The Poisoned Chalice

Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets.

The first official week in charge of Manchester United should have taught David Moyes a fair share about the idiosyncrasies of managing a top flight European club. Firstly, he will probably have gained a sense of rejuvenated humility following the initial failed acquisition of Leighton Baines from his former club Everton. Remember the castigation he felt over City’s pursuit of Joleon Lescott? Nothing adds a dose of perspective like a seat in the lofty throne-room of Manchester United. There will also be a sense of surreal deja-vu surrounding the immediate future of a certain Wayne “England’s Great Hope” Rooney, an issue that will go some way in determining the relative clout of Manchester’s new Scottish patriarch. The overriding question remains; how does one follow in the footsteps of, perhaps, European club football’s greatest ever manager? The initial answer seems to indicate a careful interplay between personal managerial strategies and a reliance on Fergie’s brains trust.


It was slightly surprising that Moyes dispensed with Mike Phelan and crew following their successful stint under the tutelage of Sir Alex. I would have thought that their guidance could have helped Moyes acclimatise to the vagaries of the United position. But retrospectively, it looks as if his decision to appoint his former Everton backroom staff may actually be his first positive move at the helm of the world’s most famous club. By instilling Steve Round and Co. he is helping accommodate his daunting transition as effortlessly as possible. It more importantly sets out a powerful declaration of intent, one that firmly establishes his authority within the managerial capacity of the club. Those intimately connected to the Fergie coaching dynasty, professional as they no doubt were, would probably have been the first to pine for the good old days when things began to falter.



Then, in what I perceive to be a veritable masterstroke by Moyes, he has appointed both Phil Neville and incumbent United player Ryan Giggs to the coaching staff. They join Nicky Butt in a coaching set up that will imbue every United fan with a fuzzy treble afterglow. Not only does it have fan appeal, it manages to vicariously syphon off of Sir Alex’s most successful protégés. Additionally, Neville, a trusted former captain of Everton, has the added distinction of having walked in both worlds, introducing a salient perspective on the challenges awaiting Moyes. Furthermore, in Giggs he manages to capture an essential component of the dressing room and one of the most iconic figures in Old Trafford lore. He is also potentially allowing for the end of Giggs’ glorious career at the club, offering a smooth exit strategy for the Welsh playmaker.

The choice of Leighton Baines as a possible transfer target makes a great degree of sense, as Patrice Evra’s defensive capabilities seem to be dwindling in comparison to his more attack-minded endeavours. Thiago Alcantara seems to be exactly the type of player that United need at the club, a more creative influence in a team who generally seem to be more workmanlike in recent years. A lot will hinge on Moyes’ ability to convince Rooney to remain at the club. Perhaps more importantly, Moyes will have to devise a way to incorporate Rooney into the fabric of the team seamlessly. Playing in a slightly deeper position last year he showed the range of passing and determination necessary to influence a game, but occasionally he lacked the defensive nuance that the position demanded. He will also have to deal with any personal rivalry he feels towards Van Persie over being the number one man; a rivalry that I feel probably went a long way to dictating his tempestuous moods last season.



One factor that works distinctly in Moyes’ favour this season is the relative lack of core stability at the clubs competing directly around him. The return of the ‘Special One’ to Chelsea, while exciting to fans of the London club, will probably not come without some dramatic upheaval. He has lost his aura of invincibility since his stint in the Spanish capital and his relationship with Roman Abramovich can best be described as testy. Then you have the appointment of Manuel Pellegrini at City, which always requires a period of adaptation. So Moyes knows that perhaps his two greatest adversaries will have their own period of adjustment to contend with. With only a few weeks away, United fans will be quietly confident that the right man has inherited what many thought was a poisoned chalice. His blend of pragmatic reliance on the past and his own strong vision of United’s future should stand him in good stead to withstand what will undoubtedly be the greatest challenge of his career.