Manchester United's confidence-sapping tumble has long roots

Posted by Mark Payne

David Moyes will receive the majority of the criticism for a run of form that extinguishes Manchester United's title ambitions before the equinox and leaves the confidence of their fans and players in tatters. While the new manager is performing badly, the blame cannot be laid solely at his door. Those in the directors' box and the boardroom must shoulder some of the blame. United's fall has been a long time coming. Eight years, to be exact.

Two separate polls, one at the Manchester Evening News and one at Stretford-end.com, asked the same question on Saturday night -- can Manchester United finish in the top four? As of Sunday afternoon, the answer was a resounding no (68 percent in the first poll, 78 percent in the latter). The club that asks its fans to "believe" has made them give up.

Moyes is responsible for the same thing that all managers are responsible for; the selection of the team, the tactics they employ and motivating the players. Thus far, he has selected players who are not good enough, and repeatedly. He has persisted with Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini despite below-par performances.

-Jolly: van Persie lost in the deep
-Brewin: Knives out for Moyes
-Pardew urges support for Moyes

Why is he doing this? Quite possibly because they are as good as any players he has worked with in the past. He is also not in a position where he can tear into the dressing room for fear of losing it. He is trying to direct traffic with his hands tied behind his back.

"This time last year we were 3-2 up with nine minutes to go," Newcastle's Alan Pardew said after the match. Yet United came back on New Year's Eve 2012. There was never any danger of that in the Magpies' 1-0 win on Saturday.

Moyes has played with tactics that encourage the side to hold on to narrow margins, trying to close games out at 1-0. This policy has seen United concede last-minute equalisers on several occasions -- defending when they should be attacking.

The side lacked edge and desire against Newcastle. It always does when Wayne Rooney is not on the field. It is not Moyes' fault he is not the unique motivational genius Sir Alex Ferguson was. But he patently is not.

On the other hand, Moyes could not have played a more attacking team on Saturday. Robin van Persie, Chicharito, Nani and Adnan Januzaj all started. Additionally, bringing on Antonio Valencia and Wilfried Zaha was a sound decision, as United had no way to gain control of central midfield. Trying to get penetration from the wings seemed sensible considering the circumstances.

Fergie is not without blame here. United have bought only one world-class player in the past eight years. As players have aged, the squad has not been replenished as it should have been. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic are clinging on past their prime. Previously, greats such as Gary Pallister and Jaap Stam were replaced with a minimum of fuss.

The squad is awash with personnel who have had plenty of chances to make it and failed. Nani, Anderson, Tom Cleverley and even Danny Welbeck are far short of the stardust quality that wins European Cups.

Other than Rooney, van Persie, Michael Carrick and David de Gea, it is hard to see where the top-level players in the United dressing room are. In comparison, Chelsea have brought in Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar in recent years. City have topped themselves up with Samir Nasri, Sergio Aguero and a host of others. United lag far behind.

The foundations for this week of shame were laid in 2005 when the Glazer family took control of the club. Eight years of underinvestment has come home to roost. Former chief executive David Gill and Fergie, for whatever reason, did not sound the alarm internally when they were running the show. It looks as if they got out just in time.

Hope can be found in the fact this team has beaten the league leaders and the Bundesliga's second-place team in the past month. They are not as bad as the past two results suggest. Nonetheless, the fans are reeling at the moment and this situation is as bad as any that could have been imagined.

The Glazer family must surely realise they must spend big, and now, or the brand will be damaged irreparably. The fans just want their club back. After years of watching money travel quietly into the pockets of hedge-fund managers, the team on the field is starting to suffer. The worst may be yet to come.

Mark Payne is the author of "Fergie's Last Stand," now available in paperback. Follow him on Twitter @MarkJPayne.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.