Moyes’ Wager

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At this point, looking up from the pit which he himself has excavated, abseiled down into, then cut the life rope, David Moyes has time to think. His thoughts ought to turn to the future of his career. It wasn’t just that United were beaten in the Champions league by a team from a significantly lesser European league; that has happened before, a precedent to which FC Basel can testify. It was the way they were beaten that strikes what sounds like the final chord in this mournful death march. It wasn’t a smash and grab. They didn’t go down fighting. They left the tunnel and trudged onto the pitch looking to lose, and lose they did. At no point was there any inkling that United would win the match, despite the best efforts of the substitutes. They were hapless, hopeless and the defeat merely confirmed the conclusion that the players seemed to anticipate. This is the lowest point yet.
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Moyes needs to make a wager. His managerial efforts so far have disappointed in the extreme. His formations have been ineffective. His selections have often been baffling. His motivational skills as a manager have been lacking so as to be non-existent. At the moment, his approach has not only extinguished hopes of retaining the title, it has sent Manchester United tumbling down the table quicker than you can say “put it in the mixer”. Any sane person would realise that this cannot be the road to continue down. So David Moyes needs to ask himself “What if…?”

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What if I continue down this road?

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Worst case scenario: You are sacked at the end of the season. United continue to play turgid, ineffective football, finish in 7th, maybe 8th, and the people upstairs decide enough is enough. You have shown yourself to be out of your depth in the transfer market, the Fabregas/Herrera/Fellaini debacle has established that. You have shown yourself inept when it comes to masterminding victories over the top teams in the division; Everton’s record against the big clubs, as well as the United’s results this season has shown this to be true. You’ve well and truly lost the dressing room, your captain has left and Robin van Persie’s head has begun to turn. Good bye David, hello Klopp/Heynckes /Hiddink or whoever.
Best Case Scenario: You aren’t sacked. Results somehow begin to turn around. You win some games, maybe more than the now low expectations anticipate. But the damage has been done earlier in the season and you finish, at best, around 6th (or worse 5th, with the horrid Europa League as your reward). Because of the awful football that was played for the majority of the season, the ill will still surrounds you and the club. The senior players who want to leave still do and Van Persie doesn’t fancy playing matches in the Arctic Circle. You’re given a lot of transfer money to rebuild, but every error, every rejection, every failed pursual is magnified by the media and, even if good deals are done, pessimism and resentment remain.

What if I change things?

Best and Worst case scenario: We lose games, but not in the same way. We still end up finishing 7th or 8th but I abandon my old ideals. I experiment, even at the risk of defeat. I try to fit Januzaj and Kagawa into my formations as much as possible. I never play Ashley Young or Antonio Valencia. I tell Nani to let loose, to go wild and take on defenders. I drop Rio and thank him for his service. I don’t play Smalling at right back. I try and coax Rafael back into form because he is a very good player. I tell Wayne to justify his contract, or Juan plays at No. 10. We still lose, but we show the fans that we can be dynamic and exciting again. Suddenly it looks like a proper transitional season, a season of testing new things, and not one where I look like a very bad Elvis tribute act that has been forced to follow the real Elvis Presley. The players who want to leave maybe still leave, but the weight on you is lessened. You can spend in the off season under an atmosphere of freshness and optimism. I am (hopefully… probably) not sacked because the pressure is relieved by the reinvention of the team, and me.

Surely Moyes can see this too. The downsides of changing his methodology at United are minimal compared to the downsides of not changing. The upsides of staying the course are pitiful in comparison to the upsides of changing direction. David Moyes needs to realise that he is at rock bottom at the moment, and that if he keeps chipping away in the same downward direction, he’ll find himself in a lot of trouble by season’s end. But if he tries to turn his own world upside down, he’ll tumble out of the pit, for better or worse, and emerge from the despairing darkness to bask in the new light.

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