Manchester United: How David Moyes Can Defend the United Way
At some clubs, identity is everything.
Barcelona believe their team are more than a club, Liverpool are obsessed with their sentimental sense of honour and tradition and Athletic Club are dedicated to their Cantera policy of only playing Basque footballers.
Manchester United's sense of self—otherwise known as The United Way by some fans—is dogmatic, based as it is on some simple beliefs set down by Sir Matt Busby and later embellished by Sir Alex Ferguson.
These ideals can roughly be boiled down to playing entertaining, attacking football with a commitment to self-producing new talent and allowing brilliant footballers to express themselves fully.
Busby's vision for his teams came from a desire to delight his working-class spectators, as described by Mark Lomas of ESPN FC:
His philosophy was simple: Hard-working people toiled all week in anticipation of watching football and they deserved to be entertained. Those who frequented United games in the Busby era were rarely disappointed.
These open-ended principles, rather than forcing United down a strict and suffocating path of orthodoxy over the years, have helped to drive the club's desire to reinvent itself to win ever greater glories and overcome new and emerging threats.
From the overwhelming collective talent of the Busby Babes to the individualism of the Holy Trinity of Best, Law and Charlton, through to the power and pizzazz of Ferguson's side in the 90s and his more urbane, cautious counter-attackers of the 00s, every one of the club's great teams have shared the same DNA.
How will David Moyes uphold and advance this legacy and where can he fit into the tapestry of the club's traditions?
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United's success throughout the 90s and 00s was built on the maxim of "strengthen while you're on top."
While fans enjoy talking up the success of the club's academy, especially in contrast to the petrodollar funded glory of Manchester City and Chelsea, Sir Alex was never a manager afraid to splash out when he needed to, or even to reinforce and refresh an already successful group of players.
Back in 1989, paying £1 million for Paul Ince, £1.3 million for Danny Wallace, £1.5 million for Neil Webb and £2.3 million for Gary Pallister was hardly small change, while Roy Keane's £3.75 million move four years later was a British transfer record at the time.
Having already spent £27.5 million on Marouane Fellaini, Moyes has shown a willingness to invest some serious money in his squad even if some fans believe the Belgian wasn't the right man for United.
Then again, Wallace and Webb didn't exactly become the stars they were bought to be at Old Trafford, but they still helped inch the club into their era of Premier League dominance.
With Moyes' original summer plan based around the idea of bringing in three midfielders, with Thiago and Cesc Fabregas earmarked as two potential targets, the new manager may only need to follow through with his existing plans to show that he is able to boost and improve the team as required.
United's very best teams were built on potent midfield pairings—Carrick and Scholes, Keane and Scholes (pictured), Keane and Ince, Wilkins and Robson, Stiles and Crerand and perhaps even Edwards and Eddie Coleman—and bringing that department up to the level of the team's quality in attack and defence is of vital importance, whatever the cost.
Keep His Early Faith in Youth
However, paying the price for the talent United need to prosper needn't get in the way of one of the central tenets in Sir Matt and Sir Alex's blueprint for the club: develop and trust in youth.
From the Busby Babes to Fergie's Fledglings, a common thread connects the club's two greatest managers.
To paraphrase a certain Scottish TV pundit once more, Moyes may not be able to win anything with kids in the short-term, but his early determination to play Adnan Januzaj has been promising.
Hopefully the likes of Wilfried Zaha, Nick Powell, Jesse Lingard and co. will soon receive similar opportunities to shine in the side, but Ferguson's successor must also ensure the academy continues to be improved and well-resourced in order to meet the changing demands of the game.
Players such as Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley also require support in order to fulfil their potentials as important squad players for the club in the tradition of Nicky Butt, John O'Shea, Darren Fletcher and their ilk.
After all, United's success has always been founded on the work rate and commitment of lesser stars and functional heroes who heaved the club to titles, cups and European glory with their work rate and passion for the badge.
Even if the club cannot produce a homegrown Eric Cantona or Cristiano Ronaldo every year, that fervour to fight for shirt comes partly from the academy and its importance as a link to both the future and the glorious, historical past.
Moyes must continue to blood not only the prodigies that come through the system but also potential squad players who can come good rather than great for United.
Tweak His Tactics to Allow Wingers to Thrive
Much has been made of the new manager's focus on playing through the full-backs on the overlap, with his preference for players on the left wing especially to tuck in and cut inside rather than stretch the play.
Such an approach looks as though it should be compatible with United's traditional preference for wing play, attacking football and flair so long as Moyes finds the right balance to elevate his system above mere functionality.
Though he is still far from convincing in the role, Shinji Kagawa looks to be the ideal player to play on the left in the Steven Pienaar role if we are to revert to Everton's former tactics as a reference point.
Patrice Evra, too, is the perfect wing-back to streak forward down the left flank, although he must soon be replaced with a fitting successor—see slide one—while Rafael, when fit, has shown a similar aptitude down the right.
The right wing looks set to be the last bastion of the traditional wide-man at United, with Antonio Valencia, Nani and Zaha all excellent options to add pace and width to help create space elsewhere in the forward line.
Januzaj is also an option on the left, but he has so far shown himself to be happy to roam into the channels as well as to the byline, allowing Moyes' full-back plan to take effect even with him on the flanks.
Ferguson himself rarely played with two out-and-out wingers, and the recent shift in how the team is set up has merely formalised ideas that already existed at the club into a more rigid structure.
While no one would want the manager of United to be precious, he must ensure that the club's stylistic ideals sit at the heart of his tactical plans as they evolve from serviceable to spectacular.
Stand Up to Players Who Think They're Bigger Than the Club
Those who suggested that the retaining of Wayne Rooney in the summer would prove to be something of a coup for Moyes, such as Musa Okwonga of ESPN FC, have been vindicated by his reemergence as an important key player this season.
Yet with talk of a major new four-year deal being placed on the table according to James Dickenson of The Daily Express, some supporters may worry about the balance of power between the player and the club.
Dog whistle contract talks, triggered by a period of good form that should be expected rather than surprising, is hardly going to put Moyes in a strong bargaining position over Rooney or any other player's future at the club.
There is a difference of opinion lingering around the press however, with David McDonnell of The Daily Mirror suggested that contract talks have been placed to one side until the end of the season, with United in no rush to extend terms with Rooney's existing deal running into 2015.
Giving the forward the time to show whether his resurgence is for real rather than a temporary purple patch seems like the smart thing to do in regards to sorting out his future at Old Trafford, and Moyes has arguably already shown he can come down hard on players.
Anderson has all but disappeared from the match day squad while Kagawa has had to fight in order to convince his new manager of his worth, while the boss in his own words, as reported by EPSN FC, has stated that he needs "five or six world-class players," due to the weaknesses he has inherited.
If he can be the strong man to follow Ferguson, refusing to kowtow to Rooney or any other stars with their ever-spiralling demands for money and status, then he will have a chance of emulating at least a small part of his predecessor's success.
Entertain His Audience
Dour, stubborn, flat and boring. These were just some of the descriptions casually thrown around to caricature Moyes' Everton teams and their supposed inability to produce poetry on the pitch.
However, over the previous two seasons, the Toffees have arguably been one of the most exciting sides to watch in the league, with a swashbuckling style that sought to smash and grab rather than out-pass opponents.
Their lack of tiki-taka pedigree in an age where possession stats sometimes appear to be more than a determination to attack and create chances, and perhaps that was their downfall in the eyes of the aesthetes.
Last year's games between Everton and Swansea were particularly memorable even if they weren't seven goal thrillers.
So far, Moyes' United have blown hot and cold, with engrossing displays against Bayer Leverkusen, Real Sociedad and Fulham hinting at a free-flowing, highly fluid style of play reminiscent of both the football played by the club the in early 90s and late 00s in differing ways.
Hopefully these performances weren't flukes or displays created the players in defiance of the manager's plans.
If they were genuine displays of how Moyes envisions his United team eventually playing on a regular basis—combining the physical thrusts of the '94 era with the sophisticated position-switching of the 2006-09 team—then Old Trafford could be in for a good few years of feast even if this season proves to be a famine.
Even if success is hard to come by in his first few years, if Moyes can bring through youth players, show that he at least understands the squad's weaknesses during the transfer windows, stands up to the dressing room's personalities and deliver good football, he will be given all the time in world, by the fans at least.
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