This season has been eye-opening in so many ways if you’re a United fan, especially one, like myself, who has known nothing other than unbridled joy and years of trophy-laden success thanks to Sir Alex Ferguson.
There have been some alarming speed bumps on the following United road this campaign. However, none have eclipsed the sheer dejection of last night. The fear and lack of confidence is frightening. We have gone from Champions, albeit nowhere near vintage, to pseudo-relegation candidates, reflected in the dour, unimaginative, slow long-ball tactics which show no immediate sign of abating.
I have seen words banded around on the internet today including ‘insipid’, ‘pathetic’, ‘horrendous’, ‘gutless’. Sadly, we are in no position to contest these slurs that should never be associated with our great club.
David Moyes is now under the microscope more than he has ever been, especially if rumours surfacing today that he is fighting for his job come to fruition. Time will tell whether it is the media, once more, having a field day reveling in our malaise, or actually whether these claims have merit.
Our reputation as a domestic and European force is under severe strain right now, drastic changes are needed urgently and quickly. Arsenal and city at least had the leeway of refereeing decisions and genuinely being outclassed by Europe’s 1-2 hierarchy at the moment. We cannot be afforded those very excuses, which is worrying news from our perspective.
Here are five damning things (yes, we had to limit it to five) that our Greek nightmare taught us.
1) Where is the positivity?
The top 4 is a distinct pipe-dream. To catch up with the rest, would be asking more than Lazarus’ great revival, it is a Herculean task that even the managerial godfather looking down at his sorry predecessor could not rescue.
So, in essence, this was our biggest night of the season, a chance to build on a promising win at Palace, all our eggs are/were (depending on your outlook) in the Champions League basket, and we went down with a whimper.
Even though Olympiakos are romping away with their league, there is no way on this earth that we should have been condemned to such a humiliation, the truth is it could have been much worse.
Onto positivity. A word seemingly alien to our manager. His tone was an all too familiar chord of melancholy and pessimism. It reminded me of a quote that ‘glass half full’ David said earlier in the season: ‘we will make it as difficult for them as possible’. This was not a David vs Goliath encounter. Not the all-conquering great sides of bygone eras like your World-Cup winning Brazilians or the modern-day Barcelona juggernaut. No, it was Alan Pardew’s Newcastle, coming to Old Trafford. We went onto lose that game without the slightest semblance of guts, fight or passion. This can be relayed onto last night without a moment’s hesitation. No disrespect to the Greek side, they are not the sternest of tests on the grand scheme of things, yet we folded, crumbled, capitulated. Players went missing. What was equally striking was Moyes’ comments ahead of the game, which went along the lines of ‘this will not be easy and we will try and make it hard for them, they are used to winning’. You are (for how much longer) the manager of Manchester United, David. Start being more bullish and talking like a manager who is befitting of the role!
2) The defence needs serious surgery.
OK, we all know last night’s back 4 is not our idea of Utopia or our best 4. Moyes’ broken-record quip about luck may have been justified last night in terms of selection and injuries happening all in one area. Ideally, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones and Rafael would probably all have started last night. Would that have affected the game? Probably not. The point is that 3 of the 4 last night will be packing their bags come May, so where is the hunger and passion to fight for the shirt when they know it is effectively meaningless as they prepare for pastures new? Nothing has changed with Patrice Evra- no competition for his place or successful attempt to sign his successor has led to him playing himself into the ground for at least 5 years now. His fall from grace has been turbulent and sad to see, once arguably the best in his role, now he has frankly become a liability for the past couple of seasons. He has been a fans’ favourite and we all love Paddy, but teams are sussing out our weak points, of which he is.
Rio Ferdinand. When he is not acting like a spoilt, childish shite when responding to well-wishers, back-stabbing Moyes in public claiming he is a ‘caveman’, creaming his pants over his shitty 5 brand, he is embarrassing himself with his displays. Gary Neville had his epiphany moment against West Brom and knew he had to call it a day for the best interest of the club, Rio has had plenty of these this season. West Brom at home, Shakthar at home, I could go on. Last night just proved that he is over the hill. Another to fall into the great servant category, but his best days are long gone. Likewise with Nemanja Vidic, who actually was one of the only ones to show some character and defensive will. He is off too, and will be missed. But you do wonder if the desire is still there, especially with them knowing their future destinations.
Bottom line, these players will need replacing, last night was unfortunately the perfect illustration of this.
3) Being rigid does not work.
Earlier on in the season, Gary Speed’s ex-assistant manager for Wales Raymond Verheijen rallied round his chum Robin Van Persie by claiming that David Moyes was using a ‘prehistoric’ approach to his everyday running of the club and in particular his treatment of Van Persie, who he claimed was getting run into the ground and risked serious injury as a result.
At the time, there were murmurings of discontent, but mostly our fans laughed off the claim in vehement support of the manager, after all that’s what we got told to do by SAF.
Does Verheijen now have nothing to answer for? We have seen that Moyes is a staunch believer in rigidity. Fulham at home, bottom of the table, home banker surely? A record amount of crosses were planted on 6 foot whatever Dan Burn and Johnny Heitinga. Plan B? Resort to Plan A in sheer desperation. Fair play, if your wingers can actually put in a half decent cross. Antonio Valencia, in a nutshell, head down, no awareness of players’ positions in the penalty area, hit and hope pinball or over-hit out of play. It was dreadful to watch this so-called ‘style’. Rigidity is the road to ruin. Modern-day football has evolved and with it so has the whole dynamic of style and aesthetics. We had a Plan B last night, for a change, the introduction of Shinji Kagawa, a man who has been eased out of the frame and whose future looks increasingly bleak, was the ideal man to ‘play through’ a team, as we saw in the last 10 minutes. But it was too late.
Moyes made his name, if you like, at Everton through a direct approach, bypassing the midfield because he had a very useful weapon aerially in Fellaini, he has transferred both style and player to United, and neither has been pleasing to watch. Much of our fluid play came through the playmaking capabilities of Michael Carrick, who had an Indian summer last year with his consistency. Nowadays he is essentially ineffective as none of our play goes through him. Olympiakos let Vidic and Ferdinand have all the ball they wanted because they knew they could handle the hoofs up to Van Persie et Al. It was piss poor, but it has been coming for a long time, this approach is nothing new. Is Moyes capable of change? It looks decidedly unlikely. The one player, besides the ineligible Juan Mata, who epitomises fluidity is Adnan Januzaj, who was bizarrely not included in the squad. Now, the team does not have another game for another 10 days now, what was the thinking behind leaving Januzaj at home? Did Moyes not want to throw him into an intimidating atmosphere in the Champions League away from home? Surely not, it would have been a challenge the young man would have relished.
Moyes’ ‘style’ is not enjoyable to watch, maybe Verheijen was right after all.
4) Conservatism gets you nowhere.
This is linked to point 1. Moyes has been harping on about how we need a change of luck to change our fortunes. Maybe a change of approach would be a better start. The amount of times this season we have been found out has been unacceptable, particularly by inferior teams and bodies. There are countless examples too: West Brom, Southampton, Swansea, Newcastle, Everton all at home have smelt blood and sensed the aura that once made the Theatre of Dreams a fortress has now turned to dust. The worst thing is, we do not attack with the same penetration or gusto that was the cornerstone of much of our Ferguson success. The ball would go from defence to midfield to attack in a matter of seconds, within the blink of an eye we would cut through defences like a knife through butter.
Today, under Moyes, pedestrian and sluggish would be doing disservice to the words. Defence to midfield, back to defence, back to De Gea, and build again and repeat this process. Teams set themselves, getting numbers behind the ball knowing full well that we are nowhere near destructive as our title winning sides.
We have been dominated convincingly by inferior players for too long, it is painful to watch and frankly it shouldn’t be happening. We would have been laughing if we’d scored an away goal last night, was it too much to ask, especially against a side who are not exactly the biggest fry among Europe’s elite. OK, sit back and hold tight at the Nou Camp or Bernabeu, but not in Piraeus. We were timid, scared to be incisive, sat back and allowed mediocrity to rule the roost. If we had any sort of purpose last night, we would be in a favourable position right now and full of confidence knowing we could finish them off at OT. This is not a mentality befitting of the current Premier League Champions. The buck stops with the manager and his coaching staff.
5) Some are not fit to wear the shirt.
In times of hardship, the minimum you expect from players is to give their all for the shirt. You do not expect them to go AWOL or hiding next to opposition players to avoid further cock-ups. A lack of confidence is one thing, something which all players go through, a distinct lack of quality is another kettle of fish altogether.
Tom Cleverley claims to be the sort of player who is appreciated in Spain. Ball retention is applauded over there. He said among other things, of which being a scapegoat was one, that he has a clearly defined role in the team. I didn’t realise marking yourself out of space to receive the ball was that role, young Tom. It is hard enough playing in a midfield 2 away from home, it was effectively 1 last night, Cleverley went missing, too scared to prove many of us wrong. He is a scapegoat, no question, but he has not kicked on from being an England regular and that early season promise of last season and the season before last.
Cleverley is a ‘nearly’ player, likewise Ashley Young. Players whose price and stock is exceedingly inflated due to their nationality. Players who will undoubtedly look good in teams other than Manchester United. We are a different ball game, sadly these two will not go down in United history, and may not have long to prove their worth, particularly if they continue in last night’s vain. It may be unfair and excessive to single out players, but if we are to get back to the top, we need vast improvements in every aspect, not least the calibre of player.
Most of us have tried to backed David Moyes to succeed from minute 1. I still want him to succeed, but each passing week without any discernible sign of major progress is testing all of our patience sinews.
This cannot go on.