So the Sir Alex Ferguson era was over. I remember hearing the news of David Moyes becoming his replacement on the radio and seemed the majority were in favour of the choice and I was very much part of it. Little did we know how badly wrong we were going to be.
Moyes’ first big decision was to completely remove Sir Alex’s back room staff who had just overseen yet another Premier League campaign and knew the squad inside and out. It is key to point out that this is not unusual for a new manager to do, we see it time and again with managers favouring who they have worked with before, whether it be staff or players, but this was a different situation to anything before. The club knew nothing but Sir Alex and his ways for 26 years, the squad, like many before it, had been built by the hands of one man, it was hard enough to lose the main man, but to then lose every other remnants of his leadership was never going to end well.
Then came his first transfer window at a big club, could he attract the names needed to put his own stamp on the squad but at the same time keep the club at the top. The squad he inherited was branded as average, but that “average” squad were also the champions of England. To give him credit, the names linked with the club that summer were impressive, Toni Kroos, Cesc Fabregas and Gareth Bale being the highlights. But Moyes, coupled with new Chief Executive Ed Woodward, soon realised they did not hold the same clout as the Fergie and David Gill partnership. None of these three targets materialised, instead deciding to move to other clubs, leaving United entering the latter stages of the window with the same squad as the previous season. I mentioned earlier that managers prefer to stick to what they know when it comes to staff and players, that summer we were also linked to Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman, both decent full backs but neither came to fruition. However, one player did make the short trip across the North West to Old Trafford when Marouane Fellaini became Moyes’ first senior United signing and a very controversial one at that. Not only was the jury out on his ability to play at a club like United but deep concerns over the fee for a player we could have signed for far cheaper if we had met his buyout clause just weeks earlier. This transfer, plus the diabolical mess of an attempt to bring Ander Herrera to the club was the first sign of how much the club missed two big characters in Fergie and Gill.
A new beginning on the pitch.
A rocky transfer window was not reflected on the pitch during Moyes’ first couple of games in charge, the first at Wembley in the Community Shield seeing us easily defeat Wigan. First up in the league was a visit to Swansea, a tough game on paper, but we started as we finished the previous season, a 4-1 victory, Van Persie scoring goals and United sitting on top of the table. Moyes got off to the perfect start, silencing some doubters in the process, unfortunately for him and the club, this was not a sign of things to come.
The new gaffers first home outing came against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, remembered for Jose not fielding an out and out striker. Inevitably the game finished in a stalemate. The following fixture saw another tough trip away to Liverpool and our first defeat, with us going down to a solitary Daniel Sturridge goal. The tough start continued for Moyes with his first taste of the Manchester derby, sadly a bad taste, as United got well and truly out played on a 3-1 defeat. The excellent win at Swansea was fast becoming a distant memory and Moyes was finding it tough at the very top. The team was struggling to hit any kind of rhythm and badly in need of some good performances and 3 points. We had a great chance to do so when West Brom visited Old Trafford to close out September. Instead, our season was about to get even worse, with the visitors going ahead early in the second half only for Wayne Rooney to equalise soon after. It was the first time I expected us to kick on and win a game coming from behind like we had done so often before and show this was still the United we all know. But not this time, this time was different. There was a lack of belief throughout the team which began to resonate through the crowd and with that West Brom hit straight back through a young Saido Berahino to give West Brom their first win at Old Trafford since 1978. This would not be the last unwanted record set by Moyes during his reign at the club.
Into October we were faced with yet another chance to build confidence and pick up some much-needed points, as we travelled to Sunderland. This one of the games I remember most about this disastrous season, purely down to one man, or probably, in this case, a boy. Adnan Januzaj was given a chance in the first team and what impact he made. We were staring down the barrel of yet another demoralising defeat until Januzaj stepped up with a double strike, the second a quite exquisite volley that showed the class he possessed. I for one was convinced I was watching a new Old Trafford star and for the remainder of the 2013/14 season, he was proving me right. Where a lot of the senior players showed a lack of interest and desire Januzaj became a crucial part of Moyes’ plans, very often being the spark for any good passages of play in our performances.
From the Sunderland result, we would go 7 games unbeaten, with one stand out game, or at least moment. Arsenal came to the Theatre of Dreams sitting on top of the league and some rather odd comments from Arsene Wenger regarding Van Persie added some extra spice to the contest. Inevitably, Van Persie would be the difference and for the first and possibly last time that season, his celebration showed how much he cared, with a passionate and emotional reaction very rarely seen from a player scoring against his former club.
Short lived optimism.
As November reached a climax, we were starting to pick up some more positive results, none more so than 3 points in the champions league following a 5-0 away win at Bayer Leverkusen. This was by far the best performance under the new manager, seemingly a turning point in the season. We would go on the comfortably qualify from what seemed a very difficult group when the draw was made in August. A draw away at Spurs at the start of December was hard fought but never a bad point especially after trailing twice and very much keeping up the momentum built through the previous 2 months.
Unfortunately, this momentum was about to be destroyed and never to be seen again. In a 3 day period, we would host Everton and Newcastle during early December, 2 very winnable games on paper, but both it resulting in 1-0 defeats and in the process setting 2 further records for clubs winning at Old Trafford. The 4 wins over the Christmas period would not be enough to change the concern over the new manager. I remember thinking that even in games we were winning, I could not see what Moyes was trying to do, could not see how he wanted ua to play and the players seemed disinterested every time they stepped on the pitch. Whether it was down to losing the dressing room, as so widely rumoured or simply down to a huge and unknown transition period, something certainly wasn’t right at the club.
We entered the New Year with back to back home games vs Spurs in the league and Swansea in the FA Cup. Once more Moyes was to set some unwanted records, Spurs winning 2-1 and then Swansea repeating the scoreline, recording their first ever win at Old Trafford. Although we would reverse the result a week later in the league we would go on to lose 2 out of the next 4 leaving us down in 7th position and Moyes managerial reign hanging by a thread.
New Year, new signing, same results.
The end of January did see Moyes’ second senior signing and a quality one, managing to bring in Juan Mata from Chelsea after falling out of favour with Jose Mourinho. However, Mata would not be enough to stop the poor performances and results. A battling 0-0 away to Arsenal and 2 further away wins, one avenging the West Brom defeat from earlier in the season, produced yet more short lived optimism.
I say short lived as we then suffered to shattering defeats that would signal the beginning of the end for Moyes. A heavy 3-0 defeat to Liverpool at home, our biggest rivals, was bad enough but the performance that day was one that sticks in my mind as one of the worst I have seen in my United supporting days. 3-0 was actually a good result on a day where it could have been a lot more, especially with a missed Steven Gerrard penalty. Just a week and a half later we would then suffer another 3-0 home defeat but this time at the hands of our closest rivals. It was becoming apparent Moyes’ time at the club was coming to a very painful and abrupt end.
It is fair to say the a large majority of supporters, including me, had not witnessed anything like this before, we were only used to success and Sir Alex. Moyes was tagged ‘the chosen one’ in reference to being hand picked by Fergie. Not many would go against the bosses wishes and I can understand why Moyes was brought in. Rather than go for the short term option like so many other clubs, we wanted to continue a period of stability and long term management at the club. Only this time the pressure of immediate success was so much more important than it was 26 years ago when Fergie first came to Old Trafford. Most thought the job of following, undoubtedly the most successful manager in world football, was just about impossible and unfortunately for Moyes he was proving them all right.
The beginning of the end.
Rumours were circling that there would be a fly over Old Trafford demanding the sacking of the manager. Scenes like this are not normally connected to United and I thought and still think, this was a disgrace but a sign of how bad things were at the club. There would indeed be a fly over during a comfortable 4-1 win against Aston Villa. We would then enter our Champions League quarter final against Bayern Munich with a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford before the return leg in Munich a week later. This was Moyes’ last chance to save his job, defeating one of the biggest clubs in Europe would surely buy him time and for a spilt second, I thought it could happen. An absolute rocket from Patrice Evra put us 1 up in the second half and ahead in the tie, only for Bayern to storm back and eventually run out comfortable 3-1 winners.
The manager’s time was just about up and the race was on to see if he would make the end of the season. However, out of all cups and no chance of qualifying for the Champions League, there was only one winner. Ironically his last game in charge would be a defeat at the club he had left to move to Old Trafford, with his inevitable departure occurring 2 days later. Just like that, we had lost yet another manager, no managerial departure 26 years and then 2 in less than 12 months.
Ryan Giggs was put in temporary charge for the remainder of the season before hanging up his playing boots for good. A couple of home wins was the highlight during his time in charge but the season was all but over long before. We had fallen in epic proportions, from champions of England to 7th spot, no European football and seemingly a reputation in tatters. The decision to employ Moyes now looks a disastrous decision especially given the calibre of managers available at that time. Although I respect the direction the club wanted to go, there is no doubt that losing Ferguson and to a lesser degree, Gill, was hugely underestimated and more damaging to the club than they realised, unfortunately still being realised to this day.