Friday, 22 August, 2014

Published March 29, 2014
End of the road for Moyes?
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Some supporters are planning a banner fly-past ahead of tonight's game against Aston Villa to call for Moyes' removal. The 'Wrong one - Moyes' banner will be flown over the stadium for 15 minutes.

WHAT a difference a space of just 10 months makes. Last May, Manchester United was riding high in the English Premier League.

As the club's long-serving manager Alex Ferguson bowed out of the sport on a high by guiding the swashbuckling Red Devils to a record-breaking 20th league title - winning the crown at a canter, no less - few would have imagined the disaster that was soon to follow.

In all fairness, even the most ardent supporters would not have realistically expected the team to retain the championship under new boss David Moyes, a Scot handpicked for the job by Ferguson himself.

It is the club's sharp decline that has many people flummoxed. United now languishes in seventh spot, way behind leaders Chelsea and arch-rivals Liverpool and Manchester City, and two places lower than Moyes' former club, Everton.

With a paltry 51 points from 31 games, United is guaranteed to finish with its lowest points total in the history of the Premier League.

The results on the pitch are both disappointing and puzzling. Moyes essentially took charge of the exact same squad of players - yes, the team was an ageing one but none of them departed last season after Ferguson stepped down.

Where Moyes bungled early on was to dilly-dally in last summer's transfer window. With just hours left before the transfer deadline closed, United paid an exorbitant amount to recruit Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian midfielder has failed to impress and looks a shadow of the man who tormented others when he was at Everton.

Juan Mata joined the ranks in January for a club record fee. The Spaniard hasn't quite settled down into his stride yet, only showing his talents in glimpses. He can be a good fit for United, but only if Moyes can deploy him in his favourite No 10 position and not anywhere else.

Thirteen losses in all competitions, even in a transition year, has been difficult to stomach. Manchester United fans are used to the team setting records, but not the kind they are experiencing of late.

It's the first time United have lost home and away to Liverpool and Manchester City in the same season since the Premier League was launched 22 years ago.

The club's Old Trafford stadium, which used to be an intimidating fortress under the Ferguson era, has been the scene of some quite painful defeats this term. Six losses at home in the league - seven, if you count the embarrassing exit in the FA Cup to Swansea City - are more than the past three seasons combined.

In the League Cup semi-final, the Red Devils were just seconds away from beating Sunderland to reach the final, only to concede a clumsy last-minute goal and suffer a shock elimination on penalty kicks.

There are many, many more humiliating results that would require much more than this entire page to list them all.

Moyes still firmly believes his job and lucrative six-year contract are safe but others aren't quite so sure. If some reports in the British media are to be believed, the 50-year-old Scot is a dead man walking, with his relationship with the club's owners, the Glazer family, said to be at breaking point.

The fans, who have largely backed Moyes so far, seem to be slowly turning on him. Last Tuesday, after the 0-3 defeat to City, stewards at Old Trafford had to protect a large banner with Moyes' face from angry fans who wanted it torn down.

Some supporters are planning a banner fly-past ahead of tonight's game against Aston Villa to call for Moyes' removal. The "Wrong one - Moyes" banner will be flown over the stadium for 15 minutes.

There's even a brewing story about how David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and the rest of the Class of '92 under Ferguson are part of a consortium planning to stage an audacious buyout of the Glazers' 90 per cent stake in Manchester United.

Moyes will never enjoy the same luxury of time that Ferguson did when he struggled in his early years at the club back in the late-1980s. Manchester United now has a global fan base of 659 million people and there are millions of shareholders to answer to. Anything and everything the club does, both on and off the pitch, will come under round-the-clock scrutiny.

After every defeat, Moyes claims he has a way to get out of the mess. No one quite knows what he has up his sleeve, but for his sake, it had better be a really good plan.

With United long out of the running for any domestic honours, there is still the Champions League quarter-finals to look forward to. Even then, many are not too hopeful of progress given that United must first get past the defending champion Bayern Munich over two legs starting next Wednesday.

If the Red Devils don't raise their game fast enough, the in-form Bayern - recently crowned German league champions - could well rack up a tennis score when all is said and done.

If ever Moyes had a Plan B, now would be as good a time as any to fish it out and pray hard that it works.