The latest indifferent performance of David Moyes’ fledgling career as Manchester United manager was met with polite applause from their Japanese faithful and a rhythmic fluttering of hand-held fans that did little to ease the stifling heat and humidity here.
A faltering pre-season that has thus far brought just one victory in four matches of an exhausting world tour won’t in itself be enough to cause alarm bells to sound, but already Moyes has faced an unwanted list of problems.
An unforgiving itinerary drawn up for commercial rather than football reasons – and one in which Moyes of course had no say – has been marked by trouble on and off the field: the Wayne Rooney transfer conundrum, an injury scare for Robin van Persie, unkind comments about the new manager’s training methods , poor results in trying conditions and now what appears to be the end of road in United’s pursuit of Barcelona’s Cesc Fabregas, Moyes’ No 1 target.
Life must have been comparatively simple at Everton, where most of the preparations for a new season were more likely to be carried out in the North-west rather than the Far East. The hallowed footsteps of one Sir Alex Ferguson are proving, perhaps inevitably and predictably, difficult ones to walk in.
Moyes has also been forced to defend himself over his lack of European experience while he has been on this tour and admitted he would be relying on Ryan Giggs for advice. All very honest and open but it only highlights the gulf in experience between the current incumbent and his predecessor in the manager’s chair. Ferguson relied on no one for advice.
Moyes emerged from today’s 2-2 draw with Cerezo Osaka in the Nagai Stadium with a stony face, only to be greeted with the news that Barcelona’s new coach Gerardo Martino had told him to forget about signing Fabregas. “That United shows interest in Cesc Fabregas is normal. He is a truly great player. It doesn’t annoy us. But he is not for sale.”
The need for new blood was apparent again in the heat and humidity of Osaka, conditions veteran defender Rio Ferdinand said were “possibly the hardest I have played in physically. I lost three to four kilos in fluid so that tells you how hard it was.”
Faltering United needed a disputed, last-ditch goal by Wilfried Zaha to spare them a second successive defeat on the Japan leg of their global trip. Shinji Kagawa, back at the ground where he first made his name, scored United’s first equaliser with a smart turn and finish – a passage of play that had started with his missing a penalty won by Ashley Young.
Kenyu Sugimoto and the exciting teenage talent Takumi Minamino scored the goals for Cerezo, who were missing three of their star players on international duty for Japan.
Van Persie, withdrawn as a precautionary measure in United’s 3-2 defeat in Yokohama on Tuesday, at least managed 69 minutes in Osaka, which may or may not have silenced the outspoken Raymond Verheijen. The Dutch fitness guru ranted about “dinosaur coaches, fitness clowns & scientific cowboys” on his Twitter page after Moyes had said he had overtrained Van Persie to get him up to speed.
United, with just one win from four games, leave for Hong Kong today for another friendly against Kitchee FC on Monday and again the conditions are a concern, with the Sunderland manager, Paolo Di Canio, saying heavy rain has turned the Hong Kong Stadium into a “killer pitch” which is “dangerous, at this stage of the season especially.”
Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen suffered an ankle injury against Sunderland in the Asia Trophy on Wednesday.
Moyes will be without Kagawa in Hong Kong – he will stay for an extra week’s holiday and training at his old club Cerezo. “We try to give all the players four weeks if possible and Shinji hasn’t quite had that time. We’ll give him another week’s rest. He’ll be training with this club here in Osaka. So he can have some time at home in Japan but do some training here.”
Asked if he was any closer to knowing what his starting line up might look like for United’s opening Premier League game against Swansea on 17 August, Moyes said: “I’m still getting to know the players.
“I have several players back home who I’ve not met yet because of international duties. So I don’t have it in my head yet, I’ll need to look at my options. We’ve got three games before the season starts so we’ll go back to Europe and look at it then.”
He will, at least, be buoyed by the form of some of his younger players, goalscorer Zaha in particular. “I think tonight will help as he’s shown the players he can make things happen,” said Moyes. “We want all our players to be able to score goals and he’s come up with an important one tonight.”
Ferdinand, too, was bullish. “The most pleasing part was the young lads who came on,” he said, also acknowledging Jesse Lingard, Adnan Januzaj and Tom Cleverley. “They made an impact and helped get us the goal at the end. Getting that goal late on was probably more important than anything as it shows people we still have the hunger and desire to keep going.”
That’s a quality United may need in abundance.