Rodgers v Moyes – No Comparison.

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31362Since his departure from United, a million words have been written on the disaster that was David Moyes’ tenure as Manchester United boss.

Some are still suggesting that he should have been given more time. I must admit, there is still a sliver within me that agrees with this sentiment but the greater portion of my thoughts on the issue go with the stance that he was never the right man to begin with so if you’re going to give anyone more time then give it to the right man.

However, where I do disagree most strongly with this “more time” argument is when people point at what Brendan Rodgers has achieved at Liverpool after being given more time following a disappointing first season.

First of all, you need to look at the position of the two teams when the respective managers took charge.

When Rodgers was installed in the summer of 2012, Liverpool had just finished the previous season in eighth position – a massive 37 points behind ourselves and the goal-difference winners Manchester City.

Whilst this might have been a particularly bad season for Liverpool, it wasn’t freakishly bad – previous seasons had seen them finish 6th in 2011 (22 points behind the winners) and 7th in 2010 (23 points behind the winners).

In short, they hadn’t even been troubling the top four for a couple of years and the days of them being regarded amongst “The Big Four” were rapidly disappearing.

Compare this to where United had been when David Moyes took over – 1st in 2013 (11 points ahead of second), 2nd in 2012 (level on points with the winner), 1st in 2011 (9 points ahead of second), 2nd in 2010 (1 point behind the winners) and 1st in 2009 (4 points ahead of 2nd placed Liverpool).

In short, that is almost as close as it possible to get to winning the league five years on the bounce whilst having to settle for “just” the three.

Moyes took over a team that had been hitting the bullseye with stunning regularity for five years whilst Rodgers took over a team that had peaked three years previously, had spent the intervening period languishing in the doldrums and were seemingly going nowhere fast.

Then there is the first season of the two managers.

I must admit that I do remember seeing Rodgers in a press conference not long after he started at Liverpool and things weren’t going too well. He spoke well but I did wonder if he was starting to regret leaving Swansea and was perhaps beginning to feel that he had bitten off more than he could chew with a club such as Liverpool.

The first five matches of that season saw Liverpool pick up just two points and even after twelve matches, they had picked up just fifteen points which is little better than relegation form.

However, as the season progressed, Rodgers did seem to be getting his message across and Liverpool started to play some very good football. It was all too little too late after such a poor start but in their final twelve matches of the season, they finished as strongly as any team in the Premier League. They lost just one of those twelve matches and 5-0, 4-0 and 6-0 thumpings of Swansea, Wigan and Newcastle respectively amongst that run did tend to suggest that the pieces were finally starting to fall into place.

In those final twelve games of Rodgers’ first season, Liverpool picked up 25 points which is very close to League-winning form and comfortably inside the rate of return a Top Four side would require.

Whilst Liverpool still only finished seventh at the end of the season, the signs were there that Liverpool were finally moving forward under Rodgers.

That, right there, is why the Liverpool board would have decided to stick with Rodgers.

So how does Moyes compare with his first season in charge?

Well, in his first twelve matches in charge, United picked up twenty-one points, in his last twelve matches, he picked up twenty points.

It’s consistent but it’s consistently average and it is exactly the kind of return that leaves you in the seventh position that we currently find ourselves in. What cannot be said is that there are any signs of progress – in fact, the last twelve have yielded a point fewer than the first twelve so arguments of regression are certainly not entirely invalid.

That, right there, is one of the many reasons why Moyes’ tenure has been laid to rest.

Then there’s the background of the two managers and the style of football they are renowned for having their teams produce.

It has to be acknowledged that David Moyes did a fine job at Preston and got them punching well above their weight – it was this performance that alerted Everton to Moyes and he did well at Everton to establish them as a solid Premier League side.

The football was never particularly exciting though. Under Moyes, Everton always had the air of a side that were solid and tough to beat whilst rarely taking anyone’s breath away with its beauty.

Rodgers, on the other hand, showed what he’s all about when he took charge of Swansea in 2010.

Swansea, you may recall, was the club where a certain Roberto Martinez cut his managerial teeth but after guiding them from the 1st Division to the Championship, the club stalled around 8th in the Championship before Martinez was snaffled away by Wigan.

A season with Paulo Sousa at the helm saw Swansea finish 7th but it was starting to look like they’d perhaps reached their level. That’s where Rodgers came in and in his first season, he’d guided them to 3rd place – just four points behind automatic promotion but Rodgers still took them to the promised land that is the Premier League via the play-offs.

Many times down the years, teams coming up from the Championship – especially those who came via the play-off route – have found themselves hopelessly out of their depth in the Premier League and I think most people feared the worst for Swansea.

However, Swansea took many by surprise with their fearless, attacking style of football. Rodgers was clearly not about to sacrifice his footballing principles in an attempt to establish Swansea as a “solid” Premier League outfit.

Swansea finished that first Premier League season in a highly creditable eleventh position, finishing above the two sides that had beaten them in the Championship one year earlier.

Victories over sides such as Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool that season showed that Rodgers wasn’t afraid to mix it with the big boys either and I suspect it was that victory over Liverpool on the very last day of the season that made the Liverpool hierarchy realise that the answer to their problems might well be right under their nose.

So, in terms of football style – Rodgers 1 – 0 Moyes.

The difference between the mind-set of the two managers was brought sharply into focus when United met Liverpool at Old Trafford just over a month ago.

In the build up to the match, David Moyes hammered yet another nail into his own coffin when he uttered the jaw-droppingly shocking words, “They possibly do come here [as] favourites“.

Yes, in terms of form, Liverpool were doing better than us and, yes, they were above us in the Premier League but the manager of Manchester United – especially a Manchester United side that were still actually defending Premier League Champions at that stage – should never, ever concede favouritism to the visiting side no matter who they are.

Whilst Rodgers was too respectful to openly mock the remark, he did express surprise at the comment when he later said, “I was probably surprised before the game when I heard we were supposedly coming to Old Trafford as favourites. I would never say that at Liverpool — even if I was bottom of the league“.

Liverpool, of course, won the match 3-0 but in the battle of the managers, Rodgers was winning at least 10-0 by now.

It wouldn’t be quite so bad if Moyes was the young rookie who was still learning the ropes of management but being a whole ten years older than Rodgers with a whole ten years more managerial experience than Rodgers (and those years spent in the Premier League), it was staggering.

You might think that such a relatively small gaffe could not make that big a difference to an entire season but it was at moments such as these that Moyes betrayed his small-time mentality. By taking what he was saying in public as a guide, it wasn’t too difficult to believe that he was hardly inspirational behind the scenes, either.

As I’ve said before, it all looked very much like Moyes was unable to raise his mentality to that of that required at an elite club like Manchester United and so set about bringing Manchester United down to a more middling mentality that he was comfortable with.

Taking the United job required Moyes to grow in the same way that Rodgers has grown since becoming the Liverpool manager. He wasn’t capable and even the self-help books he seems to be so fond of reading don’t seem to have made much of a difference.

More than this, Rodgers seems to have taken his players with him on this journey of growth and all seem to have added at least 10% to their game as a result of his man-management.

Players such as Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling look like world-beaters, the old stalwart Gerrard appears to have been given a new lease of life and even the initially unwanted Henderson seems to be flourishing into a fine midfielder.

Moyes, on the other hand, has committed the cardinal sin of publicly questioning not only the footballing quality of his squad but also their “mental toughness”.

Once again, it seems to be an attempt to bring his surroundings down to his own level rather than grow and reach a new, higher level together as one.

So. That’s my take on this Rodgers v Moyes comparison.

In a nutshell, Rodgers has shown progress throughout his managerial career (not just at Liverpool) whereas Moyes has basically stood still for ten years and at this moment in time Rodgers’ star is on the rise whilst for Moyes, the only way is down.

 

The Cumulative Effect of Marginal Losses

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manutdloseWith five games left to play, our dismal season is as good as over with not even a whiff of a trophy to show for it. Not that we’ve done much to deserve any silverware this season. It has, by Manchester United’s recent standards, been a season of far too many below-par performances to expect any reward.

So, what’s gone wrong? Well, the obvious answer is “David Moyes” and whilst I wouldn’t entirely disagree with that, I do believe that there’s quite a lot more to it than that.

A couple of years ago, I was listening to an interview with Sir Dave Brailsford who was the Performance Director of British Cycling.

The part which pricked up my ears was when he was speaking about the principle of “marginal gains”. In his own words: “The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together“.

What I think we have seen at Manchester United this season is what happens when this principle is seen in reverse. A number of things not being done quite as well as before and when added together, lead to a significant drop in performance. I suppose this could be called “marginal losses”.

So, what are these things?

Well, it cannot be denied that the biggest change is the managerial change and if Sir Alex Ferguson is considered to be one of  the greatest managers (if not THE greatest) of all time then it is surely almost a certainty that whoever replaces him will be inferior?

For what it’s worth, I am still of the opinion that David Moyes was a strange choice to replace Sir Alex and the marginal losses of this appointment are more than simply those coming from a straight comparison between the respective qualities of both men and overlap into all kinds of other areas causing further marginal losses.

However, I have to admit that my position on David Moyes has softened somewhat in recent weeks. From believing that he’s completely out of his depth with no chance of turning things around because he simply doesn’t have what it takes, certain things which have happened recently have opened my mind to the possibility that he could still be the right man and that this poor season is not entirely down to Moyes.

First of all, he has shown that he is a strong-willed character. One of the very first things he did on his arrival was to go against Fergie’s advice and brought in his own coaching team.

Personally, I think that this was a mistake and by keeping the coaching staff who knew the routines and regimes of the players, Moyes could have made life a lot easier for himself.

However, I believe that Moyes is a methodical man and it does seem to me that he has spent this whole season getting to know the squad, for himself, from scratch, without his assessments being influenced one way or the other by the old regime. All players started with a “clean slate” under David Moyes which would probably explain why he has rarely started with the same team twice and why the back-four, in particular, has been an area of constant but, I would suggest, undesirable tinkering.

That’s a marginal loss right there, by the way.

It seems to me that had he kept the likes of Phelan and Meulensteen – even if just for this first season – then some continuity would have been achieved from last season to this.

However, Moyes dispensed with the lot and set about letting it be known from the very start that he is now the man in charge and that things will now be done his way.

In some ways, I do admire this from him. A little “Yes Man”, he ain’t.

My estimation of him as a man also went upwards a couple of weeks ago with how he dealt with the “Moyes Out” plane banner which a handful of fans decided was a good idea to fly over Old Trafford as our match against Aston Villa was due to kick-off.

A lesser man might have scuttled to his seat hidden amongst the players and his staff. Not Moyes. He strode out onto the pitch alone, ahead of the rest with head held high.

It was a bold move but Moyes is clearly a bolder man than some would give him credit for.

The problem Moyes has, to my mind, is with his credibility.

Manchester United is undoubtedly one of the elite clubs in World Football and an elite club needs elite personnel from the ground up. There are clearly aspects of Moyes’ character that Fergie and the board value very highly but his CV reads no better than any manager of a top flight club anywhere in Europe. In fact, it reads worse than most.

I simply find it very difficult to believe that being strong-willed, loyal and stable are qualities unique to Moyes and that these qualities could not be found in another manager who also had a record of success.

I cannot help but believe that this was also a marginal loss, though.

This then leads us onto the other significant area – the players – although there is an overlap – particularly with regard to their relationship with their new boss.

When Sir Alex arrived at Manchester United, he came with an already impressive CV having worked wonders at Aberdeen. He also came with a reputation for being the kind of man you didn’t mess about with. To say that he ruled with an Iron Fist would not be an over-statement.

Of course, things were different thirty years ago and even Fergie himself acknowledged in his later years that teacups and tantrums didn’t quite have the same effect on today’s millionaire Prima donna players and a different, more mellowed, approach was required lest they go crying to their agents about that bad man who shouted at them.

Of course, as the years went by and the trophies accumulated, Fergie didn’t need to raise his voice and forcibly exert his will quite so much.

Any player even so much as thinking about dissenting would just need to cast an eye towards the trophy cabinet and, if they were smart, would know that some people are just beyond questioning.

Us mere mortals can only imagine what it must be like to be a twenty-something chosen to play for Manchester United by Sir Alex Ferguson – this man who had won just about everything there is to win in club football during a career spanning more years than they’d been alive.

Him even signing a player must have doubled their own self-esteem and self-belief just by the associative effect. They would then want to give 110% just to prove to Sir Alex that he hadn’t made a mistake.

I might be wrong but I simply cannot imagine that Moyes has this same effect and if I’m right about that then we’re talking about another marginal loss.

When it became known towards the end of last season that Sir Alex would be retiring, I’m sure that the United players, like the rest of us, wondered who would be taking his place.

I’m obviously taking a liberty here but would it be beyond the realms of possibility that their secret wishes would have been a Guardiola or a Mourinho?

The type of manager who had led teams to recent success domestically and in Europe, the type of coach who could perhaps make them even better players and so achieve their own personal potential?

Is it beyond the realms of possibility to suggest that when the name “David Moyes” went up, the United dressing room didn’t leap into the air and cry, “YESS!!! WE’VE GOT HIM!!!”?

I’ll be honest, I’ve spoken to lots of United fans on this subject and reactions to the appointment of Moyes were many and varied – some groaned and held their heads, some just said, “We’re stuffed!”, some had reservations but were willing to accept that if he came with Fergie’s blessing and recommendation then they’d stick by him.

This last is about as “positive” as the reactions got about David Moyes, though.

Is it beyond the realm of possibility to suggest that perhaps the players had a similar range of reactions to the news?

I would suggest that had United appointed one of the aforementioned “Elite” managers then the players would have come into pre-season eager to be a part of this exciting new chapter. By appointing Moyes, I cannot help but feel that the players may well have been as underwhelmed as the rest of us.

I would call that a marginal loss.

And then there’s the expectations. Following such a massive change at the club, I don’t think any of us fans expected a great deal from whoever took over Sir Alex in their first season. Second or, at worst, third in the Premier League (OK, fourth at a complete push), a decent European campaign (let’s not forget, Fergie’s last two were poor by his recent standards) and good runs in the domestic Cups – a long-overdue FA Cup win would have been superb – would probably have been seen by many as satisfactory.

However, given that Moyes had never won anything in his managerial career (although it has to be acknowledged that he’s never managed a club of United’s standing) then expectation was perhaps lowered even further.

What if the players, already possibly disappointed at the appointment of Moyes also went into the season feeling like they’d been hamstrung before they’d even begun, also lowered their own expectations for the season ahead?

Another marginal loss.

I have to say that this next part is me taking a complete liberty. It’s something I don’t like to think about but I cannot help but wonder if it’s a possibility and, if it is, then it represents another marginal loss.

From all I have seen, heard and read about Sir Alex Ferguson, his appetite for success was insatiable. It seems that no sooner had he lifted a trophy, accepted the applause of the crowd and then passed it onto one of the players to hold aloft, it was ancient history to him.

Already his mind was focused on winning the next game – whenever and wherever that might be.

I’ve always believed that the players Sir Alex chose to play for him reflected this insatiable appetite for success and that this was almost as much a part of what he looked for in a player as their actual footballing ability.

But what if one or two (and that’s all it would take for this to represent a marginal loss) didn’t quite share his all-consuming drive? What if one or two players thought to themselves something along the lines of, “Well, no one is expecting us to do as well this season anyway, perhaps it’s an opportunity to step off the relentless treadmill that was life under Sir Alex for a little while and have a bit of a breather.“?

With Moyes seemingly taking all the blame for poor results, could it not be the case that one or two others might seize on the opportunity to not quite give 100%?

As I say, it is not something I like to believe is true. These are professional players paid extremely good money. They also wear the shirt of Manchester United. Anything less than 100% all the time is unforgivable… I just can’t quite bring myself to dismiss it as a theory, though.

The problem with it, of course, is that this marginal loss leads to further marginal losses because if just one player is not giving 100% then there is a chance that games will be drawn and lost. When this happens too often, cup runs come to an end, Premier League title races start to look like lost causes and it all starts to look quite futile.

Confidence drops, demoralisation sets in and, before you know it, the marginal loss has become one huge drop-off.

Whatever the reason for it is, and as much as I don’t like to believe it true, it is hard to look at some of our performances this season and argue that the players gave it their all but Moyes messed up with team-selection and/or tactics.

Our performances in the Champions League, for example, were largely very good and, on balance, I don’t think Fergie himself would have done much better than Moyes did with the players at his disposal.

However, when looking at those Champions League performances, it becomes very difficult to reconcile some of our performances and results in other competitions such as our FA Cup exit against Swansea and our league defeats and draws against the likes of West Brom, Fulham, Cardiff. In any other season, a defeat against one of Everton, Newcastle or Tottenham would probably be par for the course but for all three to happen in the same season suggests that things aren’t right.

My worst fears were pretty much confirmed with Patrice Evra’s recent comments, though:

In the Champions League we have played good, we are ­confident and it looks like we are all up for it more than in the league and in the cup.”

I know it is not professional to say that but it is the truth. We look more like the Man United spirit when we play in the Champions League.”

Why? It’s difficult, really painful – I don’t have any answer to that.

I would suggest that Evra answered it in his first sentence – “We are all up for it more than in the league and in the cup”.

I did say in a recent article on here that it was starting to look like some of our players have lost their appetite for the bread and butter of the Premier League and only the caviar that is the Champions League can bring them to the table.

Of course, David Moyes has to take some responsibility for this (and I’m sure he will – when the cull starts).

I remember some years ago watching an interview with Dwight Yorke. It would have been around 2001, I guess. He was saying something along the lines of how it became difficult to lift yourself again after winning just about everything in one season.

I remember feeling a little surprised at the public admission and thinking to myself, “You really shouldn’t have said that, Dwight.”

I was less surprised to see him sold to Blackburn shortly afterwards.

The point is that any implicit or explicit showing of a lack of desire and appetite always ended the same way under Sir Alex Ferguson and reputation and past contributions counted for little, if anything at all; you found yourself packing your history in your bags along with everything else whilst Fergie quickly brought in the hungry replacement from a list of candidates that never seemed to disappear.

So. I do believe that the players have a lot to answer for this season.

Reading between the lines, you may be of the view that it still does all stem from the appointment of Moyes and so, even this, is indirectly Moyes’ “fault” and, yes, I do tend to think that it might not have happened had we appointed someone else.

A similar thing can perhaps be said of the third area which has not helped Moyes this season and it pertains to last summer’s transfer activity.

It seems quite clear that Chief Executive, David Gill also leaving his post at the same time as Sir Alex retired represented yet another marginal loss.

Gill had been in the job for ten years and knew a thing or two about making transfers happen by the time he left.

The appointment of the relative rookie Ed Woodward represented another marginal loss.

The embarrassing mess that was to be our summer transfer (non) business really didn’t look good for Woodward, Moyes and Manchester United as a whole.

Offers were made and rejected out of hand as “derisory”. Advances were politely declined by our targets. In the end and running out of time, Moyes went back to what he knew and raided Everton for Fellaini.

Beyond hair and elbows, it is very difficult at this juncture to see exactly what Fellaini brings that has “strengthened” the squad to the degree that would be expected of a £2.7 million signing. That he actually cost ten times that amount is not just looking like very bad business, it is looking positively damaging right now.

(As an aside and for what it’s worth, my own feeling is that once it became apparent that prime targets weren’t arriving, Moyes would have been better off keeping his powder dry, keeping his £27million in his pocket and bringing in a bargain-bucket defender and midfielder – older players of proven quality on short-term contracts but hey ho.)

Once again, if the players were underwhelmed that Sir Alex was to be replaced by David Moyes, I don’t think it’s too hard to believe that one or two of them may well have been underwhelmed by the arrival of Fellaini after the talk all summer had been of Fabregas.

Another marginal loss and one which, at this stage, appears to have been a very expensive mistake.

We can only speculate as to whether transfer targets would have been achieved had the club appointed one of the aforementioned “Elite” managers – it must be remembered that even Fergie suffered setbacks on the transfer market many times down the years.

If the answer to this is ‘yes’, however, then this has to go down as another marginal loss or a gain gone begging.

So there we have it. There are probably other things to bring in and most do pertain to Moyes (his negativity and seemingly lack of awareness of it during Press Conferences, for example) but I think the main bases have been covered here.

Add them all up and the cumulative effect is a significant drop in the standards we’ve become accustomed to at Manchester United.

One thing I am quite certain of right now is that whilst Moyes may be the primary factor, he is not the only factor and there are mitigating factors in his defence.

The question now is: Can Moyes turn this around? Can these marginal losses be turned into gains?

That will be the subject of a future article.

Man Utd v West Ham (Premier League 2013-14)

Man Utd v West Ham

West Ham have only beaten us once in the league at Old Trafford in their last nine visits (1 1-0 back in 2007) – they’ve lost on every other occasion and have only managed to score one goal in all those games (when they were beaten 4-1 in 2008).

It really should have “home banker” written all over it but it has been precisely this type of game that has wrecked our league campaign so far this season.

However, I did detect a few shoots of recovery in our midweek match against Stoke in the League Cup and, for the first time this season, I actually felt like I was watching Manchester United again.

We should win here this afternoon and we should win comfortably.

However, I remain a little concerned about our goal output and I think the bookies may have it wrong when they say that this could be a high scoring game.