David Moyes has admitted he takes full responsibility for Manchester United’s current troubles.
United head into tonight’s Champions League encounter with Shakhtar Donetsk in the throes of a crisis, following back-to-back home defeats in the Premier League.
Moyes was not even born when United last lost three successive games at Old Trafford, in the autumn of 1962, and if it happens again, United will lose top spot in Group A and be pitched into a nasty knockout-round clash with one of Europe’s heavyweights.
Given they are currently occupying ninth spot in the Barclays Premier League table, the situation is barely comprehensible at a club so used to success, boasting a squad that, with the exception of Paul Scholes’ retirement, is the same one that lifted the championship by an impressive 11 points last season.
Various theories have been put forward for the sharp downturn in fortunes and Moyes himself has identified a number of key areas where improvement is required. But to the Scot’s credit, he is refusing to hide behind excuses. “I take complete responsibility for the results,” he said.
“It is tough because the expectancy is to win all the games and the results have not been good in the Premier League. There is a bit of everything we could do with doing better.
“Generally we’d like to play better. We would like to pass it better, to create more chances, I’d like to defend better when those moments arise. I don’t think it is any one thing, it is all round we are trying to improve.”
As Moyes pointed out, it is only a month since United defeated Arsenal, and a fortnight after the five-goal hammering of Bayer Leverkusen that will go down as one of the club’s great European away performances.
What has alarmed supporters almost as much as those defeats by Everton and Newcastle is the manner of the losses.
At the weekend in particular, once Yohan Cabaye scored, the lack of a response was strange for a club so used to dragging out late victories.
“I agree,” said Moyes, when asked whether his team needed to show more belief and conviction. “In recent games we haven’t quite finished the games the way we would have liked to.
“We have tried to make changes to improve things but it hasn’t quite happened.”
It seems to underline a general belief that the squad Moyes inherited, for all its championship-winning credentials, is lacking in quality.
Asked to clarify a comment earlier in his reign that his squad had the quality to compete, Moyes avoided giving a direct answer.
“The question I got asked was whether the squad was big enough,” said Moyes. “I said, yes, the squad was big enough.”
But when the question was changed to “is it good enough”, Moyes merely repeated: “I believe the squad is big enough.”
The pain is sharp, though.
“The players are hurting because they are used to winning,” said Moyes. “When they don’t win that hurts them. They care very much about the team and the club.
“They are good lads and they will respond in the right way.”
Yet despite this apparently bleak backdrop, Moyes claimed he felt uplifted when he left the stadium on Saturday because he had seen enough to raise his own morale. “The game raised my spirits,” he said. “It just made me more determined that we improve and get better.”
Moyes has spoken on a number of occasions this term of having to ride a few blows before he gets into the position he wants. He has also said previously it will take more than one transfer window to sort out the issues he clearly believes have been inherited.
And all caused by the retirement of one man.
“The biggest transition is that a manager who was here for 26 years has now moved on and a new manager has come in,” said Moyes. “It is a transitional period for the whole football club, not just me and the players.”