22 April 2014

Five reasons why we can ignore the sacking of Moyes

It's official. David Moyes has been sacked. Despite our best efforts at keeping him on, losing at Old Trafford and drawing at home, he's become the shortest-serving manager at Old Trafford in 82 years. As we look ahead to our own club's future and the inevitable departure of Arsène, it's instructive to draw some important insights from the Moyes-Man U experience, as we figure out just why we can safely ignore the cautionary tale that lies therein.

Okay, so maybe I don't quite have five reasons, but it seems like that's how these columns are supposed to go. I suppose, in future, I'll have come up with a "five reasons why a 'Five Reasons' column makes no sense" column. For one, I hate the number five. I don't like base-five counting (that's the counting system humans use because we have five fingers. Yeah, it's convenient, but I like a little variety. Prime numbers—excepting five, of course—are where it's at. Having established that, let's move on. Here's a handful of reasons why we don't have to fret about our future.
  • Age
    Have you seen Man U's roster? When I saw that Giggs had been announced as Moyes's replacement, my first thought was, "wait—a player-manager? Is that legal?" Yes, I realize that Giggs doesn't play much anymore, but it highlights for me one of Man U's core problems: its core is too old. Ferdinand: 35. Vidic: 32. Evra: 32. Carrick: 32. Fletcher: 30. Van Persie: 30. These are guys who log significant minutes (when they're fit, that is). I'd call this roster geriatric, but actual pensioners might take umbrage, pointing rightly to the sprightliness and vim they display, as contrasted by the dour, limp performances some of the players have been guilty of.
    By contrast, ours is a squad just ripening into maturity. Yes, we have a few older players, namely Rosický (33), Arteta (32), Sagna (30, and Flamini (29), and we'll have to look at replacements or upgrades this summer (more on that below), but the core of this squad is in that Goldilocks-zone of youth and experience—Özil, Walcott, Szczesny, Gibbs, Ramsey, and Wilshere form the heart and soul of this squad and are all between 22 and 25. Just behind them come Jenkinson, Ox, and Gnabry, younger players who have already started to acquire experience and come through some fierce cauldrons along the way.
    In short, whereas Moyes inherited a squad full of achy joints and liniment, Arsène has built and is continuing to build a squad capable of competing for years after his absence.
  • Player-development
    I'm splitting hairs a bit with this one, but there's enough of a difference to warrant it. Man U just doesn't look to be developing its next generation of in-house players with any master-plan in mind. Cleverley's turning out to be a flash in the pan, so much so that there's a petition to keep him out of the Three Lions. Welbeck, a Man U fan since his childhood, is openly questioning his future with the club. Only Adnan Januzaj seems to qualify as a youth-player with vast potential, but even he hasn't come up through their youth-system so much as been signed and thrown in at the deep end. Meanwhile, other younger players have floundered since joining Man U, such as Kagawa and Chicharito. Some of these are trends that predate Moyes, hinting at the absence of a long-range vision for how to sustain the club's success beyond simply buying players (again, more on that below).
    Meanwhile, we've seen players like Wilshere, Gibbs, and Szczesny come up through the academy to become leaders in the squad and bright lights for the future. More-recent signings like Ox, Ramsey, Walcott, and Gnabry look like world-beaters on their day. Give Walcott or Ox a full season and watch them lay waste. Give Gnabry a bit more seasoning, and watch him destroy opposing defenses. We've seen enough from Ramsey to start anointing him with honorifics galore. Give him a full season and he might re-enter the debate over Player of the Year. In our pipeline our other players we're excited to see, and rightly so: Akpom. Bellerin. Eisfeld. Zelalem. Going forward, this suggests that Arsenal do have a vision for the future, and this offers a beacon of hope for our future as well as an invitation to youth-players yet to be named: come to Arsenal and plumb the depths of your potential.
  • Finances
    We all know that we have a transfer-kitty worth upwards of 100m. However, this item refers more to debt and overall financial health. For as much as we lambaste Chelsea and Man City for their oily sugardaddies, the only real difference between them and Man U is the nouveau riche element of it Simply put, they're like brash upstarts, having rented the bulk of their successes in the last decade or so. Man U, by contrast, have a long, long pedigree that stretches far back into the early days of British football. Their more-recent successes, however, look a lot more like the Chelsea/City model than any commitment to in-house player development, as they have bought players almost as aggressively as those rivals. Set aside the 2010 departure of Ronaldo, and their transfer balance-sheet is just as lopsided, if not moreso than Chelsea or City. What's the difference? Is it the pedigree that permits them a free pass? Is it that Glazer is less exotic and therefore more acceptable as a bankroller? Who knows? The salient point is that, under FFP, clubs are already having to act more judiciously. City face investigation. Chelsea have started to act with something resembling sanity. Back to Man U, they'll be without Champions.
    Over at Arsenal, much to our perennial frustration, we've been the poster-children for financial rectitude, assiduously balancing the books year in and year out, making timely payments on our loans, and otherwise acting as if debt is a deadly disease. It can be if allowed to fester, but there are some among us who might not mind an occasional bout. I'll spare you the numbers, but as with player-development and age above, Arsène seems to have kept at least one eye on the long-term health and competitiveness of the club. Whereas others will be hamstrung and tetchy, our financial health will allow us more freedom to act aggressively and decisively in transfer-markets to come (of course, having that freedom and enjoying it are too often two different things...).
So that's three. I now face a conundrum. I pointed out that I don't like multiples of five, and I much prefer prime numbers. I've backed myself into a corner, haven't I? I currently have three. Four is out (multiple of two, hence, not prime). Five's already out. Six is out (again, not prime: multiple of three). I don't know if I can get to seven in the time I have. I'll cheat a little bit by offering my last suggestion as a conclusion rather than an item. Moving forward, then, Man U are in a bit of a downward spiral. Saddled with an aging decrepit squad and possible player-defections at the youth end, they'll go into the transfer-window of a World Cup year without Champions League money or prestige to attract players, and without manager (unless Giggs is kept on). I'm sure they'll revive in due time, being too big to fail and all of that, but it's all a bit unsettled. Meanwhile, Arsenal looks to be on the ascendancy, having overachieved this season despite too many injuries to shake a stick at (lest you injure yet another player or yourself in the shaking of said stick). With Champions League football and an FA Cup within reach, we look ready to launch a deeper, more-sustained attack on both the Champions League and the Prem next season.

Of course, money does talk, and I don't assume for a minute that Glazer will sit idly by and allow Man U to continue to slouch down the table into mediocrity. For all I know, he's lined up replacements for Ferdinand, Vidic, van Persie, and others, and has a master-plan to launch Man U right back into the thick of things next season. We'll see. For now, though, don't worry too much about what the Moyes debacle means for us as we ponder a future without Arsène. He may not have won anything recently, but he's done quite a lot to set us up to do so for years to come. That's vision.