Ron Atkinson has warned David Moyes there is no such thing as a transitional period at Manchester United.
Atkinson, who emphasised his belief Moyes is the right man to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson, took issue with the Scot’s assessment of the situation, both before and after United’s 1-0 home defeat by Newcastle on Saturday.
As someone who spent five years at Old Trafford before his dismissal in 1986 paved the way for the Ferguson era, Atkinson is acutely aware of the expectations around the club, and transition is not part of the plan.
“I don’t think United can have a transitional period,” he said. “You don’t hear of Barcelona or Real Madrid having transitional periods. What David probably means is that there has to be an evolution. They need two or three new players. They are not good enough in certain areas. It might take a little bit longer than he thought for those types of players to come in but I don’t think you can have a transitional period at Manchester United.”
The soul-searching after the latest reverse will be deep and the statistics are damning. Ninth in the table almost halfway through the season, three home defeats and five in all. Back-to-back reverses at Old Trafford for the first time since 2002 and just eight goals scored at home. In general terms, it is as bad as that 1989-90 campaign which included a “Ta-ra Fergie” banner and ended with the club finishing 13th.
Yet it is the unquantifiable stuff that is causing most concern.
It is understood there is bewilderment around the dressing room at the lack of fight being shown. Instead of the expected cavalry charge in search of an equaliser following Yohan Cabaye’s 61st-minute goal, United surrendered in alarming fashion, barely creating a chance of note. In addition, there is an acceptance that the absence of Ferguson from the dug-out is having an effect.
Whereas in the past, naked fear of what may lie in store for the players once they got inside the dressing room drove them on in times of trouble, it evidently no longer exists. There is no blame attached to Moyes for this, more a troubling inability to find a solution.
Added to that is the inevitable negative chatter that attaches itself to any club in the throes of what seems to be a crisis – striker Robin van Persie’s situation has now become the subject of worldwide news, with media in Barcelona reporting interest from the Catalan giants in acquiring the striker in next month’s transfer window, even though privately the player has insisted he remains totally committed to United.
It all places Moyes in a very uncomfortable position, trying to get the best from a squad that is patently not good enough to challenge for the title, knowing one transfer window has already been wasted and January is never the time to address long-standing concerns.
Even that would be accepted with good grace by most fans – including the ones under 35 who have no memory of anything but United winning trophies – if the football was attractive to watch.
Unfortunately, Moyes has largely been unable to manage that either, a problem exacerbated by the retirement of Paul Scholes and current injury-enforced absence of Michael Carrick.
Positives come from the knowledge that in the midst of that 1989-90 disaster, United managed to win the FA Cup, a triumph that provided the platform for Ferguson to take the club into an unprecedented two decades of glory. It has also been stated by United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward that the club does not need a top-four finish for further commercial growth, meaning Moyes will be given time.
Yet failing to secure a Champions League berth for next season would have an adverse effect on Moyes’ ability to recruit top-quality additions.
Former United goalkeeper Alex Stepney believes United could be out of the title race already. Stepney, who made 433 league appearances between 1966-1978, was at United when Sir Matt Busby retired in June 1969 and was replaced by Wilf McGuinness, and compared that to Ferguson’s departure over the summer. But he believes Moyes is in a more difficult position.
Stepney said: “That was 44 years ago. The game is different and the world has changed since then and football has changed immensely. In those days there were only 14 players in the first-team squad and Wilf McGuinness, who was reserve team manager, came in and took over the job and he knew everything that was going on, he knew every player and he knew how he wanted to try to replace the great Sir Matt Busby.
“Back then players were very loyal to the club and now. . . what manager has ever come into a team that are champions in what is probably the best league in the world and what can he do? He can’t say ‘I don’t want you, I’m going to transfer you before the start of next season’. He couldn’t do that because they’re the champions. He’s in a bit of a pickle really in that respect but he tried to get players in but it didn’t materialise.”