The problem at Manchester United is not the overbearing shadow of Sir Alex Ferguson, as suggested by Roy Keane. Under Sir Alex there was a defined system in place - Ferguson managed and his coaches coached. Now there is a new man at the helm and he doesn’t know how to get the players to respond in the same fashion – it takes years.
The players are struggling to react to the coaching and the way David Moyes wants them to play – they can’t deal with it. Moyes struggled to sign players last summer and they will certainly struggle to sign new players this summer if they don’t make the Champions League.
I don’ think that Sir Alex’s presence is having an effect – if anything it is a poor transfer strategy that is having the biggest impact on the club. Football at the highest level is increasingly being played through midfield and United have been lacking there for the last few years. They have relied on old heads to get them through whereas before they were dynamic in the centre of midfield.
Last season Robin van Persie papered over the cracks and fired them to the title but he is now getting injured – players do have tailored programmes and Van Persie had a great finish to his Arsenal career that he then carried into his first year at United because he had a programme that would have limited his injury problems.
But it appears he may have had the training programme changed and he has missed some games. In this instance, it would have helped to have had someone there from the previous regime to ensure they still got the best out of him.
Change is inevitable and it made sense for Moyes to make backroom changes but it was too much too soon. Chris Woods is a great goalkeeping coach with genuine pedigree but it was probably a mistake to completely purge the backroom staff. There will be members who have left who know the intricacies of the players. Moyes made a massive mistake not to retain at least one key member of the backroom staff.
Instead he has a very inexperienced bench. Phil Neville and Steve Round are not ready to be dictating to Manchester United players – they could be part of a supporting cast but they are not conductors of an orchestra, yet. Neville needed to serve an apprenticeship elsewhere as a coach and then come back to the club. It is totally the wrong time for Phil to be there.
Just look at Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, he completely changed the ethos of those players – it was revolutionary but he kept on Pat Rice because he was a fine coach but also because he ensured that the transition was smooth and look at the success that club had.
As well, Ferguson always had an internationally recognised coach at United – Carlos Queiroz or Rene Meulensteen, for example - but to bring people in from Everton who had not coached previously at the club was the wrong decision.
Keane has said that Sir Alex’s biggest strength is ruthlessness. Sir Alex is loyal but isn’t overly sentimental, too – if it came to a straight choice between the player and the team then the team came first. There certainly was a ruthlessness to Sir Alex’s teams. Under the previously regime, I doubt United would have lost their last two games – against Everton and Newcastle they had lost that sense of being relentless.
You can’t really expect loyalty in football now – the demands of the modern game are such that if you can’t do the job you have to let someone else come and do it.