Sorry for the intoxicated prose, for Moyes is one whom will drive a man to drink.
Sir Alex Ferguson is arguably the greatest football manager of all time. He won 13 Premier League titles, winning the league more than 50% of the time. To step into his shoes and take the reins of Manchester United is to step into one of the hardest jobs in sports, a job where it is probably a statistical impossibility to even approach the level of achievement of your predecessor.
All sports are cyclical. In a healthy sports league, there shouldn't be a team that dominates all the time. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. Yes, there are extreme examples, like the Greek Super League with Olympiacos, and a bunch of punching bags. In a healthy sports league like the Premier League, Manchester United's spell of dominance should be considered an anomaly, something that just shouldn't happen.
David Moyes has thus taken a job where he is expected to perform miracles, not because he is capable of performing miracles, but merely because his predecessor was a miracle worker. He is replacing a legend, at the helm of a team that has just won the league title. I for one do not envy David Moyes' challenge.
The season started well enough. Opening day brought a crushing 4-1 victory over Swansea City. Drawing against Chelsea isn't a desirable result, but Chelsea is a strong club, with a respectable lineup, the lack of success can simply be attributed to Moyes "breaking in" to his new role at the team. The 1-0 loss to bitter rivals Liverpool was a hard pill to swallow, but by returning the favor and beating Liverpool 1-0 in the Capital One Cup soothed over the pain somewhat. Winning against Bayer Leverkusen and Crystal Palace gave fans hope that David Moyes is quickly adjusting to Manchester United, and can lead the club to a successful defense of their league title.
September 28 is where the cracks started to show. A heavily favored Manchester United side battled valiantly, yet still lost to underdogs West Bromwich Albion. But alas, things can change quickly on the pitch in a hard fought game. A single well placed kick is all it takes to determine victory and defeat. The result can be easily dismissed at fluke, and wins against Sunderland, Stoke City, and a crushing win against Norwich city quickly assured the fans that Manchester United is still at its core a strong club. Sure, Manchester United would have probably liked to win the games with a bigger margin, and that 1-1 draw against Southampton was probably disappointing, but up until the end of October, there is no reason to believe that Manchester United is no longer a title contender.
November and December was when the cracks really started to open up and leak. Sure, winning against Fulham and Arsenal was satisfying, and it was a great game when Manchester United managed to beat up Bayer Leverkusen 5 - 0, but at this point, anyone can see that Manchester United was lacking as a title contender. Losses against Everton and Newcastle United were particularly difficult to stomach.
The first three games in January all ended in defeat David Moyes. Back to back losses against Tottenham Hotspur, Swansea City, and Sunderland shook David Moyes, and during the transfer window he pulled the trigger, and bought Juan Mata.
I like to imagine that in every Manager's office, there is a giant red "Win Now!" button, for use when the manager finally is confident of his chances at success, throws caution out to the wind, and makes the big money, big spending moves to push the team out of mediocrity, and into contention. Obviously, by obtaining Mata, David Moyes just slammed the "Win Now!" button. It is the classic move of the manager who believes that he can still win, that his team doesn't have any noticeable structural problems, and the only thing separating him and a title is just a few missing pieces.
Of course, the win now move of bringing in Juan Mata did little to stem the tide of defeat. Manchester United's position kept slipping, and before long, they are looking at a 7th place finish, possibly even lower. The fact that Fulham successfully ended their 9 game losing streak on Manchester United, and the devastating 2-0 loss against Olympiacos probably didn't do much to help the team's confidence.
At this point, Manchester United can no longer be considered a top tier team. Their 3-0 defeat against Liverpool just served to solidify their place as a mid-table team. I cannot in good faith blame David Moyes for Manchester United's pathetic "defense" of the league title. Failure to match Alex Ferguson's achievement is almost expected. He is the greatest of all time, his skill is not something that everyone can match.
However, David Moyes obviously panicked, and his later decisions cannot be said to be very good. His mistakes start with Wayne Rooney.
Wayne Rooney is great. We can make a case that he is one of the best forwards in the game. His skill is undeniable. If there is a player who deserves a large contract, it's Wayne Rooney. Wayne Rooney is amazing, his contract is probably justifiable for another team, but not Manchester United. It is impossible to deny Wayne Rooney's skill and contributions to the team, however, his new extension is still a very, very poor decision on Moyes' part.
To borrow a concept from baseball, we have to consider wins above replacement. How many more wins would a certain player contribute to his team, over the course of a whole season, relative to an easily available "replacement player". For instance, a 5 WAR player means that over the course of a 162 game baseball season, playing this player would mean that the team would win 5 more games than if they played a minor league player instead. Under Major League Baseball's contract structure, a replacement player would be a minor league player, think a player from the Championship. However, considering the short contracts and the buying and selling of player rights in the premier league, I will define a replacement player as a league average player making league average wages.
It is much harder to quantify value over a replacement player in association football. Just how much value can a player bring into a club? Well, looking purely at goals scored and assists, Rooney is tied for 9th with 11 goals scored, and is tied for first with 10 assists. The players tied for 21st in the league scored 7 goals, and the players tied for 15th have had 5 assists each. So from this perspective, Wayne Rooney, as a superstar, is 4 goals and 5 assists better than a more league average level player. Now if we were to put a value on that, I would say that Rooney is approximately 4 - 6 points better than replacement.
Consider the value of the "marginal point". Points are not created equally. Their value might be difficult to quantify, but should be easy to understand for anyone with even a passing interest in the Premier League. After all, the value of a point for a team that leads the rest of the point by 10 points, or for a team that is stuck in 9th place is very low. However, that single point becomes much more valuable for a team that is currently in a relegation spot solely because of goal differential, or in a tight title race, where 1 point can determine the difference between 2nd and first place.
If we consider Wayne Rooney to be worth 5 points above league average, that's makes him a top player. His current skill is undeniable, but the reality is, the 5 points have very little marginal utility for Manchester United right now. Sure, without Rooney Manchester united would probably be eighth instead of seventh, but from one perspective, mid-table is mid-table. There is little difference between the two.
In other words, title contenders and relegation candidates have the highest marginal utility for a single point, mid-table teams have the least. Looking at the current standings, 5 more points and Arsenal would be at the top of the standings. 5 more points and Fulham would be clear of the relegation zone. For Arsenal and Fulham, Rooney's value is huge. Whereas for Manchester United, a loss of 5 points would simply drop them to 8th place, a change of little consequence.
Wayne Rooney is 28, and he sure isn't getting any better. He is one of the highest paid players in the game, and I would argue that he can probably live up to his contract in the first few seasons. That first few seasons is effectively Manchester United's "windows of contention" so to speak, when they should jam the "win now" button, and try their damned hardest to win bring in as many trophies as they can.
For Wayne Rooney to play out the second half of his prime years on a midtable team can almost be seen as a tragedy. For David Moyes to offer him that lucrative contract, it can be considered suicide by Manchester United.
Vidic has already announced his departure at the end of this season. Ryan Giggs is most definitely retiring. Add in the rumors that Ferdinand and Evra will be leaving at the expiration of their contracts, and we can see that Manchester United has a lot of work to do during the summer.
Wayne Rooney is the one player that Manchester United can afford to lose. They already have his successor groomed and ready, in the form of Shinji Kagawa. After acquiring Juan Mata, Manchester United now has 3 players for the attacking midfield position. Yet Moyes still extended Wayne Rooney for 300 thousand pounds a week.
By extending Rooney at 300 thousand a week, Moyes pretty much just shot himself in the foot when it comes to Robin van Persie. Van Persie was unsettled at United already, and there has been rumors of him requesting a transfer. By offering Rooney that mega contract, Moyes practically eliminated any chance he had for extending van Persie for anything under 300 thousand a week.
So if Moyes simply decided to let Rooney go, Manchester United would have to replace Vidic, Ferdinand, Giggs, and Evra. Yet by keeping Rooney, Moyes still needs to replace the departed players, and probably van Persie too, only with 300k less to spend per week.
And here lies David Moyes' great blunder. He made the same mistake that almost every other manager in sports makes at some point in their career, the mistake of chasing the elusive state of "respectability".
Sure, finishing 7th is probably more respectable than finishing 8th. But how much of a difference is it actually? Moyes sold out the future of Manchester United for a few more points this season and next season. Again, these points would be extremely valuable if it meant the difference between first place and second, or if it is the difference between staying up and relegation. But for a mid-table team like Manchester United? Selling out future flexibility for points today it probably the stupidest mistake to make.
And thus it begins. David Moyes has led Manchester United down a path of no return. It all starts with one bad deal, and it will soon snowball out of control. Resign van Persie? Not going to happen for anything under 300 thousand pounds. Sign a superstar defender to Vidic? He is sure to demand inflated wages too. For a few points in the short term, Moyes just sold out Manchester United's future.