David Moyes future: Former Manchester United favourites putting the boot in, including Paul Scholes
Manager's attempts to arrest the decline at Old Trafford won't be helped by criticisms from the club's golden generation - but the board should be careful about knee-jerk reactions
If David Moyes was looking for a crumb of comfort as the last few supporters drifted away from Old Trafford on Tuesday night, then it was not to be found on the television where a new pundit in the Sky Sports stable was making his debut.
The notion of Paul Scholes as a television personality once belonged in the same category as Richard Dawkins fronting Songs of Praise or Wes Craven being put in charge of CBeebies. Scholes was always a fascinating interviewee, the problem was just that he refused to do them. Since his understated turn on The Class of 92 documentary he seems to be more biddable and, well, what else is he doing these days?
Since retirement, Scholes has been only marginally involved at Manchester United as an assistant to Nicky Butt with the club's Under-19s, presumably while he makes up his mind what to do with his life. As of Tuesday night, he is likely to be in huge demand as a pundit.
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Former United favourites sticking the boot into Moyes
Even Keane and Neville would fall silent when Scholes spoke
With Gary Neville barely able to suppress a grin alongside him, Scholes skewered a whole range of under-performing footballers, some former team-mates, some in the Arsenal midfield. Rio Ferdinand was taken to task for not being tight enough on Edin Dzeko for the second goal in Manchester City's 3-0 win. Danny Welbeck was blamed for not cutting out the cross.
All of it delivered in that flat Lancashire accent that bears no hint of apology or sympathy. Scholes simply told it like it was without fear or favour. Funnily enough, Alan Hansen was another very reticent interviewee as a player who blossomed into an authoritative pundit, post-retirement, but even he would never have got stuck into Liverpool like that less than a year after he finished playing for them.
If Moyes was waiting for the moment when Scholes was going to reassure the nation that United would come good in the end under their new manager then he will have been disappointed. "He's nine months into the job and you have to stand by him,' Scholes said. "He's made a couple of signings that haven't worked out yet as he would have liked. In the summer he's going to need backing, there's no doubt about that."
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Like the Liverpool managers who followed Kenny Dalglish, even Graeme Souness, himself a former player, it must be daunting for Moyes to face all these men whose words mean so much more to United fans than his. When he was manager Gérard Houllier was obsessed with the number of former Liverpool players working in the media and he arrived at the club eight years, rather than eight weeks, after their last league title.
At least Houllier was not under threat of his job from any of those men who had worn the Liverpool shirt in happier times for the club. The problem for Moyes is that the last great generation at United are fresh into retirement, erudite on the television and carry great credibility. The most successful of the lot, Ryan Giggs, is still in the squad. They look like a viable alternative if the board were tempted to make a change.
There is still no sign that the board, or the Glazer ownership, are wavering over Moyes but it would be remarkable if they were not running through the options.
Installing Giggs, for instance, as a caretaker to the end of the season would be an easy-win, although not without its potential problems. Liverpool did the same with Dalglish the second time around in 2011, and were carried along on a wave to make him a permanent fixture only to have to sack him a year later. Taking Giggs out of that role for a new man to come in would be just as difficult.
Realistically, United are not going to drop further than seventh. That allows the club to keep Moyes in the job until the end of the season and reassess then, when they will have a lot more options than they would trying to appoint a manager in April.
The unpalatable truth delivered by Scholes was that the differences between City and United were "glaringly obvious". "You need pace," he said. "Whenever we played we always had quick players playing with us. [Against City] we had Welbeck and [Wayne] Rooney with a bit of pace but apart from that – there are some nice footballers without them wanting to run in behind.
"You want Rooney running behind [Martin] Demichelis. He did a couple of times but didn't get seen and that is when you need players like Giggs. He's the one who can pass the ball forward. He doesn't care if he gives it away three or four times, he will still risk it. To be a United midfielder you need to take risks. Sometimes you are going to lose the ball but on that one time when you get a player in it normally ends up in a goal."
Scholes' mention of Giggs was telling given the absence of the 40-year-old since his influential performance in the win over Olympiakos last week. He missed the West Ham game, understandably, given recovery times, but also Tuesday night. Even though he can be vulnerable against a midfield like City's – and who isn't? – he was surely a better option on the bench than, among others, Shinji Kagawa.
Neville has been a staunch defender of Moyes in the past, writing in his now discontinued Mail on Sunday column that it was an "insult" even to consider his future. But that was December, after the home defeat to Newcastle, the fifth of 10 in the league, and the picture has changed rapidly since then. The tone was different on Tuesday because even Moyes' allies have become bewildered at the falling away of United.
"Up front, they have got good players but it is where you fit them in Moyes has to work out in these next few months," Neville said. It was a kind way of putting it, but there really is no gentler way of describing Moyes' delicate position.
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