Remember when David Moyes was cool? When he was tipped to be the ‘next big thing’ in football management?
If you’re new to the Premier League, you could be forgiven for scoffing at any suggestion that Moyes once inspired optimism and even success.
Young, wild and free – Moyes in his heady hey-day at Everton. Image credit: Jason Gulledge (via Flickr)
But here’s a stat for the doubters. He has been awarded the third most ‘Manager of the Month’ awards in the Premier League’s history, after Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. Unbelievable, I know.
Now, in the apocalyptic landscape of 2017, David Moyes is just another victim of our changing world order. He has become a miserable, browbeaten pessimist. From the start of this season, he has told fans that things ‘can’t dramatically change’ and they should expect another relegation catfight.
And to confound his perpetual misery, his recent comments to a BBC reporter paint him in a rather bad light. It may just be the manifestation of the massive pressure he is under, but you can’t help thinking he should – as a Premier League manager – handle it better.
Can Moyes perform an Easter miracle to resurrect the Black Cats’ season?
Things change when you start to lose. It’s like the ground gives way beneath you and you can do nothing to reverse the slide. And for a football manager, decisions you make always seem to be wrong.
I’ve always been a great Arsene Wenger admirer. And I still am. I acknowledge that now might be a good time for him to move on, but it must be his own decision. And it must be when the board are ready for him to leave, with a suitable successor in place (and ‘suitable successor’ absolutely does not include Diego Simeone – a good manager, but it’d be like asking Stephen Hawking to write a poetry collection: Wenger and Simeone come from two very different schools of thought).
In the meantime, he is still there. And his achievements of the last 20 years still stand. But now, because it’s the ‘in thing’, he is criticised for any and every decision.
We can’t attack Wenger’s legacy because his side have had a rare slump. Image credit: Ronnie Macdonald (Flickr)
As a case in point, I switched on the BBC Radio 5 Live commentary for Arsenal’s game against Manchester City today. Martin Keown was criticising Wenger’s decision to bring on Olivier Giroud, citing Alex Iwobi as a ‘more mobile’ option.
Now I agree with the point in principle – but I can say with relative confidence that he would not have made that criticism if they were coming off the back of a 10 match unbeaten run. Decisions like that can’t be right or wrong. Who’s to say that Giroud won’t come on and score a spectacular scorpion kick?
Criticism mounts up in the same way that defeats do. The longer the losing run, the greater the scrutiny and the easier it is to pick things out for criticism. Even things which, for anyone else, might be deemed a stroke of genius.
But just because something’s fashionable, doesn’t mean it’s right. Look at the mullet. That was fashionable. And whilst criticising Wenger is in vogue for pundits everywhere, I still think we should be wary of going overboard.
On the day that UK Sport’s cuts to some sports funding comes into effect, you can’t help thinking that we find ourselves in a bizarre situation.
Sport is a money-making behemoth. You only need to go to a Premier League match or a major tennis tournament to understand the scale of the financial operation. There are so many people and so many businesses who choose to tie their interests up with professional sport.
So how are we in a position where badminton, wheelchair rugby, archery, fencing and weightlifting will all lose the UK Sport funding they rely on?
The athletes who will be hit are all professionals. Most of them are very successful professionals. Chris Langridge and Marcus Ellis won the men’s doubles bronze at the Rio Olympics, Britain’s first badminton medal in 12 years. They will have to fund themselves on tour, as badminton loses all its £5.7million UK Sport funding today.
Participation figures in badminton have been in steady decline since 2008. And if you look at the situation now, what reasons would there be to pick up a shuttlecock?
Even worse is the situation for wheelchair rugby. Their athletes performed valiantly in Rio, finishing fifth. And their thanks? The loss of £750,000 a year of vital UK Sport’s funding.
I was told by a source close to the top of the GB Wheelchair Rugby hierarchy that the GB team could be disbanded within the year if funds aren’t found sharp-ish. That is a shocking statement.
It goes without saying that the most visible sports are also the most monied. They perpetuate each other. So it’s easy to forget that, for the vast majority of professional athletes, it’s often a case of scraping by.
I can’t help thinking that it’d be nice to redistribute certain players’ Premier League wages…
Steven Gerrard has been the first name on the Liverpool team sheet for the past decade. He’s dominated the captaincy and the central midfield role. It’s going to be a huge adjustment, but perhaps it is a good thing that Brendan Rodgers has abandoned sentimentality, and agreed to let Gerrard go stateside.
He will inevitably be missed. He is Liverpool’s top goalscorer in all competitions this season (although that isn’t his greatest achievement, considering the fact that Sturridge has been injured for most of the season).
More important than his goals, is his presence as a leader. Gerard Houllier – appointing him captain in 2003 – cited his natural ‘leadership qualities’ as the reason for the move, an unusual one considering Gerrard’s relative youth at the time.
He replaced Sami Hyypia, another Liverpool legend and a very successful captain. Hyypia won six trophies during his tenure, as has Gerrard thus far. Houllier took a lot of flak for his decision at the time, though in hindsight it was an excellent move – is there any hope of an easy ride for Brendan Rodgers?
Most likely, no. It is terrible PR; to lose a lifelong Liverpool lad, a man who has garnered adoration from fans across the world. And of course a man who still has the capability to carry his side to victory, à la AFC Wimbledon last week.
But I’m tempted to believe that Rodgers may well be proven right in this instance. Liverpool have to let go of their talisman, and the sooner someone else is allowed to step up the better. Jordan Henderson will have to raise his game. Emre Can and Lucas might also be able to step up to the plate. Liverpool will have to endure a period of transition, but one that is inevitable anyway.
It’s not going to be much fun for Rodgers, but Gerrard’s move is good for Liverpool. He will be missed in the Premier League, but it’ll be thrilling to see who fills his considerable shoes.