Moyes’ Sacking Shows United to be no Better Than Chelsea, Any Other Club


David Moyes has been shown the door at Old Trafford

Every Monday night, you can tune into Sky Sports and listen to Gary Neville preach the importance of managerial stability and patience at any given football club. Often Neville will slam chairman of clubs such as West Brom, Chelsea and Fulham for their hastiness with regards to removing one manager after another as they seek to fulfill their ambition, be it winning trophies or merely surviving in the top flight. If you brought Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography last Autumn you’d have read the immortal manager’s words about how he was afforded time to stamp his authority on the famous Old Trafford club, despite him finishing just 11th, 2nd, 11th again and 13th in his first four seasons at the helm of Manchester United. Ferguson even pleaded with supporters to give Moyes their support last May when he stepped down as manager of United after 20 years of near unprecedented success. Manchester United’s own supporters preached the same message throughout last summer after Malcolm Glazer and the United directors passed up the opportunity to hire Jose Mourinho, despite his resume including league titles in four different countries and two European Cup victories, instead opting for the “long term” option of David Moyes.

It is clear that Moyes’ first season in charge was not going to plan. He’d inherited the previous season’s champions and seen them become Premier League also rans, destined for a 7th place finish. Yet he’d been without the services of Robin Van Persie for more than half the campaign, and one wonders whether or not he’d have inherited champions at all if the Dutchman had proven so fragile in his first season at Old Trafford. Elder statesmen such as Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs have also looked well past their best while Ashley Young, Nani and Micheal Carrick have suffered through severe dips in form. This squad was not a squad of champions. Last season they were eliminated in the quarter finals of the Champions League. This season? They suffered the same fate. On the European stage it has been a few years now since United have been able to compete with the very best, witness their 3-1 defeat to Barcelona in 2011, which perhaps demonstrates the lack of quality in the current side.

Yet there’s no denying that Moyes had his faults. He failed to bring in the required calibre of player last summer, when Marouane Fellaini was his only buy. Juan Mata, it cannot be argued, was a better piece of business in January but he hasn’t been utilised in his favoured “number 10” role. He has failed to project an air of confidence in press conferences, or on the touchline. But what is the point of giving a manager a six-year contract if he is not allowed time to mature into the role? It took Ferguson four years to win his first trophy with United. Think about that for a second. Brendan Rodgers, currently atop the Premier League with Liverpool, is yet to win a major trophy in his managerial career. That will probably change in a few short weeks but where would Liverpool be now if they had sacked Rodgers after a 7th place finish last season? United are actually four points better off than Liverpool were at the same stage in 2013. When the Glazer’s hired a man with no Champions League experience and no background of managing a top European club surely, surely, they must’ve anticipated growing pains. To sack a manager so soon after appointing him demonstrates a stunning lack of faith in both their own judgement and that of Sir Alex Ferguson.

When Chelsea sack manager after manager they are derided as being a joke, a plastic club with plastic fans. Fortunately for them they have an owner with billions of pounds behind him. United aren’t so fortunate, and they’ve set a dangerous precedent for their future. What if the next manager, be it Louis Van Gaal or whoever else, fails to net a trophy next season? It won’t be easy. Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City look almost certain to retain top four status next year. Then there’s Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton all vying for that final Champions League spot. They might not even be playing in Europe next year, so that’s another potential trophy out the window.

Sacking Moyes does not make Tom Cleverly a better player, nor does it reverse the aging process that has set in with the likes of Evra, Van Persie and Giggs. Moyes was this morning sacked nine months into a six-year contract. If that’s a long-term appointment, what makes a short one?


The Weekend That Was – 21/4/14


Connor Wickham has played a pivotal role in this season’s Premier League title race

Another weekend has been and gone in the sporting calendar and here’s my take on the top stories from the last few days, including Jose Mourinho’s first Premier League defeat at Stamford Bridge and Lewis Hamilton’s third Formula One victory in a row..

Chelsea’s Title Hopes Dealt a Terminal Blow

Sunderland were given little chance of picking up points this week ahead of visits to both Manchester City and Chelsea. Yet here we are, with the Black Cats four points better off than they were seven days ago and both of their hosts nearly eliminated from the title race. Connor Wickham, recalled from his loan spell at Leeds United, has scored three times in two games and the former Ipswich youngster will be popular on Merseyside thanks to his exploits against Liverpool’s title rivals. Fabio Borini, who ironically is on loan at Sunderland from Liverpool, will also be the toast of the Kop after his late penalty sunk Jose Mourinho’s men in Saturday’s shock 2-1 win for Gus Poyet’s team.

Perhaps most surprisingly of all, Sunderland’s success was completely deserved against a well below par Chelsea outfit. Although the Blues had taken the lead early on, Wickham’s equaliser saw Chelsea resort to long ball tactics for the final 45 minutes as Eden Hazard’s absence was felt. Despite the vast sums of money invested on the likes of Oscar, Andre Shurrle, Ramires and Fernando Torres none of Mourinho’s play-maker’s could make an impact and when Cesar Azpilicueta brought down Jozy Altidore in the box Borini was able to take full advantage and give Sunderland a Premier League lifeline, in the process quelling Mourinho’s title ambitions.

Hamilton Makes it Three in a Row in China

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes continued their domination of Formula One this season after the British driver and his German teammate Nico Rosberg completed another one-two in Shanghai. Hamilton won by over 18 seconds from Rosberg as he recorded the first hat-trick of wins in his career, which of course already includes one World Championship title. Fernando Alonso came third as Ferrari showed improvement from their early season form, but four time World Champion Sebastien Vettel struggled mightily yet again as he was beaten comfortably by his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. Mercedes appear to have adjusted to this season’s new engines far better than any team and a two man race for the title looks likely, although with Hamilton already well in front he’ll take some catching as the the drivers head to Catalunya.

Norwich Run Liverpool Close in Carrow Road Thriller

For the second week in succession Liverpool ran out 3-2 winners, although they would have anticipated a much easier ride when they took a 2-0 lead against struggling Norwich after just 15 minutes on Sunday. Raheem Sterling continued his breathless run of form by scoring two goals, the first a brilliant long range effort with his second taking an unfortunate (for Norwich) deflection. However his most impressive contribution may have been his exquisite through ball to Luis Suarez for the Reds second goal of the afternoon, a well weighted left footed cross that had Suarez licking his lips as he bore down on John Ruddy’s goal.

Brendan Rodgers assertion that Sterling is the top young player in Europe may be hyperbolic to say the least, but his recent performances shouldn’t go unnoticed and it would now be a surprise if the 19-year old wasn’t starting for England in their first game of this summer’s World Cup against Italy. Sterling’s pace and dribbling ability is enough to challenge even the best of defenders, and Roy Hodgson would be wise to capitalise on his playing relationship with Liverpool team-mates Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge. The title is Liverpool’s to lose and one of the main reasons behind that has been the stellar play of their English core, although Luis Suarez has also had a slight impact.

Moyes Season Goes from Bad to Worse.. Again

It hasn’t been a brilliant first season in charge of Manchester United for David Moyes and things took another disastrous turn for his team yesterday as his former club Everton completed the double over the Old Trafford side. Moyes has become somewhat of a record breaker this term and he’s set to break another in the coming weeks as Everton are almost certain to finish above United for the first time since 1990. Phil Jones handball led to Leighton Baines stroking home the hosts opening goal, while Kevin Mirallas doubled Everton’s advantage as the game finished 2-0. The win means Everton remain just a point behind Arsenal in the race for fourth place and Champions League football, something that is mathematically beyond United after their latest humbling result.

Have your say on the weekend’s action in the comments, or tweet @fredjstanley to get your views heard.

Juan Mata: The Man With a Past and a Future But No Present


Juan Mata is set to give his switch to Old Trafford the thumbs up

Chelsea midfielder and twice reigning player of the season Juan Mata looks set to complete a £37 million move to arch rivals Manchester United tomorrow, finally ridding Blues manager Jose Mourinho of a player whom he clearly does not rate and giving the Red Devils the attacking play-maker so desperately needed by under fire boss David Moyes.

Should it go through the transfer will see a high profile player, not to mention a large sum of money, change hands between two of the biggest clubs in England. Between them Chelsea and Manchester United have combined to win every league title but one since the 2004/5 season in addition to a Champions League trophy each, a staggering haul especially when taking into account the frequency with which Chelsea have changed managers during that period. However at present it’s United who are struggling to come to terms with a new man in charge, prompting a club record bid for Mata despite the fact that the Spaniard has struggled to crack Mourinho’s starting lineup all season. While on occasion top class talent has moved from one top four club to another, for example Robin Van Persie’s transfer from Arsenal to United and Ashley Cole’s move from Highbury to Stamford Bridge, it is highly unusual to see a player who has been so instrumental to his sides success in recent seasons move to a direct competitor, albeit one who sits far further down the table than is normally the case.

As the player at the centre of this all Juan Mata must be wondering what he did to be so publicly eschewed by Mourinho as soon as ‘The Special One’ arrived at the Bridge for the second time. In his two and a half seasons with Chelsea Mata has twice won the clubs player of the year award, winning the Champions League in year one and the Europa League in year two, before being relegated to the bench for the first half of the present campaign. A lively creative influence, Mata is adept at playing both in the classic ‘number 10’ position behind the main forward or on the left flank, where he can use his wand of a left foot to great effect. Having made his Valencia debut in 2009 he quickly established himself as one of the brightest young talents in Spanish football, not an easy task thanks to the other young stars who have emerged during their era of world footballing dominance. 129 leagues appearances and 33 goals later Mata was off to England and Chelsea, the Blues beating a host of other top European clubs to his signature. During his first season in England Mata scored 12 goals and created a further 20, highlighting his ability to both find the net and spot a pass. His second season was even more prolific; 20 goals and 35 assists. A nomination for the PFA Players Player of the Season award was well deserved and although Mata would lose out to Gareth Bale in that category it was clear for all to see that the Spanish maestro was one of the Premier League’s elite performers.

Mata’s international career is equally as decorated as his domestic portfolio and he currently has both a World Cup and European Championships winners medal to his name. At just 25 years of age he’s already achieved more than most footballers achieve during their career, so what does the future hold in store for the soon to be Manchester United man? One thing it won’t feature for at least the next few months is Champions League football. Having played twice for Chelsea during the group stages of this years competition Mata is cup tied should his move to Manchester go through, and with United also out of the Carling Cup and F.A Cup he’ll see action exclusively in the league for the rest of this campaign. His brief hiatus from European footballs top competition could lengthen, however, if his arrival at Old Trafford doesn’t signal a change in fortunes for David Moyes men, who sit three places and six points out of fourth place with just 16 games remaining. It’s more likely that Mata will be showcasing his talents in the Europa League than the Champions League next season and as United embark on their first true rebuilding phase for more than two decades Mata may have to sit and watch and both England and Europe’s top clubs battle it out for silverware.

With the next few months and potentially seasons unlikely to be hugely successful for Mata, Moyes and Manchester United (#alliteration) on the surface the move doesn’t make much sense for any of the involved parties. Yet if you look beyond the here and now the logic behind the transfer becomes much clearer. It’s been said a thousand times this season and it’s true – Manchester United are a team in transition. The core of the last great team built by Sir Alex Ferguson is over the hill and falling fast. Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Patrice Evra and Robin Van Persie are all the wrong side of 30. Wayne Rooney turns 29 in October and with his iffy fitness record you would figure he doesn’t have a great deal of time left at the top of his game. If United are to rise again they’ll need the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Adnan Januzaj and Tom Cleverly to fulfill their potential. Developing players is a long and arduous process but it can be accelerated by surrounding these fledglings with proven quality. Quality such as Juan Mata. Before Ferguson won his first title with United he brought in the mercurial Eric Cantona to Old Trafford and built his team around the Frenchman. Jose Mourinho might think he can get away with selling Mata to Manchester United, a team he believes poses no threat under David Moyes. Yet he’s failed to account for the fact that Juan Mata will be far more valuable to Manchester United, a beacon of hope for the future and a player to build a team around, than he was to Chelsea, the Premier League’s most talented (and expensive) impact sub. It’s believed one of the key reasons Mourinho wasn’t targeted by the Manchester United board was his lack of vision and propensity for short sightedness. That very same dearth of planning could see Juan Mata come back to haunt him in years to come.