The recent attempts to link Alex Ferguson’s presence in the stands for Manchester United matches to the string of bad results for David Moyes are as predictable as they are ill-advised. ‘Fergie shouldn’t watch United matches’ and ‘Fergie left a weak squad for Moyes’ are poor excuses for an unprecedented season of poor performance for United. 27 years of service full of trophies should entitle anyone to watch matches for free, whenever and wherever. And the idea that Fergie looking on makes Moyes’s job more difficult – of course it does, but that would have been the same for anyone taking over, be it Mourinho or Guardiola. And, when United had put together a winning run only a while ago, no one was making such connection with Ferguson.
One of the truths about United’s relative struggles this season, apart from the fact that the players aren’t playing for Moyes the way they played for Ferguson, is that the squad is going through some significant transitions, both generational and in terms of its nationality. First, the average age of the first team has been hugely reduced. For better or worse, Rio Ferdinand has now effectively been replaced by a mixture of Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans. Adnan Januzaj is a starter, and an important one at that. The injury problems of Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie has pushed Danny Welbeck to the fore, and he has responded well. That’s three decades of experience being shaved off in just three positions, over a short space of time. Then there is the fact that, for the first time since the treble-winning era, United’s first team is predominantly British. The recent game against Hull saw 7 starters from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and against Norwich and Spurs, 6. Again, the benefit is arguable, but there’s something to be said for the biggest club in the UK relying once again on players from home soil.