David Moyes was fired yesterday. Not exactly surprising given that Manchester United is 7th in the Premier League, meaning they’ll miss out on Champions League play for the first time in over 20 years, and the first time they will drop below 3rd since 1990-91 (which is staggering). To make matters even worse, the team that Moyes came from is currently in a fight for 4th, to get that last Champions League spot (Arsenal is one point ahead), a good 12 points above Manchester United, having just beaten them 2-0 over the past weekend. There was little chance David Moyes was going to survive, given that this team, with largely the same roster, won the Premier League easily last year, but should he have survived, is there a place for stability in world football, or any sport?
Replacing Sir Alex Ferguson was never going to be an easy job. He’s easily the most accomplished club manager in history, given the size of the sport now to what it used to be. He’s had some luck in both his Champions League wins (coming back from 0-1 down in the last five minutes against Bayern in 1999, and having John Terry slip and pull a penalty wide to save Manchester against Chelsea in 2008), but he’s still won that competition twice, while reaching two other finals. There’s nothing he hadn’t done. He transformed that club to the largest brand in football outside of Real Madrid. He left a gaping hole. Moyes was probably doomed to fail from the beginning.
Moyes was an interesting choice from the start. His real training for the job was a mildly successful 10 year run at Everton, where they were always in that 10-5 range, once finishing 4th and qualifying for the Champions League. They once made the FA Cup Final, losing to Chelsea. Part of his connection to Manchester United was a relationship with Wayne Rooney, who the club wanted to convince to stay. Well, if Moyes accomplished anything, it was that, as Rooney is locked up to a giant contract. Sadly, that’s all he accomplished.
I don’t know enough about Everton to say what type of football Moyes liked his teams to play, but whatever it was, it didn’t work with the United players, especially the older ones. There are 10-year veterans on United that have only played under Sir Alex, like Giggs, Evra, Vidic, Rooney at their time in United. They were entrenched in that style that proved ultra-successful, and they were slow to adapt and slower to accept the changes Moyes wanted to make. If anything, Moyes’ biggest failing was not getting the support of the elder players, a trickle-down problem that permeated across the club. He’s now gone, and someone new will come in, likely someone with a little more clout than Moyes had. Who knows if it works, but all I know is that after being the most stable club in Europe, they’ve basically thrown that all away.
To turn it back stateside, Marvin Lewis, coach of the Bengals, is entering his 12th year as the Head Coach of the Bengals, despite never winning a playoff game in his previous eleven. His teams have made the playoffs five times in those 11 seasons, and only twice lost more than 10 games. In the history of the Bengals this is a good run of success, especially considering the decade prior to Lewis’s hiring. That said, in a league where the average lifespan of a coach in 3 years, it is staggering that Lewis still has a job. Some say it is due to owner Mike Brown being too cheap to pay Lewis in firing him, but I think the larger reason is they want consistency.
Marvin Lewis commands respect for that team. He’s given the Bengals a stable base for a decade. There is value to that. Can the Bengals win a Super Bowl with Lewis? Maybe, but probably not. Can they stay competitive? Yes. Will they stay competitive replacing him? Maybe, but maybe not. The Bengals took 12 years to find a coach that could last after Sam Wyche left, and they’ve held on to him. I respect them for that, and for the Steelers keeping Cowher after missing the playoffs three years in a row from 1998-2000, or for the Titans for keeping Jeff Fisher all those years. Stability matters in sports.
In a way, Lewis’s time in Cincinnati is a good comparison for Moyes at Everton, but Manchester United is not Everton. They didn’t want to wait for Moyes to build something, but who can build something that quickly. The hottest coaches right now are Jurgen Klopp and Diego Simeone, both have essentially turned the job down for now. Next in line are guys like Louis van Gaal, who has never been one for consistency, or Laurent Blanc, who is untested but been successful. But where is the proof that the next guy will be the answer. European Football is every bit as quick in coaching hiring and firing as the NFL. Just look at the history of Real Madrid’s coaches, who have often been fired after winning La Liga or the Champions League. Manchester United avoided all of that, but that is now gone.
Manchester United has to look just a little south to Chelsea to see what can happen. Jose Mourinho was the perfect coach for Chelsea when he came. He did some incredible things with the Blues from 2004-2007 (in a way, it is unfair to compare him to Moyes since Mourinho’s resume was far superior), but then they let him go. What was left was a parade of managers, only one making it through their second season. Avram Grant was fired despite making the Champions League Final. He gave way to Luiz Felipe Scolari, who was fired midseason for the interim Guus Hiddink. Next came the only real period of stability, with Carlo Ancelotti leading for two seasons, but then he was canned, replaced by Andre Vilas-Boas, who was fired midseason and replaced by Roberto Di Matteo, who was then fired midseason the next year and replaced by Rafael Benitez. Finally, Jose Mourinho came back. That could be United’s future.
It is really unfair to give Moyes so little time to make an impact. No one is going to be Sir Alex. No one. They will never get another Sir Alex Ferguson. But they also need to show to future managers that they aren’t going to hold everyone to that unattainable standard. Certainly Moyes didn’t come close, an Manchester United brass definitely expected more, but that quick trigger could be a signal that the club will be a Chelsea, or a Man City (who fired Roberto Mancini after good results), rather than what they were or even Arsenal, who despite not winning a trophy for 8 years, have been extremely competitive behind Arsene Wenger.
David Moyes will probably get another job, and he underperformed at Manchester United, but he probably feels let down, both by his players and management. He proved he could coach with playing Bayern Munich far closer than anyone imagined in the Champions League Quarterfinals, but in the end, the losses were just too many. I don’t know who the next coach will be, but I hope they use Moyes’ quick sacking as a sign that United’s period of stability is most certainly over.