Eight is an unlucky number for David Moyes at the moment. Eight games into the season, his Manchester United side are languishing in eighth place, a full eight points short of league leaders Arsenal. On the one side of him Cloud Nine, on the other side the German equivalent Wolke 7, Moyes floats unhappily in the grey disappointment of Cloud Eight, a particularly grumpy looking cherub surrounded by hapless Red Devils.
Fair enough, that image is probably a little too much. But it is not so much more over the top than much of the description of Moyes’ takeover from Sir Alex Ferguson. The retirement of the former United manager took on an apocalyptic dimension from the moment it was announced. His successor was always going to face an inevitable damnation, even when endorsed by both Ferguson and Sir Bobby Charlton – the two great deities of Old Trafford.
So it has proved with Moyes, whose team are, surprise surprise, struggling to adapt to the most significant managerial change in the history of modern football. Rather than reasserting their traditional dominance of the English game, United have sunk to mediocrity. They lack confidence, flair and, most crucially, points. Small wonder, then, that some fans are beginning to get restless.
With every game that Moyes’ United play, the clichéd comparisons come ever thicker and ever faster. In Ferguson’s era, the team invariably scored late goals – under Moyes, they concede them. In Ferguson’s era, the team won games when they performed badly, under Moyes they draw. You would be forgiven for imagining that Moyes is, after eight torrid games, an abject failure.
Photo Gallery: Ferguson retires
The reality is different. The reality is that Moyes was left with a team which Ferguson was in the process of reconstructing. A team without much depth to their squad, whose leading figures were ageing, and whose young talents were inexperienced.
When Ferguson was in charge of this team, he could make them win. He was, after all, a genius. Old Trafford, though, had learned to take genius for granted; it knows little of the cold reality of mere managerial talent.
On serious inspection, it is clear that Moyes has not done a bad job this far into his career as United manager. It has been a bad start, granted, but he has not done a bad job. He calmed the furore over Wayne Rooney’s apparent desire to leave very well, saw Adnan Januzaj sign a new five year contract at the club despite interest from Barcelona and Juventus, and has retained the air of a man unperturbed by mounting pressure.
This is no mean feat, but Moyes knows too well that, in his new job, a new problem is only ever just around the corner. Sir Alex Ferguson releases his autobiography yesterday, and with every sports journalist in England poring over the index in search of the best revelation, there will undoubtedly be a few new sticks to beat Moyes with, however honourably Ferguson has defended his successor.
Moyes is an intelligent man. He knew what he was in for, and he won’t be disturbed for a second by the merciless scrutiny to which his shortcomings are subjected. Nonetheless, Manchester United fans would do well to be patient. Godlike figures such as Ferguson are rare. Moyes will never succeed if divinity alone is expected from him.
The club know that, and have consistently reaffirmed their support of him. His peers know that, which is why Arsene Wenger was gracious enough to suggest that United are still in the title race. We can only hope that the fans and the press retain their grasp on that reality. Only in such circumstances can the intelligent, amiable manager work in an environment begin to build real success. God is dead. Long live the mere mortal.
Kit Holden (@kitholden) is English and is currently working as an intern at Tagesspiegel-Sport. He also writes on German football for The Independent.