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The Week at United: Mkhitaryan says ‘hi’, Dave

Mkhitaryan SunderlandThose who have read this column for some time may have noticed that I’m not David Moyes’ biggest fan. Indeed, in a way it was Moyes who greatly increased the readership of the blog and for that I must, I suppose, be grateful. He’ll get no credit from me for anything else. I didn’t blame him for being given a job for which he was ludicrously under-qualified. Who wouldn’t take such an opportunity? However, from the moment he walked in the door at Manchester United, looking like a deer in the headlights, he completely misjudged the nature of the club, the players at his disposal and the expectations that came with managing the Premier League champions and the biggest club in the country.

As a man he is incredibly small time, defeatist and imbued with a belief that he is a far better coach than he actually is. His principle tactic at any club is to attempt to reduce expectations as far as possible so that average performances appear to supporters to be more proficient than they actually are. Fans are not stupid and many Everton fans had tired of his insistence that the club could progress no further than the top six. Early in the United job he hinted at a conspiracy with regards to the fixture computer, rewarded Wayne Rooney with an enormous long term contract that remains a millstone around the club’s neck and sacked coaches who understood the club and the pathways to success. He set his team up to ‘make it hard’ for visiting side Newcastle and didn’t substitute the ailing Robin Van Persie in the same game because he feared that the fans would be angry. The final straw for many was his aspiration to be like a City side who murdered United home and away. The man was a disaster, and yet when the axe finally fell with his team sitting in 7th place in the Premier League and with Champions League qualification an impossibility he was filled with bitterness, blaming everyone but himself and citing his six year contract as if it were a written guarantee that results no longer mattered. Moyes martyred himself and exited with an enormous chip on his shoulder, which remains in place despite his disastrous employment history since.

You’ll not be surprised, therefore, to know that I reacted with incredulity to his claims this week that he had been ‘unfairly treated’ by United and that by sacking him and appointing Louis Van Gaal and then Jose Mourinho to succeed him the club betrayed their tradition of appointing British coaches. He also suggested that the spending and player acquisitions under those two managers have also been a break from past practices, with huge sums being thrown at big names to compete with the world’s biggest clubs. The club, he opined, is not what it was under Fergie and himself. All of these claims are utter bo*locks, obviously.

Firstly, prior to Moyes’ appointment United had last had to employ a new manager, Sir Alex, in 1986. As Paul Ansorge (@Utdrantcast) observed on Twitter, in 1986 every club had a tradition of appointing British managers. For 27 years another appointment was not necessary and the evolution of the Premier League into a multinational division, with coaches from across the globe, did not touch United because change was never necessary. Moyes’ appointment may have been a nod to the idea of continuity of character and nationality, but it obvious from very early on that it was folly. The club then went away and, like the other elite British clubs, searched for the best available alternative, regardless of origins. A conscious tradition of appointing Brits amounted to those few months from when Moyes was appointed to when he was sacked. Before then United simply did what everyone else did, rather than following some noble traditional course.

The claim that United’s spending since his sacking has betrayed its traditions defies belief and rewrites history. The club have always spent big and continues to do so. The hypocrisy of Moyes’ claim is absolutely staggering. This is the man who admits offering a nine figure sum for Gareth Bale, who tried to re-sign Cristiano Ronaldo and acquire Cesc Fabregas, none of whom he could persuade to come and play for him. He was offered Thiago Alcantara for a bargain price and dithered before rejecting the opportunity and then spent nearly £30m on the remarkably unsuitable Marouane Fellaini and £37.5m on Juan Mata in January. The latter was a vanity signing rather than a desperately needed addition. Moyes was handicapped by the naivety of new Executive Vice President Ed Woodward, but the reality is that had Mourinho been given the job fine players would have been signed. They didn’t want to play for Moyes, despite waving staggering sums at clubs. His acquisitions proved to be as over-priced and frivolous as any that have come since.

Moyes also likes to claim that the job he inherited was a huge one, that the squad needed a massive overhaul and that expectations were too great. To a degree he was right, but as Jose Mourinho suggested this week, “I wouldn’t mind to be at a club with great expectations. With Giggs, Chicharito, Vidic, Evra”. Key players at the club were ageing, but with 2/3 astute acquisitions United could and should have remained competitive and in Champions League contention. Gradual evolution would have sufficed. Few expected or demanded that Moyes should win the title in his first season. Bryan Robson wasn’t far off this week, even if he slightly overestimated the squad:

“They had just won the title by 11 points and I know Sir Alex was a genius, but was he that much of one? Also, as I understand it David had around £250m to spend that summer. So if there was that much wrong and you have all that money why not spend it?…. I get that he was trying to do his best and the job he took on was gigantic, but mistakes were made in my view and questions have to be asked.”

In other words Moyes was given his dream job and, from day one, completely sh*t the bed. If he could not see that immediate results were as important as rebuilding then he was, I’m afraid, a simpleton. Likewise, if he genuinely thinks he was hard done by at United then he’s living in another dimension. That he struggled at Sociedad and was only able to get the Sunderland job on his return to England is illustrative of his inadequacies and he clearly retains the delusion that he is a top level manager. He never was and never will be.

What is sad is that he felt the need to air his grievances again immediately before returning to Old Trafford with Sunderland. The fans would have, despite everything, probably given him a decent reception, but his renewed whining put paid to that. I and many others were hoping that United would give his team a good hiding and ultimately they did, despite making hard work of it. Both sides could have scored in an open first half, but with Pogba dominating the midfield it was Daley Blind who put United ahead with a beautifully worked goal, finished with a powerful shot across Jordan Pickford and into the corner of the Sunderland net. The second half was edgy, but after Mourinho replaced Juan Mata and the largely ineffective Jesse Lingard with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial their dominance was finally converted into goals. Pogba intercepted a wayward pass and fed Ibrahimovic, who stroked home with aplomb to seal the victory and Mkhitaryan added an absolutely absurd (albeit offside) scorpion kick third. That goal, I like to think, was for Moyesie. F*ck you and your transfer bunker Dave. Borini’s fine late strike bothered no one but David De Gea and United, at last, are putting teams to the sword in the Premier League.

That’s twelve points from twelve and a fifth win in five is attainable at home to Middlesborough on Saturday. Considering that prior to the Spurs game United had not won two consecutive league games since August that is a giant step in the right direction. The Sunderland win was essential with City, Chelsea and Arsenal also triumphing, but with Guardiola’s side set to travel to Anfield at the weekend a victory for United would close the gap on the top four. Belief is growing within the squad and fan base and Mourinho’s big name signings are delivering. After struggling in October and November Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 17 goal contribution is now astonishing for a 35 year old and it is was no surprise when Mourinho suggested post-match that the Swede would be retained for a second year. With every side above United bar, perhaps, Chelsea having flaws a top four finish, as a minimum, is looking increasingly possible. In the short term we should revel in stuffing David Moyes’ team, the delusional, bitter, mediocre muppet.

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