Taxi drivers’ opinions are always a good barometer of domestic and foreign affairs, and hailing a black cab in town pre-Olympiakos, the guy behind the wheel managed to sum up the current situation at United in just 3 words. After a group of us dived in and revealed Old Trafford as our destination, his deadpan reply was brilliantly succinct.
“Are you sure?”
Despite the horrors witnessed of late, of course we were. This, after all, was likely to be the last Champions League tie we’d be seeing for quite some time. Although we’re pretty bobbins at present, it’s still United in the European Cup KO stages. And if you can’t get excited about that – regardless of who the manager is – then you seriously need to have a word with yourself. United v Olympiakos, 2-0 down, full house at OT… what’s not to look forward to?
David Moyes spent his pre-match press conference swatting aside questions about his future, claiming key figures within the club were being “very supportive” and he was unperturbed about the prospect of imminent unemployment. 7 defeats in 14 games since January and the fact he was fielding such questions at all told a different story, however. If Moyes isn’t concerned about his position given what’s occurring at present, then I’d suggest he should be.
Although the diabolical Liverpool performance ended with a defiant show of unity from the OT crowd, the reality when talking to people is somewhat different. Speak to any United fan one-on-one and you’ll struggle to find anyone who’s not lost faith in the chosen one. There are still some people not advocating instant dismissal, mainly because they don’t see any benefit in sacking the manager prior to the summer. I personally don’t know anyone (barring a couple of internet-based lunatics) who remains confident of Moyes’ ability to turn things round. It’s not unfair to say most reds want him out of the job as soon as possible.
Moyes has been fortunate over the last couple of months that home fixtures have been something of a rarity, meaning that the OT crowd hasn’t been given much of an opportunity to vent. The miserable showing in Greece was a distant memory by the time the Liverpool home game came round, and I’d suggest it was only the fact it was Liverpool that prevented booing at the final whistle as opposed to the “20 times, 20 times” ballooning that transpired. Likewise, the next home game is City. Another bad result there and pride will again dictate that grievances aren’t made public… yet.
Whilst the majority of United’s support has been behind him all season, the fans’ patience won’t last indefinitely. The last 4 home games of the season, Bayern aside, are Villa-Norwich-Sunderland-Hull. No deadly rivals there, just home bankers against Premier League flotsam who we should be beat easily – exactly the kind of fixtures in which we’ve struggled all season. Any repeat of the Liverpool performance in these games and it’ll be a surprise if the result is not met with widespread, public dissent as opposed to disgruntled mutterings. Moyes should feel blessed that he’s not been on the receiving end already.
In the end, a 3-0 win over the Greeks and progress to the next round guarantees him another few weeks at least – but one senses that things have to change quickly if Moyes is to remain in charge beyond this season. Claims of unrest in the dressing room have been floating about for months – nothing new there. But now rumours are circulating about key personnel aligning themselves away from the manager and the sounding out of potential successors. Despite Moyes claiming his position remains secure, he’ll be the last to know if moves to remove him have already begun in earnest.
The Glazers, according to some, have become increasingly twitchy in recent weeks. Season ticket sales remain strong, but despite claims to the contrary, demand clearly isn’t what it was 5 or 10 years ago. Anyone unsure whether or not to renew in the past would end up doing so, fearful of losing their seat forever – a threat that simply no longer exists. Once upon a time season tickets were prized, family heirlooms passed down from generation to generation, whereas nowadays they’re basically on open sale each summer. Fancy a season ticket at United these days? Phone them up and surrender your card details. You need 2 or 3 together? Not a problem.
Whilst the commercial side of the club seemingly goes from strength to strength, with new sponsorship hook ups announced on a weekly basis, no Champions League next season means that particular revenue stream will take a huge hit. Factor in a potential drop in demand for season tickets (even more likely should the club include Europa League games in the ACS), and that might just prove the straw the breaks the camel’s back.
Although he’d (quite rightly) never admit to it in public, Moyes knows that he’s fighting for his future now and desperately needs a strong end to the season – and even that might not be enough to save him. Since last summer we’ve heard a lot about how United operate differently to other clubs, we show saintly levels of patience with managers and give them as much time as they want, apparently… but the reality isn’t like that at all.
Taking the Busby and Fergie dynasties out of the equation, our previous managerial departures have been just as brutally swift as those at any other football club. McGuinness and O’Farrell were both sacked within 18 months of starting the job; Sexton after winning his final 7 games on the bounce (including a win at Anfield); Ron Atkinson dismissed just 12 months after he had United 10 points clear at the top of the table; Docherty just weeks after wining the FA Cup… albeit for shagging the physio’s missus. (Obviously there’s no chance of those kind of shenanigans with a good Christian man like Moyes.)
At this point one can only presume that the club will proceed with their much-heralded, ‘long term’ perspective and outwardly at least, maintain that the manager retains their full support and backing. Only a sustained outpouring of pent-up frustration from the crowd will force a reversal in this stance. In simple terms: the fans turning on the manager will signal the point at which the club has justification to act. “We had to sack him, it’s what the baying mob demanded”, would be the shrugged explanation. Although the owners will ultimately dictate whether or not he gets another season, it’s the rank and file OT support who hold the power to decide Moyes’ fate.
Copyright Red News – March 2014