‘If Guardiola would have gone in the same thing would have happened’ – Why David Moyes failed as Manchester United manager
Saturday will see David Moyes take on Manchester United for the tenth time since he was sacked by the club and it’s the first time he goes into the fixture in the ascendency. It has been some turnaround.
After Moyes was unceremoniously dumped by United less than a year into the unenviable task of replacing Sir Alex Ferguson, it looked as though he had been consigned to the managerial scrapheap after suffering failure after failure.
A brave spell at La Liga side Real Sociedad did not go well, his time at Sunderland was a disaster as he was at the helm as the rickety ship finally took on too much water and went down. The first relegation of his career.
A few months later West Ham United called upon him to prevent them from suffering the same fate, replacing Slaven Bilic. He achieved his objective but obviously didn’t impress enough while doing so as he wasn’t offered an extension to his six-month deal and the Hammers brought in Manuel Pellegrini instead.
Moyes had been given three jobs since leaving Old Trafford with success ranging from moderate to utter calamity. It looked as though his days at the top table were over as he was tarred to the same brush as other managers for whom the game had passed by: Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew, Sam Allardyce and the like.
So eyebrows were raised rather high when 18 months later West Ham hired Moyes once again but this time everything changed. After guiding them away from relegation again in his first half-season, in the 2020-21 campaign he led the Irons to their record Premier League points total of 65 and qualified for Europe for the first time in the club’s history.
Many may have presumed it was just a flash in the pan but, even with the added burden of the Europa League, West Ham have continued their excellent form this season. They have played some thrilling, attacking football as well as remaining compact defensively, with Moyes crafting a canny side brimming with young, exciting players.
With 37 points from 22 games so far this season, they are on course to break the 60 points barrier once again and are firmly in a race to finish in the top four.
West Ham currently sit in fourth place – though United, Arsenal and Tottenham all have a number of games in hand on them – which makes Saturday’s meeting at Old Trafford so crucial. It’s close to a must-win for United as they look to arrest their dreadful form and reduce the gap on fourth. A defeat would see them fall five points behind.
But even if West Ham were eventually caught by their much wealthier competitors, they still have a real chance of reaching the Champions League through winning the Europa League.
It would be some achievement for Moyes and would typify the career renaissance he has had in the last two years, proving he is still an excellent manager at the highest level and isn’t ready to be put out to pasture just yet.
So, since the qualities Moyes possesses are clear, why did it go so wrong at United?
Not many people know the Scot quite like Mick Rathbone. The pair worked together for 15 years and fate even conspired for them to both wind up at United together at the same time. Though both their stints would end in disappointment.
Rathbone had a good playing career spanning over three decades, largely in the old second and third divisions, before hanging up his boots and returning to his teenage ambitions of becoming a doctor. He retrained as a physio and was hired by former club Preston North End, where he first met Moyes.
“I had 15 years with Dave, seven days a week. I’m his biggest fan,” Rathbone tells the Manchester Evening News. “When I first qualified as a physio in ’95 I went to Preston in the bottom division.
“Dave was a player in the team, I was the physio, there was no staff in those days. There was Gary Peters the manager, Dave Keller the goalie coach, me, Brian the kitman. Like five members of staff.
“We were really good friends. We had an amazing seven years at Preston as we went up through the divisions. Bolton beat us in the play-off final and then me and Dave went to Everton and had eight fantastic years there.”
Rathbone left Everton in 2010 and went on to physio for the England Under-17s before being hired by United as a wellness officer for the Under-21s, five months before Ferguson brought down the curtain on his remarkable career.
While Rathbone’s didn’t enjoy his time at United – despite having nothing but admiration for the club – due to being uncomfortable with his vague role, he was able to watch first hand as his old friend arrived at the club.
“[It] was Ferguson’s last five months where they won the league and then David came in in the summer,” he says. “So it was really interesting because I’d had 15 years with Dave, we could read each other’s minds.
“We’d been so close, had loads of success. So I kind of stood outside of that bubble looking in and seeing what happened and I have to say I didn’t see Dave do anything wrong. I saw him doing the same stuff that bore him success, I didn’t see him changing things at all.”
When asked if he believed Moyes was the right appointment, Rathbone says: “100 per cent. I thought it was fantastic. It was weird because he came into the training ground before he took over, Sir Alex showed him round and they bumped into me. And Sir Alex goes ‘Mick, have you met this guy?’ so it was all a bit funny and nice.
“Me and David had stayed in contact so I was really pleased for him. I think everyone it was a right appointment and, as I say, Dave did nothing wrong. I was there, I was watching, I was around him, albeit from a bit of a distance. It was just how it had to be.”
Yet, despite Moyes using the same tried and tested methods that served him so well at Everton and earned him Ferguson’s blessing to take over the reins, they did not work at Old Trafford.
In 51 games at the helm, he won just over half and suffered 15 defeats. When he was sacked on April 22, 2014, the reigning champions were down in 7th place and 23 points off the leaders. One of Ferguson’s final acts at Old Trafford following his last home game was to ask fans to ‘stand by our new manager’ but an awful 10 months made that pretty difficult.
Rathbone believes that Moyes was doomed from the start and it doesn’t matter who would have replaced Ferguson – even the world’s best coach Pep Guardiola – it would have gone the same way.
He says: “I think it was just the tide comes in, the tide comes out, and the tide was going out at Man U.
“Whoever would have taken over, after them 20 odd years of Sir Alex there had to be a period of mourning and unfortunately whoever went in was going to be faced with that.
“It was proven again with [Louis] Van Gaal and [Jose] Mourinho, who are world-class managers, they found it really hard as well. So, I think probably the right job at the wrong time for Dave.
“But, if they had have given him more time he’d have gradually, without a big flourish of the chequebook, he’d have rebuilt it piece by piece. That’s the way it is, football isn’t it?”
“If Guardiola would have gone in the same thing would have happened. I think after Ferguson, it had to die down for a bit but Man U will come again won’t they? All the great clubs, AC Milan 20 years ago, we thought they’d be at the top forever, Barcelona they’re now sinking down, aren’t they? It happens to every club. It happened to the Roman empire, the Habsburgs, the British empire.
“Fortunes ebb and flow. You think you’ve got it sussed forever but it always slips away in time and that’s the way it is.”
“I honestly believe that,” Rathbone adds when asked if Moyes was destined to fail because of those factors. “Van Gaal came in with an amazing CV, didn’t really happen.
“Mourinho, who I think was the most successful manager of all time [at the time], he got runners up and they won the Europa League he didn’t do bad, but he couldn’t just quite get it back to how it was.
“So I think there had to be that grieving period and as I say, I’ve looked at it 40 odd years, football, when things are going well you’re like a big supper tanker, you steam forward, but then inevitably the tanker starts to turn round. It might take a long time but, eventually, it turns, it goes into reverse and that will happen to every single club.
“Man City, in time, obviously not this year, probably not next year and maybe not the year after that but eventually. The top teams have world-class players, United had those world-class players, City have got them now and you can’t go out and buy them off the shelf.
“It’s so hard, that dynamic, that jigsaw that goes together so seamlessly and when it starts to go, it starts to go. Barcelona are struggling now. So that’s just the way it is.”
Moyes hasn’t let those unfortunate 10 months define his career, even though they threatened to ruin it for so long. Now as he gears up to face his old employers once again he does so knowing he is on equal footing and, to some extent, having proven his detractors wrong.
No one can blame United much for taking action when they did but Rathbone does prescribe to the thinking that had Moyes been given more time he would have been a success. Now he’s just happy that his old friend is finding it elsewhere.
“I do say if they had have given him more time he will prove what a good manager he is and now he’s proving it,” Rathbone concludes.
“He’s had more time and he’s shaping a really good side without going mad in the transfer market. A great pattern of play, difficult to break down, difficult to beat, high energy, all seem to be loving playing there. So I’m really pleased.”
Mick ‘Baz’ Rathbone’s second book, The Smell of Football 2, which chronicles the following 11-years of his career after his debut memoir is out now and available to purchase here.
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