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It was during an episode of farce on Bondi Beach in July, days into David Moyes’s reign as Manchester United manager, that it became evident that the Scot had misjudged the magnitude of the job he had walked into.
Having left behind the frenzy of Bangkok on the first leg of United’s summer tour, Moyes had decided to take his squad on an impromptu trip to Bondi – a stroll around the beach to stretch the players’ legs after training.
Fans run alongside Manchester United’s squad with David Moyes in the middle. Photo: Dean Sewell
On a similar summer trip to Sydney with Everton, Moyes had taken players on the same bonding session and it passed without incident. But this was United, and while an Everton squad containing Australia international Tim Cahill went unnoticed in their club tracksuits among the surfers and sandcastles, Moyes’s new team were mobbed and besieged by supporters to the extent that the manager had to hide his players in the rooftop bar of a nightclub until security arrived to restore order.
It was akin to a supply teacher taking a group of unruly sixth formers on a day out, with the leader’s authority undermined from the outset. United’s security staff and local police usually work in tandem when such trips are planned, but Moyes was unaware of this and a tour which had already made him uncomfortable due to the demands of sponsors and supporters had just delivered a stark example of the monster he now managed.
Moyes failed to heed the lesson of Bondi, however, and as his disastrous reign progressed, he walked into every pitfall in his path.
Moyes lacked the edginess with the media that his predecessor Sir Alex Ferguson was so adept at. Photo: Getty Images
He had taken over from Manchester United’s legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson. During 27 years at Old Trafford, United under Ferguson won 13 Premier League titles, two Champions League titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups and one FIFA Club World Cup in 2008.
Initially, Moyes was too reverential, too awestruck by his new surroundings, allowing himself to be caught on a microphone saying “wow” as a five-minute montage of United’s glorious history was played to an audience at a £250-a-head ($ 450) dinner at Sydney’s Westin Hotel.
Moyes also hinted at inner doubts about his suitability for the job, even claiming to be fearful of what he had taken on.
Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand is mobbed by supporters on Bondi Beach in July. Photo: Dean Sewell
“I tell you, there’s not one person who would turn around and say: ‘Taking over Manchester United, you think you can walk in there and breeze in and think you can do it easily?’?” Moyes said in Sydney. “Of course not. There has to be an element of fear that comes with managing a club like Manchester United. You would have doubt if anybody took over this job, but in my own way, I’ve got to say I feel it’s the right job for me at the right time and hopefully I’ll make it work.”
Gary Neville, United’s former captain, claimed in his newspaper column in December that Moyes would have to “let United change David Moyes rather than David Moyes change United”, but as he toiled away, the sense emerged that the manager was doing the opposite.
His first decision as manager, to remove Ferguson’s coaching staff and transplant his Everton backroom team at Old Trafford, was a sign of his determination to do things his way, but it was the first of many decisions that left players and staff at United confused and concerned. It suggested he was not prepared to step out of the comfort zone he had earned at Everton. None of those coaches would challenge him in a way that more seasoned and successful staff would have done and it allowed Moyes to continue on his course to disaster.
Moyes received a hostile reception upon his return to Goodison Park on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images
Early rumblings of dissatisfaction among the players as a result of Moyes’s training methods were dismissed, yet they failed to go away. A group of players accustomed to sharp sessions with the ball under Ferguson were now being asked to improve their fitness in much more physically demanding training routines, where lengthy, and often tedious, sessions practising shape and defensive drills replaced the possession work favoured by Ferguson. Yet rather than produce a fitter team, United appeared lethargic and increasingly incapable of passing the ball, as borne out by their abject performance at Goodison Park on Sunday. Tactically, Moyes also left players bewildered.
Midfielders were told not to get ahead of the ball, which reduced their goal output and left the forwards isolated and starved of possession. And when Rene Meulensteen, Ferguson’s former coach, returned to Old Trafford with Fulham, his claim that United were predictable and easy to play against following a 2-2 draw undermined Moyes at a time when supporters were bemoaning the approach of incessant crosses from the flanks.
On the pitch, there were few signs that Moyes was getting it right. A 1-0 victory over Arsenal in November failed to kick-start United’s season the way it should have done. And a brief flurry of victories in December came to a shuddering halt against Tottenham on New Year’s Day, when a 2-1 defeat sparked a shocking run of form that led to seven defeats in 14 games, culminating in the 3-0 loss to Liverpool.
Crowds watch Manchester United stretch on Bondi Beach Photo: Dean Sewell
But while the alarm bells were ringing on the field, the signs off it were equally worrying for those around the club. Moyes naively allowed himself to be lulled into a conversation with an Everton supporter in a hotel bar following his former team’s victory at Old Trafford in December, when the Scot allegedly criticised the reception he received from the travelling supporters. The conversation emerged on Twitter, forcing Moyes to defend himself against accusations that he had labelled the Everton fans a “f—— disgrace”.’
On that occasion, Moyes, a decent and approachable man, simply fell into a trap that Ferguson would never have allowed himself to be drawn towards. Inevitably, Moyes was compared to Ferguson the manager as well as the man. Despite Ferguson’s fearsome reputation, the Scot possessed a compassionate side and would regularly spend time chatting to club staff – from cleaners to receptionists to groundsmen – about their daily lives. Moyes proved a distant figure, however, described by those who saw him daily as a man consumed by the job and lacking the personal touch and charisma of his predecessor.
He would be indecisive over everything from team selection to travelling arrangements, with even his programme notes being changed on numerous occasions because of his concern over the pitch of his message.
Supporters would bemoan that message – the repeated use of “hopefully”, “we will try” and “we face tough opponents” – and question why he would not deliver the bold statements expected of a Manchester United manager.
Rather than speak with the charisma of Ferguson, Ron Atkinson or Tommy Docherty, his United predecessors, Moyes instead found himself compared to the more reserved – and unsuccessful – Dave Sexton and Frank O’Farrell.
He rarely snapped in front of the media, as Ferguson often did, despite the negativity surrounding his team and his methods. But when he addressed journalists as “s—houses” earlier this month following the publication of a letter he had written to supporters, apologising for the team’s performances, it was an outburst that highlighted the strain he was under.
That strain was evident from day one, from Bangkok to Bondi and through to his final games at Old Trafford. A decent man and one with integrity, Moyes ultimately proved to be the wrong one for Manchester United.
The club will bounce back, but after such a haunting experience, can the same be said for David Moyes?
The Telegraph, London