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Comment: David Moyes must be bold to rebuild Manchester United, with club ready to spend £200m in transfer market

The under-fire manager will have to throw off his natural caution in the summer transfer market as club seek to reverse recent woes

Ian Herbert
Thursday 27 February 2014 02:00 GMT
David Moyes watches the defeat to Olympiakos
David Moyes watches the defeat to Olympiakos (Getty Images)

The lengths to which Manchester United have gone to establish the conditions for David Moyes to prosper and take the club into a new era of success are not fully appreciated.

It is fair to say that his predecessor moved in mysterious ways at United's Carrington training base, particularly when it came to transfer targets. Sir Alex Ferguson and Jim Lawlor, the head of scouting, had developed such intuition by the end that there was no need for the dossiers and target lists which are the stuff of the modern club.

They called their workings the "black box" – something entirely alien to Moyes, whose reputation as a shrewd operator in the transfer market was built upon the forensically-detailed system he pored over in the long, thin, "secret room" at Everton's Finch Farm training base. There a sequence of whiteboards laid everything out before him, with colour-coded annotations in marker pen.

When Moyes arrived at United last summer and was asked to sanction the purchase of midfielder Thiago Alcantara from Barcelona, his intrinsic caution prevented him from saying yes to a player he had not seen – even though the club's due diligence on Alcantara reached greater lengths than most clubs would have contemplated.

United have now put the systems in place to enable him to work on targets as he did at Everton. The club's tactical analysis office has been extended and modernised with whiteboards, touchscreens and iPads, so that every time a target is established and reported on it will immediately drop into a central database. Left-footed centre-halves at a tier-two club? It will take Moyes precisely one click to reach the available, scouted options. And when it comes to the professional opinion on them he has Robbie Cooke, who headed his scouting network at Everton and has known him since their Cambridge United playing days, now on board.

The infrastructure will be needed because this is going to be a summer like no other for United as they seek to "retool" for what they intend to be nothing less than a colossal comeback campaign. It's not the top four the club have their sights on but the 2014-15 Premier League title no less, such is the board's belief that players from tier-one clubs will sign for Manchester United Football Club, even if temporarily in the Europa League. They may spend up to £200m. The variation in what they could end up spending if targets fall into place is huge.

A club of this stature may not consider the junior European competition welcome – but not United. Winning it brings a Champions League place, so seize it, is the philosophy. As they prepare to move on beyond transition mode, there will be no time for the indecision which is a Moyes characteristic in the transfer market. United will be two centre-backs lighter, in Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand's wake, and in need of a left-back to at least share the workload of Patrice Evra. The view from the top of the club is that Evra is physically exhausted by the responsibility of being the club's one elite player for the left of defence. All those considerations come before United think about the defensive midfield aspect of their squad which was the most pitiful part of the display in the 2-0 defeat to Olympiakos on Tuesday.

It is such a vast sea of change to contemplate – and even more so for a manager who on Tuesday night looked like he was beginning to become overwhelmed by the tactical and motivational challenges of taking United onwards. As if his selection decisions in Greece were not questionable enough – no sight of Adnan Januzaj; the lightweight Tom Cleverley rather than the force of Marouane Fellaini against a team who pressed United to death and breezed through their central territory – there was also the terrible sense that these players had given up the ghost on Moyes. It was written in their football and on their faces – and in no one more than the man who followed up his dismal night in Athens by blaming his team-mates for occupying his "space" on the pitch. Robin van Persie does not seem to have the stomach to help rescue Moyes from all this trouble, though privately United have no sense that he is unhappy or that he will ask to leave this summer if Champions League football is waved before him. (They will dig in their heels if he does.)

The task has not broken Moyes, yet. He is not a delegator, takes on large parcels of work that Ferguson had long since laid off, feeds on detail, and yet still turns up at the press conferences with a face like steel or thunder, betraying no indication that he cannot take much more.

He knows football can change quickly, of course, though it was hard to see where that upswing was coming from on Tuesday. It was testament to the collective lack of spirit that no player had stopped in the Athens mixed zone after the game and that supporters of one of the world's great clubs were being treated to no more explanation of how the weakest team in the Champions League round of 16 had beaten their own than some recycled ITV quotes from Michael Carrick, cut and pasted on the United website.

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