The communications team at Old Trafford could muster just 33 words to mark the departure of their latest Chosen One. “Manchester United has announced that David Moyes has left the Club,” a hasty post on ManUtd.com read last Tuesday.
“The Club would like to place on record its thanks for the hard work, honesty and integrity he brought to the role.”
It was a remarkably ironic – let alone curt and dismissive – way to announce Moyes’ grimly unsatisfactory departure. This, after all, is a club that has spent the season acting with an absolute minimum of “honesty” or “integrity” in its dealings with its fans and staff. For those occupying positions above Moyes, it’s been a season of inept decision making, ruthless money leeching and self-serving leaks. The shambolic circumstance of Moyes’ departure, then, seems an apt end to an abysmal season.
David Moyes had to go – there has been little doubt of that since United’s results began to turn after the turn of the year. The former Everton manager, it is clear with hindsight, was never the right man for the job. Yet for a club which persistently claims to pride itself on its loyalty, patience and decent values – on doing things ‘the United way’ – it’s been a classless and ugly episode.
The writing was apparently on the wall for Moyes ever since his team meekly surrendered to Olympiakos in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie. Yet the former Everton coach was made to wait to be relieved of his duty until Sunday, when defeat to his former club made qualification for the tournament next season mathematically impossible. His side’s 2-0 defeat at Goodison Park made it far cheaper for the club’s single-minded money men to relieve their puppet of his duties – a particularly tasteless move from a club which has repeatedly claimed it had appropriate financial planning in place to survive a period without European football.
Then, not only did the news of Moyes’ sacking break via the pens of journalists to whom the club had leaked the news, the manager remained in the dark about his fate as the news flooded the internet on Monday afternoon. His day, it is claimed, was spent working on transfer deals for the summer. “Nothing has happened at all, I don’t know where the suggestion has come from,” Phil Townsend, director of Communications at United, claimed on Monday evening. Instead Moyes was left to fret until the following morning. Moyes, a well-liked and loyal football man, deserved far better. Apparently, he left the ground in tears.
Yet such conduct must be seen as little more than the inevitable result of Old Trafford’s cold and clinical management structure, headed up in the UK by vice chairman Ed Woodward, a former investment banker who has stumbled his way into the top job after securing a selection of considerable sponsorship deals for the club in recent years. The real power at Old Trafford, of course, lies beyond this balding figurehead, with a family worth billions of dollars based hundreds of miles away, in a selection of crass super-mansions in Palm Beach, Florida. The Glazer’s ruthless ownership model continues to suck funds out of the club at a preposterous rate – since their 2005 takeover, the club has lost £680 million in interest and fees alone.
Yet the failings of the Glazers and Woodward’s team go back much further than their inability to even sack a manager respectfully. Despite the years they had to prepare for it, the Floridian businessmen fluffed their first major challenge since their takeover, the inevitable departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. After permitting former chief executive David Gill to leave at the same moment as Ferguson retired, they then took a back seat as the former manager was permitted to select his replacement. In a year when the club have secured lucrative sponsorship deals with German spirit company Aperol Spritz and watch manufacturer Bulova, it is grimly ironic that the succession, the one decision which most needed to be approached with a clinical business mind, was left entirely down to a tired legend basing his thinking solely on romantic sentimentality.
Woodward and his team were then directly responsible for Moyes’ dire pre-season, when they carried out surely the longest succession of botched transfer deals ever seen at a major club. Numerous bids for the world’s leading playing talent were made; each one resulted in abysmal failure: Cesc Fábregas was pursued despite no indication that he was ever open to the move, whilst Leighton Baines was the subject of a bizarrely derisory joint bid with Marouanne Fellaini which never came close to meeting Everton’s stated valuation. A pitiful amount of time was left to complete a move for Real Madrid’s Fábio Coentrão, whilst the horrifying debacle that was the bid Ander Herrera – fake club representatives and all – should not be forgotten be in a hurry. Moyes played a crucial part in turning United into the season’s laughing stock, yet the ineptitude of those above him had assured that process was already underway long before the season began.
The United hierarchy’s next major decision may well prove to be the most damaging of all: tying Wayne Rooney down to the club with a multi-million pound deal, which feels like it will last until the moment either the player or the club itself ceases to exist. The move’s short-term effects have been dire enough – Robin van Persie feeling crowded out up front, Shinji Kagawa and Juan Mata repeatedly played out of position, Danny Welbeck dropped from the team despite consistently impressive form – but the longer-term implications could be more damaging still.
Rooney, 28, may be enjoying a relatively prosperous season statistically, but his moments of inspiration – his halfway line strike against West Ham, a cool double against Tottenham Hotspur – represent a scant return when combined with some repeatedly insipid performances. Moyes made Rooney the centre of his team – with that side now languishing in 7th place, the England striker has definitively proved he cannot be trusted with such responsibility. United now find themselves trapped in the most expensive long-term contract in the club’s history, losing £300,000 a week to a player who is frequently unfit and off-form. Even if Moyes’ replacement manages to offload him, the club’s finances are set to suffer substantially.
Moyes’ post-match press conferences may well have descended into a miserable caricature of themselves by the end of his tenure, yet the noises coming out of the higher echelons of Old Trafford have hardly convinced fans that the management have any more of a grasp of the club’s core interests . “Some of our competitors haven’t won the league for a long time but still sell many shirts,” the heroic Woodward reassured the club’s nervous fanbase recently. Just as Moyes has repeatedly struggled to acknowledge the flaws in his team’s play, Woodward seems to genuinely struggle to acknowledge how his priorities differ from those of his club’s followers.
Moyes is the latest humble manager to be chewed up and spat out by the incessant menace of modern football. As much as the Scot was never the right man for the job, his departure does nothing to resolve the central problems that pervade within the Old Trafford management structure. The club will spend the summer continuing to profess its dedication to youth, local pride and ambitious long-term projects, yet these principles increasingly feel like poorly executed smokescreens to the club’s real purpose – to ruthlessly exploit its failing product to service escalating debt, exercising minimal consideration for its exploited fans or hapless employees. It’s a model which risks becoming the new, permanent ‘United way.’