Don’t blame Moyes for Man Utd woes: the buck stops at the top

Taking the heat. Moyes exits. Peter Powell/EPA

Patience at Manchester United has run out. David Moyes has been sacked possibly sooner than was expected, but entirely predictably given the huge financial pressures that were looming if the team continued to under-perform.

As Old Trafford veteran, Ryan Giggs, steps temporarily into the hot seat, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the business model of any sports club is mostly driven by what happens on the pitch. On-field success enhances each of the three revenue streams – match day, broadcasting and commercial.

In United’s most recent financial statement published on February 12, the projected revenue for the next financial year was around £420m. But this was predicated on the fact that the team would finish at least third in the Premier League and reach the quarter finals of both the FA Cup and the Champions’ League, only one of which happened.

Giggs moves into focus. Peter Powell/EPA

As a consequence, somewhere in the region of £40m will be wiped off the bottom line of the balance sheet by the club’s failure to qualify for the Champions League alone. Perhaps more importantly, the necessary rebuilding of the team will be more difficult and cost much more than anticipated from a significantly weakened negotiating position. While the immediate financial situation will not be too burdensome – given the fantastic shirt deal already in the bag with Chevrolet and another in the offing with Nike – the future was beginning to look precarious and more than one year out of the Champions League considered unacceptable.

Sense out the window

So, the sacking of David Moyes was clearly a consequence of managerial failure but not entirely, indeed not even predominantly, that of Moyes himself. The real blame lies with the board and the CEO, or executive vice chairman, as Ed Woodward is called.

All normal recruiting and managerial sense seemed to fly out of the window from the moment Alex Ferguson resigned after 26 years in charge. Ferguson himself was permitted an over-powerful influence on the selection process whereas the sensible thing to do is not involve the outgoing person at all. Notwithstanding, the board and CEO sanctioned the selection of Moyes and then compounded that by allowing the incoming manager to bring with him an entirely untried (at this level) back-room team to replace an entirely tried and tested team.

Such mass movements are common in English football and do no favours to either the club or the manager himself. Managers will often demand such deals but they should be resisted. Of course, if at the end of the first season the manager wishes to replace staff that is entirely reasonable. Managers – and apparently Moyes was one – make a rod for their own back by taking on the entire responsibility for everything within the club and see delegation as a sign of weakness whereas it is the exact opposite. Clubs collude in this by abrogating their responsibility to manage the manager.

You can kiss goodbye to that. Ferguson in happier times for Man Utd. Peter Powell/EPA

So, again, the CEO must take responsibility for endorsing the signings of Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata, as well as a lucrative new deal for Wayne Rooney. All three decisions smacked of desperation; it was difficult to see a strategy behind any of them. It was said at the time of Mata’s purchase that it was needed to appease the fans. That is no reason to spend £40m of the company’s money. Fans are appeased by sensible management, not rash, expensive decisions.

Moyes is carrying the can for the dismal performance this season and it is right that he should carry his share of the responsibility but it appears, at least from the outside, that he received scant support from those whose job it is to provide it. It may be a coincidence but when strong oversight and support for the managers is removed (as happened with with the departures of David Dein at Arsenal and David Gill at United) the omniscience of the head coach is exposed as a facade.

United fans should hope the board and CEO do their jobs better this time around. If not, United may be looking at a repeat of the post-Matt Busby era of multiple managers and chronic underachievement which eventually lasted more than 20 years.