Controversial at the start, calamitous towards the end and cumbersome in-between: David Moyes' drama- and defeat-filled reign as Manchester United manager has come to an end.
Tipped to build on Alex Ferguson's trophy-laden era, his fellow Scot and anointed successor has instead overseen a dramatic slide in performances and team morale this season. A new low - if possible - was reached on Sunday when United lost 0-2 away at Everton, his former club, for the Red Devils’ 11th defeat in 22 matches since the turn of the year.
The Straits Times looks at six reasons why the dethroned English champions have decided to wield the axe less than 12 months into Moyes' six-year contract.
1. Changing of the guard
One of Moyes’ first decisions was a harbinger of the nightmarish season to come. The club’s long-serving coaches, including Ferguson’s trusty deputy Mike Phelan, goalkeeping coach Eric Steele and Rene Meulensteen, the crafty Dutch tactician who ran first-team training sessions, were given their marching orders. In their place, Moyes brought over less experienced Everton backroom staff like Steve Round and Chris Woods. Another addition, former United midfielder Phil Neville (Moyes' captain at Everton) has failed to impose himself as a bridge of contact between the coaches and players.
2. Un-winning mentality
Despite inheriting a team that coasted to a record 20th top-flight title by 11 points last season, Moyes used his first press conference to complain about tough fixtures in United’s start to the campaign. To fans, it seemed like he was buying insurance despite inheriting a title-winning team.
Earlier this year, he incurred the wrath of United’s faithful by commenting that arch-rivals Manchester City was a team that the Red Devils should aspire to. Contrast this to Ferguson, who had once dismissed the Citizens as their noisy neighbours with plenty of talk but little bite.
Perhaps Moyes’ biggest PR boo-boo came last month when he declared Liverpool as favourites ahead of their clash at Old Trafford. Fans were angered by this uncharacteristic billing of the club’s biggest rivals, just as they were when Brendan Rodgers’ men strutted off the field with an easy 3-0 victory.
3. Tacky tactics
Supporters accustomed to free-flowing, cavalier football under Ferguson grew tired of Moyes’ defend-first, shoot-later tactics that had served him well at Everton but were out of sync with a side used to winning more and challenging for top European honours. So used to steamrolling past opponents at home, Wayne Rooney & Co. have lost six of 16 league games at Old Trafford this season, which would have been considered blasphemous during the Ferguson era.
Moyes’ fickleness has not helped, adopting 51 starting line-ups in as many matches. The early months of the campaign saw his players thump one aimless cross after another into the box, before recently employing a misguided form of "tiki-taka" where team-mates exchange short passes with little penetration in the final third.
Consider these examples:
In a dismal 2-2 home draw to bottom-placed Fulham in February, United made a league-record 81 crosses, smashing the previous mark of 74 set by Liverpool in 2006. Remarkably, Fulham crossed just four times during the game, avoiding defeat for only the second time in 51 years at Old Trafford. United enjoyed 76 per cent of possession over the 90 minutes, and had 31 shots at goal compared to their opponents' six.
In Sunday's 0-2 loss to Everton, United had 66 per cent possession in the first half, completed 381 passes in total, 110 in Everton’s defensive third and only produced one attempt on goal. On the other end of the pitch, Everton had already put two goals in. Worse, he still felt that United played well.
It all boils down to a manager having no clue who his best 11 are and how he wants his team to play.
4. Losing the dressing room
It is the worst-kept secret in English football that Moyes no longer enjoys the backing of most of his players. Master striker Robin van Persie, the man who almost single-handedly won the title for his new employers last season, was the first to moan. Despite repeated denials from both parties, the Dutchman is said to be unhappy with Moyes’ "stone age" training sessions, where running and defensive scheming take precedence over creativity and attacking combinations.
Promising English winger Wilfried Zaha, Ferguson’s final signing who could have added much-needed penetration down the flanks, was also mysteriously sidelined despite impressing during the pre-season. Forward Danny Welbeck, despite scoring 10 goals this season, is also said to be frustrated with a lack of playing time, with news of him considering his future at his hometown club leaking just hours before the Everton match on Sunday.
But the final straw, it seems, was Moyes’ secret war with United legend Ryan Giggs. Having been promoted to the coaching staff, the Welsh wizard has rarely been seen communicating with the Scot, and has also been largely overlooked on the field despite impressive displays when selected.
5. Transfer fiasco
In an age where instant results and fans’ views on social media are king, Moyes failed miserably at maintaining United’s image as one of the major players in the transfer market.
Many have been left baffled as to why he was not active in adding to a squad which he continually repeats are not deep and dynamic enough to challenge for silverware. Big names like Cesc Fabregas, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo were thrown around in a vain attempt to show their spending power, but Moyes’ first signing, Belgian misfit Marouane Fellaini, has looked as shocking as his hair.
Spanish maestro Juan Mata, a panic buy during the January window to ease fans’ ever-growing criticism, was deployed in an unfamiliar right-wing role as Moyes preferred the much-maligned Wayne Rooney in the pivotal No. 10 role. Instead of selling the England international as Ferguson had planned, Rooney - who will be 29 in October - was also inexplicably handed a five-year contract worth £300,000 (S$632,000) a week.
To the relief of most United supporters, that looks to be the final costly error of Moyes’ traumatic stint.
6. Setting new lows
Aside from winning the Community Shield in his first game in charge, there were hardly any bright moments during Moyes' United reign. in fact, it will be remembered for the new lows he set.
Moyes’ unwanted United records:
- Guaranteed to finish the season with their lowest Premier League points tally
- Did not qualify for Champions League for the first time since 1995
- Worst home league form for over a decade
- Suffered three defeats in a row for the first time since 2001
- Knocked out of the FA Cup third round - which happened just once under Ferguson
- First home defeat to Swansea
- First time losing both league matches to Everton since 1970
- First home defeat to Newcastle since 1972
- First home defeat to West Brom since 1978
- First league defeat to Stoke since 1984
- Conceded a first-minute goal in the Premier League for the first time - Edin Dzeko for Manchester City
- First time Everton, Man City & Liverpool have each beaten United home & away in Premier League era
- First time Everton & Liverpool have achieved league double over United in the same season