I was concerned as to whether Moyes would have the appetite for a rebuilding job at a perennial struggler, having recently been unceremoniously sacked from what was basically his dream job. Furthermore, Ellis Short’s preferred choice betrayed a misplaced focus on reputation over substance and suitability. His success at Everton was unprecedented, but it has been over a decade since he took over at a club in turmoil and as the saying goes, ‘six months is a long time in football’.
The markets have changed, the league has changed and Moyes has done little to convince me that he is moving with the times. For the club hierarchy, however, appointing a former Manchester United manager while having to pay no compensation was an attractive prospect and has all the trappings of an ambitious and revolutionary appointment. In reality, it demonstrated a backwards and budget approach of our managerial search.
From the start, Moyes was making senselessly negative throwaway comments, stating that he didn’t take the job last season because he had already thought we were down. This was in October of last season, after just nine league games. This should have told us everything we needed to know about the self confidence and mentality of this manager. And his dour and negative tone has continued apace, with him producing breathtaking quotes regarding player recruitment that, however true, hardly give the current squad or potential targets the impression that they have Moyes' confidence and trust.
In the summer, Moyes remarked that, “The quality of players that Sunderland can get is probably not what I’ve been buying the last six years - or what I’ve had in the Premier League. Not anywhere close to it. We’re out there looking, but this club can only attract a certain type of player”.
This week, Moyes commented on our transfer search by saying, “I'd be kidding you on if I said the players we are going to bring in in January are going to massively make a big difference…. Because, first of all, we probably couldn't get that level of player and secondly, we probably wouldn’t have the finances to do that…The funds we have to work with are limited with a capital L.”
Throw in a prophecy of relegation after just two games of the season - one of which was against Manchester City away and was hardly a must win for Christ’s sake - and you have the initial ingredients for a predictably negative, nightmare season.
It is abundantly clear to me that the players aren’t playing for Moyes and it should not come as a shock. Say what you like about their professional responsibilities and ridiculous wages, they are human beings and while some players will just play their football, give all they have and do what they are told (remember when Defoe was an auxiliary left back?), some players will hold back and suffer due to low confidence, due in no small part to a manager who throws them under the bus every week.
This is a man who refuses to fail with the players, preferring instead to insulate himself from the fallout that this season will be, all the while being happy enough to collect his sizeable wage. It strikes me as a double standard to complain about players not giving their all when we have a manager who, on a similarly obscene wage, appears to have reserved his full effort only for when he has more players available. If this manager will not give his all for the players he has right now and refuses to get down in the trenches and fail with them until his demands are met, what do the players available now owe him and why should they respect him?
It has been clear since the beginning of the season that Moyes is holding back and is not fully committed, as he fears being too closely associated with a footballing failure as predictable as they come. He is hurtling towards his third managerial failure in a row and with every comment Moyes makes, he emphasises a key and enduring message: ‘This is not my squad’. He is extremely keen to let everyone know this, including the players themselves.
We need a manager who will roll up his sleeves, wade into the shite and who is not afraid to be seen doing it. That is what he is paid to do after all and something a fair number of fans are not overly bothered to demand from him. Instead, he distances himself and conserves most of his energy for a PR campaign that has been running since the first day he took the job.
I am still staggered by the number of people who treat him as little more than a bystander in all this. As though the personnel he has available cannot do better than the disgraceful displays we have seen in recent weeks and throughout the season. A look at today's opponents is sufficient to dismiss the idea that a unit cannot be greater than the sum of its parts. West Brom’s back four was Nyom, McAuley, Dawson and Brunt. Hardly world beaters and not the best individual players you could ask for. Brunt isn’t even a left back and they were missing their star man Jonny Evans, but put the available players together under the management of Tony Pulis and they are a solid unit.
Similarly, the defensive personnel at Crystal Palace did not change drastically between the tenures of Pulis and Pardew. Their respective defensive records however were starkly different. Moyes may not have had enough time to transform the squad to perfection as he sees it, but he has had enough time to work with what he has and make them solid, if unspectacular. I am not asking for miracles, but as long as Moyes continues to belittle and publicly shame these players while exonerating himself, the players will not dedicate themselves to whatever plan he proposes.
A manager is after all a key part of turning a group of individuals into a team and even average individuals can be coached to deliver a solid and composed defensive unit. While some of the blame must fall on the players - and we all rightly bemoan a culture where players effort and participation can be withheld to extract demands from clubs - we cannot deny that Moyes has had a long time to work on the defence and the unit as a whole. The injuries have not been so pervasive and extensive that a defence of Van Aanholt, O’Shea, Djilobodji and Manquillo/Love/Jones should be so calamitous.
Like it or not, recent capitulations are not entirely due to a lack of quality, as we know that the personnel on the pitch are not so poor and inexperienced to justify being 3-0 down to Stoke inside 35 minutes. This is an issue of mentality, organisation and application and the responsibility for failing to turn these individuals into a unit must ultimately rest with the manager.
Many players this season have been out of sorts, but in recent weeks we have seen an increase in lethargic and noncommittal performances, as well as arguments and disagreements between players on the pitch. The mood in the camp is clearly not good and the performances reek of internal discord, which is hardly a surprise when the manager is the antithesis of a unifying influence.
Moyes looks lost and does not strike me as an individual with the strength of character or the patience to return to a professional level that he though he had left behind. Not only this, but his constant complaining and comments that seek to minimise his role in defeats has created a visible discord between him and a squad of players that have more to give than what he can get out of them. There are, like it or not, managers who could produce more from these players, injuries and all.
We must make a change and go for someone like Gary Rowett who has the appetite and the enthusiasm for a long term building job at a club with limited resources, having worked on a shoestring budget for years. Rowett would likely see a club like Sunderland as a massive opportunity to develop and progress in his managerial career, even if we were to go down, while his recent experience of the Championship could be invaluable to us next season.
I know people want us to stick with a manager and I know people desperately want Moyes to be that man. There is a weird belief that Moyes is the last hope we have of such a future, the only manager capable of turning us round. I do not believe that and there is scant evidence to justify such a view.
Blind faith may be what keeps us interested in Sunderland AFC, but it cannot be the reason we retain a manager.
Time to go Dave.