When the history of the Premier League comes to be written (and since you ask, it has, see below) of this we can be certain: Manchester United’s championship win in 2013 was based on two things, the goals of Robin Van Persie and the indomitable resolve of a manager sensing it was to be his last hurrah.
Over the last couple of weeks, starting in the debacle at the Etihad, neither have been available. And thus the lingering problems in the United side which had been so successfully papered over last term were made horribly manifest.
Poor David Moyes: now he knows the scale of the task he has signed up for.
There is a commonplace in business which suggests that the wise never recommend the appointment of a successor who might compromise the historic scale of their achievement.
While that might be an over-cynical view of Ferguson’s selection of Moyes to follow him, of this we can be sure: his legacy was not without its problems.
We have known for some time that United have three fundamental problems: the core of their defence is ageing simultaneously; there is a lack of drive and creativity in the centre of midfield and there are too many not good enough players furring up the squad.
None of these are of David Moyes’s making. And yet to read the newspapers, or to follow the comments in web chat rooms or on Twitter, it appears that Moyes is at the root of United’s enfeebled start to the season.
"Sack him now" is the growing refrain of the internet knee-jerks. Accept that a mistake was made in his recruitment. Cut your losses now and bring back Sir Alex is the only way.
If history is any guide (and in football historic perspective rarely extends beyond what happened last week) then it is revealing to look at the precedent to Moyes’s bad start.
His is the worst beginning by a United side since the autumn of 1989. And what happened then? That was when a Scottish manager was struggling at the helm of England’s most renowned club, finding its scale difficult to control.
Wisely, the club decided not to heed the moans emanating from the terraces (encapsulated in the flag waved in the Stretford End in November 1989 which read “three years of excuses and it’s still crap, tara Fergie”, which, lest it be thought it was the work of a lone mad man, was loudly applauded when it was unfurled).
They stuck with Alex Ferguson. Which, history suggests, was probably the right decision. And Moyes deserves similar restraint. He deserves to be stood by.
Sure he has made mistakes. He now admits more and better recruits should have been brought in during the summer. Some of that was his fault: not for nothing did he earn the nickname Dithering Dave at Goodison. But largely it was down to inexperience in the market in the all the vital departments of the club.
The combination of hesitance and naivety meant the only incomer was Marouane Fellaini, who has so far appeared to be doing no more than replicating what was already in place. He looked at city to be doing much the same job as Michael Carrick.
When what is clearly needed is a dynamic, creative partner to play alongside him, we seem to have bought a Carrick Lite, not quite as good at passing as the real thing.
Even if he had spent the summer picking up new recruits, though, the new manager knew he not only had to follow the greatest there has ever been but he had to do so facing the toughest of early examinations.
To get him through a demanding fixture list, he sought to rely on a core of experienced campaigners who knew the course far better than he.
But when that trusty cohort turned in a performance that was woeful at Anfield, toothless at home to Chelsea, abject at city, clueless against West Brom he had nowhere else to turn. Anyone who thought Shinji Kagawa represents the football equivalent US cavalry clearly needs to re-study the work of John Wayne.
That was always going to be his problem.
So where does David Moyes go now?
He is made of tough stuff. He will not panic. He will work hard on sharpening the relationship between Van Persie and Wayne Rooney that gives him most chance of success.
He now has a better idea of which of his players he can trust and who he can’t. If he had come in and simply said to Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Anderson you’re out, he would have been rightly criticised. He has given them their chance and they have been proved wanting. Now he knows.
But one thing he can’t do is the impossible. What those three defeats in the first six matches of the Premier League season have done is clarify the scale of the job he has taken on. It will take time.
The start to this season has merely confirmed what we have long suspected: that the previous manager was unique, a man singularly adept at keeping the team competitive while undertaking reconstruction.
One thing that can be said in the new man’s favour: at least, a month into the new season, he has removed all the expectation from his players’ shoulders.
And if they have a bad week this week as well, he will have pitched his team entirely under the radar.
Premier League: A History in 10 Matches, by Jim White is published by Head of Zeus, and is on sale now.
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- David Moyes
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- Robin Van Persie