Last week my book “Redprint” was published with Pitch Publishing, the leading independent sports publisher in the UK.
The following is an excerpt looking at the breakdown of the relationship between David Moyes and Rio Ferdinand, which was indicative of the many misunderstandings which led to Moyes’ failure as manager of Manchester United.
Excerpt from the chapter “Rio and Chips”
Within a week, Moyes ruffled more feathers by banning chips from the club canteen. The issue infamously made its way into Rio Ferdinand’s autobiography #2Sides in which the defender said, ‘We loved our chips, but Moyes comes in and, after his first week, he says we can’t have chips any more.’
Moyes later responded. ‘Yes, I did ban chips,’ he said in 2015. ‘It was because a couple of players were overweight and I didn’t think chips were good for their diet.’
Again, there was nothing theoretically incorrect with Moyes’s decision, and it seems a petty thing to cause a disconnect, but what the example shows us is that the new manager had not taken the time to sit down and discuss changes with the senior players. Perhaps he didn’t need to, what he said went, after all. But from this basic misunderstanding deeper problems formed. Moyes’s ‘my way or the highway’ philosophy had a significant effect on Ferdinand in particular, so, when examining what went wrong, perhaps he is the best place to start.
Ahead of the tour of the Far East, Moyes admitted he would use the time to get to know the players. ‘I don’t know if it is useful to be away for three weeks but it is useful in terms of getting to know the players,’ he said. ‘They will get to know me and how I work, which is important. There are also two or three young players I might get a chance to look at. I am looking for Warren [Joyce] to give me direction on that and who should be pushed towards the first team. Maybe in some of the games I will have the opportunity to see them.’
One would presume that managers would get reports about their new squad, and in Steve Round, Moyes had an assistant who was supposedly ahead of the game when it came to tactical analysis. It would have taken the most casual of observations of United’s team sheets from the previous campaign to notice something about the use of some of the senior players, most notably Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick. The only time any of those players played consecutive games was when games were a week apart, and even then it wasn’t all of the time. At only one point in the season did Ferdinand and Carrick respectively play consecutive games where the matches were closer than a week apart (that is to say, only once did either of them play a weekend and then a midweek game consecutively), and when they did, a long rest awaited them. Ferdinand and Carrick, when they did play, were exceptional in that last title-winning season. And, of course, when they did play, it tended to be together, and in the more important games.
There can be no doubt about it, Ferguson would have complained about the tough fixture schedule at the start of the season, and he would have felt it necessary to play Ferdinand and Carrick in consecutive games against Chelsea and Liverpool. One wonders if both players would have played in the opening league game against Swansea City, though. A draw at home to Chelsea and a limp away defeat to Liverpool were obviously upsetting, but Moyes was not about to be damned for his failure to win those games.
He responded by bringing in Fellaini from Everton, his sole signing of the summer window, and Fellaini went straight into the squad for the first game after the international break. How United might line up against Crystal Palace was an interesting one considering they had their first Champions League game in the midweek against Leverkusen and then an away game at Manchester City. When the team win, it would seem unfair to question the manager’s selection. United did win 2-0, though the performance was not exactly inspired. Fabio started at right-back, after Phil Jones had played there since the start of the season. Not eyebrow raising on its own, but it was rather surprising to see Rafael missing out. The Brazilian seemed to have made the right-back position his own after being one of the best players the previous season, and now he couldn’t get a game for love nor money. Ferdinand and Carrick were both made to play the full 90 minutes against Palace and again against Leverkusen in a game United won 4-2.
So far United had got away with it, but it was always likely that it would catch up with them, and so it proved to be on one of the most painful occasions possible, against Manchester City. The visitors looked leggy and tired against a vibrant City team that led 2-0 at half-time and scored two within five minutes of the restart. A late Wayne Rooney consolation could not paper over the cracks. United had been dreadful and the hiding had been coming.
Moyes’s response for the next league game? Nemanja Vidic was rested and Patrice Evra was dropped from the team to play West Brom at home. Surrounding Ferdinand and Carrick were Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Alex Buttner and Anderson. In those situations you hope the calming influences will win over but that was not the case; the veteran pair instead looked sluggish and out of place, slow to react to the erratic performance around them. Rather unfairly, their performances were singled out for criticism, and on the face of it it wasn’t difficult to see why.
For Ferdinand, however, the repercussions were devastating. He had been the one constant in the club’s worst start to a season since well before Ferguson’s first title-winning campaign, and unfortunately, though the manager hadn’t done him any favours, he was the figurehead and bore the brunt of the finger pointing. He’s old. Slow. Past it. The solution was obvious, he must be dropped. The truth, of course, was that Ferdinand was still capable of brilliant defending. In this writer’s opinion, Ferdinand is the finest centre-half to wear the Manchester United shirt, and in the opinion of many more, he walks into a ‘best-ever United XI’. It is not an unreasonable argument to suggest he’s the greatest English centre-half of all time. He didn’t go from being a title-winning centre-half to a liability in just six months. Does Moyes avoid culpability here? Maybe, on account of not quite knowing the player as well as the previous manager did. But then again, that’s simply good management.
Following the defeat to City, Moyes pulled in the squad to deconstruct the loss and run through why and how. His message was not clear to the players. ‘You heard a lot of guys complaining: “I just don’t know what he wants”,’ Ferdinand said. ‘He had me doubting everything.’ To further compound the defender’s misery, following the West Brom defeat, Ferdinand was hauled in to watch another video. This time not of the game, but instead of Everton’s Phil Jagielka. Moyes felt that Ferdinand — a six-time Premier League winner, a European Cup winner, with over 400 appearances for United — could benefit from learning how to adapt his game to play like Moyes’s former skipper at Goodison Park. It demonstrated a significant misunderstanding from Moyes about the defender he had at his disposal. Ferdinand may not have been as imperious as he was in 2008, but he had not reached Gary Neville’s level of self- awareness where he himself knew the game was up.
The scenario had echoes of Dave Sexton pulling Gordon Hill into his office after training one morning and forcing him to watch tapes of the Hungarian wingers of the 50s — principally, their hard- working attitude. Sexton seemingly did not realise the value of Hill’s natural game, even when the evidence of him being the team’s top goalscorer from the wing made it easy to see. Hill, to give a modern example, had a goal record comparable with Cristiano Ronaldo, and didn’t even take penalties. Instructing him to be defensive showed a basic misunderstanding of the manager, but, as always, the manager rules. Hill was sold and Mickey Thomas was brought in; the perfect summary of the difference between the Docherty side and the Sexton side. As George Santayana said, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Instead of utilising him properly, Moyes — unwittingly — burned Ferdinand out, creating a significantly premature and sad conclusion to his Old Trafford career. The defender was brutally cut from United’s starting XI, brought back for the occasional game before being recalled for a run in the late winter when confidence at the club was rock bottom. Moyes then told Ferdinand that he would not be playing in a Champions League game at Bayern Munich as the team trained in a public park in Germany — a moment the player described as one of the lowest of his career.
With his reputation damaged to the extent he knew the incoming manager would probably not renew his contract, Ferdinand signed a deal at Queens Park Rangers. It did nothing to restore any glory. On a tight pitch, in a team who were forced to defend for the entire game, Ferdinand was required to be more of a Vidic. He wasn’t.
Ferdinand left with the blessing and good wishes of United fans, unlike Vidic, who left under a bit of a cloud when it was announced in early March that he had signed for Inter Milan. Vidic had become disillusioned with life under David Moyes, but the timing of the announcement, from the club captain of all people, coming at a stage when United were making a desperate last throw of the dice for Champions League qualification, was, for some, an unforgivable show of disloyalty. Time was almost up for Moyes, but the way Rio Ferdinand was handled was a case study for everything that went wrong for the Scot in those few months: the understandable misunderstanding, the questionable decision of resolution and the poor man-management that undermined all the work Sir Alex Ferguson had done. Twenty-seven years of work undone in roughly 27 weeks.
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— Wayne Barton (@WayneSBarton) 12 August 2019