overwhelming majority of fans were urging him to “come on, keep going.” He implied that those with a deeper understanding than those sanctioning the fly-past knew were taking a longer-term view. “Anyone who has an understanding of the game knows there's a rebuilding plan here,” he said. “It’s just going to take a little bit of time to get sorted.”
Some of the most trenchant criticism of United’s performance against City came from Paul Scholes, with Gary Neville, who were TV match analysts. “I think for me the big thing is we’re trying to do exactly what Gary and Paul did,” Moyes said of that. “Ideally my style is to introduce young players into the first team, develop the academy - there was a great academy here - but we have to make sure we continue to improve that.”
Though the need for squad replenishment and the antiquated player recruitment systems Ferguson bequeathed are points in Moyes’ defence, the loss of tempo and self-belief are less so. Moyes admitted that the pace of the United was a problem and said that he would seek to coach more tempo into the team. “We’re aware of that and will try to improve that,” he said. “It’s something that we’ll do everything we can - the training - I’ve been in coaching a long time and I’ll try to do everything I can to make that better. Tempo and speed comes sometimes from the personnel.”
Moyes insisted his employers – and Ferguson – were behind him. “They saw somebody who could do the job at Manchester United and know what the club is about and the style of the job so you have to trust those people, they trust me and for that reason we’ll go on working together.”
Though the Football Association is investigating video footage which appeared to show Marouane Fellaini spitting in the direction of Pablo Zabaleta after elbowing him on Tuesday night, Moyes said the Belgian had assured him he was innocent. “I don’t think it’s completely conclusive what I’m hearing and seeing. We will work with the FA if that’s what we have to do,” he said.