Give Moyes some Fergie time
Don’t expect any trophies from English champions Manchester United this season, as David Moyes rebuilds the team.
Manchester United fans won't want to hear it, and David Moyes certainly won't be thinking it, but it might be best for them to write this season off. Give him time.
If they win a big trophy of any description it will be a huge bonus.
This is no ordinary club and Moyes is no short term solution. He has been put in a desperately difficult situation which in the short term will be a nightmare, but which in the long term he can succeed.
As I wrote in this column, when news of Ferguson's retirement broke the great Scotsman's superlative reign could well have been cut short before a trophy was won. He is the best - but far from the only - example of time being given and faith being shown. Time is of course the last thing anyone in football is prepared to give, especially the over-excitable types on Twitter and phone-ins, egged on by swivel-eyed self-professed football experts in the presenter's chair.
I disagreed with Moyes when he came out and criticised the hard fixtures United have been given in the first few weeks of the season. He should have left that to the conspiracy theorists, but blaming an inanimate object is never a smart move, as I’ve often found with the very device on which I type.
I write before the game against Crystal Palace which may have provided him with some much-need respite from said-computer.
But United-baiting broke out across the UK and beyond as they struggled on transfer deadline day. It was definitely an unacceptably bad window for them. Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward's name was mud, but Moyes got his fair share of blame too. The snipers pointing out this would never have happened on 'Fergie's watch'.
No, indeed not. Ferguson would have successfully completed the signing of Eric Djemba-Djemba instead. Or Juan Sebastián Veron. Laurent Blanc maybe. Massimo Taibi the wonder keeper! Of course Fergie got it right most of the time, but not always. And I think he's unintentionally given Moyes a hospital pass. Why? Midfield.
Missing in the middle
I really don't have a clue how Fergie, the old genius, managed to win trophies in the last few seasons with the men in the middle. From the club that gave us Bryan Robson and Roy Keane, Moyes inherited a curiously lame centre core.
Against Liverpool, the big early litmus test of the new United, Leiva Lucas and Steven Gerrard dominated to such an extent it was near heartbreaking for the isolated Robin Van Persie.
When he got his chance he missed it, but Van Persie is one of three world class strikers at Old Trafford (Javier Hernandez and maybe still Wayne Rooney too). The defence came together last season and David De Gea improved in goal. The wide options in midfield are decent and Shinji Kagawa has been desperately unlucky not to get more playing time. Moyes has possibly got that one wrong, and good on Kagawa for performing well on international duty with Japan this week, and getting a goal.
And so to the very centre of midfield and Michael Carrick. He was much improved last season last season, excellent at times. But I still believe that boy is never going to make an impact at a major football championship. He is gifted but ultimately lightweight. He is a good footballer. Please don't try to tell me he's a great one, or the man you'd turn to for a decisive moment at 0-0 in a World Cup quarter-final.
Tom Cleverley. People constantly remind me that English footballers need to be given their chance. He is being given his chance. Is he really good enough for Manchester United or England ?
Antonio Valencia is a superb player on the right, even in defence when needed, but his form is interrupted when not selected regularly.
Luis Nani. A great talent who disappeared under Fergie. Ditto Anderson. Ashley Young? Ferguson appeared to finally get him using his left foot but when he emerged against Liverpool did we expect him to hurt them, really?
Even the peerless Ryan Giggs is in the 91st minute of his career. Outstanding against Real Madrid last March, but he can't do it forever and this I'd predict could be the season too far.
This was Ferguson's handover to Moyes. The Carricks and the Cleverleys. With pretty much nobody waiting in the wings.
No pressure then Marouane Felliani. We've all seen him have great games. We've seen a few games where it hasn't worked for him too. He's an intriguing footballer and it will be fascinating to see if Moyes plays him in a holding role, or there are more advanced opportunities. He did both for Moyes at Everton and other roles too. But the fear for United fans is that unleashing him further forward will leave too much softness behind him. And I’m not sure his disciplinary problems are 100 per cent behind him. If things don't go to plan, will the yellow and red cards mount up?
Football in England has changed in the last few years, You could have made the argument that Claude Makalele, Keane, Patrick Vieira, Graeme Souness, even the likes of Ian Batty and Sherwood, were the key to clubs winning the ball and winning the league.
But in the days of tiki-taka ball retention and control, the ball winners are not always so vital.
Though when United play City they will face Fernandinho and Yaya Toure. Toure is the heartbeat of City's team. If that Fellaini fax hadn't gone through in time we might have been seeing a complete mismatch.
Work to do
So there is work for Moyes and the much maligned Woodward to do in the next transfer windows, in January and next summer. And the results of that will not bear fruit for a while. But Moyes needs time. At least a season. Fergie had three years grace. It may sound like heresy to say a club like United need to brace themselves for a trophy-less season but expectation levels should be sensible.
United may have won the title in Fergie's last season but they were a shadow of the great teams of his 27-year-reign. It was by a distance the poorest Premier League season, a strange collection of incompetent challenges from United's main rivals.
The United midfield has been mediocre for more than the past month alone.
So it's over to you Fellaini.