September is over and Sir Alex Ferguson already seems a distant figure, his retirement sombre and its aftermath troubled.
Few people within the game (at least in public) doubted that David Moyes was the right man to succeed arguably the most significant footballing figure of the last quarter century – but the ever fickle tide of popular football opinion is turning against him.
In an age in which sages of Twitter and blog post pundits* are far more prolific than people who actually know their onions, forgiveness is not doled out easily.
(* Obviously that includes yours truly.)
The last 25 or so years have been spectacular by the standards of any club: two Champions League titles, 13 Premier Leagues, some of the world’s greatest players, a magnificent stadium, a worldwide following and the greatest manager of all time.
Why should United not expect instant success from his successor? Why should they put up with losing to Liverpool, Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion in the first six games?
Surely this is reason enough for the vultures to circle. Surely David Moyes’s appointment was an enormous blunder. Surely.
In one sense, albeit a small one, they are right. Manchester United is, like many a disgraced worldwide bank, Too Big To Fail- an institution that must be saved at all costs.
A brutal giant that must be kept alive. Surely. Surely. No matter the price.
To say that this view is shortsighted is an insult to anyone with genuine myopia. Six Premier League games have been played. Six.
Another 32 to go and with games against Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool (and, erm, West Brom at home) out of the way.
Unarguably, Moyes’s case has not been helped by a few factors, most notably the almost wholesale replacement of the backroom personnel (including René Meulensteen, one of the most highly regarded coaches in football today) and a very public and largely unsuccessful transfer window.
You can add to that some frustrating first team choices and some unguarded, naïve comments in the press, particularly about United’s transfer ambitions and about the squad’s deficiency.
But very little is said about what Moyes has done right. To keep Wayne Rooney and to get him firing on all cylinders – he has been the best player in the League so far – and to come out on top of the mind games played by Mourinho (who has more than just a League rivalry against Moyes) is no small achievement.
Rooney, it is quite clear, wanted to leave for Chelsea and had been training, according to teammates, at his highest level for years.
A fired-up Rooney is quite a sight and there is no question that United are better off with him than without, particularly donning the West London navy blue.
It is quite possible that Sir Alex may not have been able to keep Rooney at the club, so reportedly acrimonious was the falling out between the two – and even if he had, he may not have got him playing so well.
United fans pining after Mourinho should also consider that the so-called Special One has done little special for Chelsea except embarrass himself and the club over his very public pursuit of Rooney and insult Juan Mata, arguably the League’s top performer for the last two years.
Second, Moyes has begun to address the midfield problem at United. Fellaini is a fine player, a versatile, tough and menacing presence who can score, head and break up play as well as any other central midfielder in the League.
His performance against City was poor (as was almost the entire team’s) and his appearance against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday night little better.
That he has taken time to settle in is hardly a shocker and there is every reason to believe he will show the form that brought him to United in the first place. Examples are all too common, from Stam to Sheringham.
What will and should worry the United faithful is the deficiency of the squad itself. United have four, perhaps five truly world class players: Vidic, Rooney, van Persie, Evra and maybe De Gea.
Given that Vidic, Evra and Van Persie are now 30+ and that there is not a single midfielder who comes close to those levels, we have a team whose spine needs swift replacing.
(Allow me to qualify the above statement: Carrick is an excellent ‘context’ player for United but cannot be seen as world class solely on his own, admittedly considerable, abilities.
The underused Shinji Kagawa is as yet unproven in the League and Moyes may have been right not to play him against City due to his small frame: Kompany and co. would have eaten him alive.)
United’s under-performing wingers is a major curse that *may* turn out to be a curious blessing: Moyes has an abundance of strikers and four possible No. 10s in Rooney, Fellaini, Kagawa and Welbeck.
Integrating them along with Van Persie and Hernandez to good effect is possible if United can find a way to play without wingers – heresy given United’s stellar roll of former wingers, but there you have it: it may well be the only way to succeed the man many Reds consider the Messiah.