THE Perfect Storm hit Old Trafford last night, leaving David Moyes and Manchester United with a heck of a job on their hands to repair the damage. The penalty shoot-out implosion as United crashed out of the Capital One Cup semi-final to Sunderland was the culmination of a growing crisis that I – and many others – had seen coming since last season. I have alluded to this several times in this column and I’ll have to say it again: United’s 13th Premier League title win last season, Sir Alex Ferguson’s glorious swansong as the most successful manager in the history of British football, was all the more remarkable because it was achieved with a squad that was clearly fraying around the edges.
Now, a combination of that ongoing fact, plus injuries to key players like Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, has left new boss Moyes with the mother and father of a job to restore the team to former glories. The massive problem Moyes inherited is that United icons like midfield maestros Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs have not been adequately replaced, resulting in a sub-standard level of performance in that key area. United have authorised a club record £37m fee for Chelsea’s Juan Mata – and that, plus the £28m spent of Maroaune Fellaini last summer must only be the start of the spending if United are not to allow the phenomenal success story that Ferguson wrote over a 27-year tenure to unravel. I am sure that, within weeks of taking over last July, Moyes will have realised that all was not what it seemed with the squad and that, by now, he is crystal clear about the extent of the rebuilding required. He needs another two top class midfielders and he needs to strengthen a defence that has lost its air of authority along with the waning powers of Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra. Goalkeeper De Gea’s embarrassing fumble to allow Bardsley’s shot to enter his net will renew old doubts about him and, as for the strike department, so much will depend upon whether Rooney and Van Persie stay at the club. I see rumours have reawakened as to the possibility of Rooney going to Chelsea and that makes me wonder if there is an unspoken agreement in the Mata deal. What is for sure is that if either, or both, of those players had been in the team last night, what a big difference it would surely have made. Not least from the penalty spot, where you would expect Rooney and Van Persie to succeed.
As it was United’s inexperienced, shoot-out nominees blew it, big-style. It is hard for the fans to understand how professional players, particularly those at the top level, can miss from 12 yards, but the fact is it takes a special character to step up in front of 70,000 people, with millions more watching on TV, in a make-or-break situation, and do the job. It is down to pressure and how well or badly you handle it. Rooney wouldn’t have had a problem with that. But there aren’t that many Rooneys or Eric Cantonas out there, men who thrive on the tension. A mistake that is often made, as it was by several of the failures last night, is to try to place the ball. To do that, you have to either be lucky, with the keeper going the wrong way, or you have to have the nerve to withhold your strike until the last split-second, something that former Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli is good at. No, believe me, the most effective method for most players is to smash the shot thus giving the keeper little hope, even if he has dived the right way.
In the final analysis, though, as Moyes graciously admitted, United were not good enough to subdue a Sunderland team struggling near the foot of the table. On the assumption that United, therefore, cannot possibly be good enough to win the Champions League, their season is, effectively, over in January! When can you remember that last being the case? It is time for sweeping change and Moyes should not be judged until the end of next season, when he will have had time to implement his revolution.