David Moyes is out as manager of Manchester United. This was merely a formality. Anyone paying attention closely — beyond the easy #MoyesOut jokes — realized that United’s issues ran a lot deeper than the man scribbling out the starting lineup. This was clear months ago. The roster at Old Trafford simply isn’t good enough, regardless of how many players in the squad own Premier League winner’s medals from the 2012-13 season. Moyes certainly didn’t do himself any favors, but compared to the teams above United in the table the roster is lightweight. In turn the club is 23 points off first place and 13 points off fourth place, aka the final Champions League qualification spot.
As of Tuesday afternoon, current Netherlands national team coach Louis van Gaal and Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti look like the favorites to replace Moyes. Whomever takes the job is going to have plenty of work ahead of them, given the long-standing decline at the club that many overlooked due to an improbable title run in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last season.
Yes, a rumored $250+ million dollars to spend in the summer will help the new manager, but United needs to add a lot of talent it if wants to return to the Top Four of the Premier League, let alone challenge for a title. Cash-rich Manchester City and Chelsea aren’t likely to yield their positions in the table any time soon, meaning United now must cope with Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs and Everton along with the two aforementioned clubs during its attempt to go back to the summit.
Here are six humble, armchair suggestions for whomever takes over at Old Trafford moving forward.
Suggestion No. 1: Sell Robin van Persie.
On the surface it sounds counterproductive to sell your “best” player, especially since United have scored only 56 goals in league play compared to 96 for first-place Liverpool. If van Gaal is hired it’s unlikely he’ll want to part ways with his countryman, but remember van Persie will turn 31 on Aug. 6. After putting together back-to-back seasons of 48 appearances for Arsenal and United from 2011-2013, he’s returned to his injury-prone ways, playing in just 25 overall games this year. (The previous two years were the only seasons van Persie appeared in more than 30 league games.)
United is better off selling van Persie while he still maintains value — a club like Juventus would probably hop on the next jet out of Turin to sign him — and move forward. His injury history, despite his uncanny ability to score goals, makes it too risky to make him a key component of a mass rebuilding effort.
Wayne Rooney is locked into a long-term contract. Selling van Persie allows Rooney to move back into a more advanced role into front of goal.
Suggestion No. 2: Build around Juan Mata, not Wayne Rooney.
Even Moyes and Ed Woodward couldn’t screw up dealing for Mata in January after Jose Mourinho deemed him spare parts at Chelsea. The 25-year-old Spaniard is a capable goal-scorer and impressed at Stamford Bridge until being nudged aside in favor of Oscar, Willian and Eden Hazard. He’d be an automatic starter on almost any club team in the world not named Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid or, err, Chelsea.
Once his contract situation was resolved, Rooney bounced back with a solid season scoring 15 goals in Premier League play. Bear in mind he’s now 28 years old with over 500 club appearances spread between Manchester United and Everton along with an additional 89 caps for England. There’s a lot of mileage on those legs and you can’t exactly buy hair plugs to cover over that on the body’s internal odometer like you can for your scalp.
Given the aging Rooney’s continual bouts of petulant, building the offensive portion of the team around Mata looks to be the safer bet.
Suggestion No. 3: Figure out who and what Phil Jones is.
Every single English announcer loves to lionize Phil Jones as a “future Manchester United/England captain.” As much as the English media wants Jones to be that stereotypical blood-and-guts type player, he’s yet to exactly prove he’s anything more than a slightly above option either as an outside back, central defender or in the defensive midfield. The next manager at Old Trafford needs to determine if the 22-year-old is a building block in the defensive half of the field or a player bound for Sunderland in one of the next few transfer windows.
The same questions to could be applied to other English players at United like Chris Smalling and Tom Cleverly, who saw their form drop off a cliff this season.
Suggestion No. 4: Offer up some lovely parting gifts to veteran campaigners.
Nani, Patrice Evra and Rio Ferdinand helped United win loads of trophies, but it’s time to move on plain and simple. Evra should be easy to sell to either PSG or AS Monaco, while a Turkish or Russian team will surely overpay for Nani based on his name value.
Put together a testimonial match, give them a nice hand-drawn portrait, framed jersey and some flowers then send them on their ways.
Other veterans like Michael Carrick, Jonny Evans, Danny Welbeck are still useful and have displayed enough flexibility to maintain value to the next manager.
Suggestion No. 5: Finally find (and sign) the replacement for Paul Scholes in midfield.
For all the criticism heaped on Moyes, Ferguson never adequately found a midfielder to replace Scholes either … until he coaxed the Ginger Ninja out of retirement for one final hurrah last season. United whiffed on Cesc Fabregas, Thiago, Ander Herrera and seemingly ever other central midfield target in recent seasons. Woodword and the next manager need to identify who this player is, likely outside the Premier League, and make sure they secure his services — preferably before the World Cup begins.
Identifying this player, whomever he is (expect to hear Toni Kroos name about a million times between now and June), should be priority No. 1 even if the club is still a ways away from an immediate return to the Champions League.
Suggestion No. 6: Forget about the “United Way” and sign better players.
In the wake of Moyes’ firing there was a lot of talk that he didn’t follow “the United way” and it’s why he fell out with players like Ryan Giggs. Sayings such as this always feel like a crutch. Not to dismiss the traditions and commitment to excellence Sir Alex Ferguson put into place during his 26 years on the touchline, but quality, motivated professionals win trophies. Don’t forget it wasn’t all that long ago United filled out a teamsheet that included Rooney, Carlos Tevez and some dude named Cristiano Ronaldo.