There was a moment in Manchester United’s abject defeat to Olympiakos on Tuesday night which summed up all that is wrong with David Moyes’ reign as manager.
Ashley Young got the ball in the centre of the pitch about 30 yards from goal, instead of trying to thread a pass through the opposition defence or even having a shot, he inexplicably turned away and headed for the wing.
This frustrating and completely unimaginative decision was symptomatic of the obsession of playing down the flanks which has become a symbol of Moyes’ dull and rigid tactical approach.
Surely Shinji Kagawa, who was again wasting away on the bench, or Adnan Januzaj – who was bizarrely omitted from the squad entirely – would have gone for the jugular in such a promising position.
But this is the thing with Moyes, he’s too cautious, he doesn’t trust creative players. Instead he prefers workmanlike performers who make life difficult for the opposition.
Despite Young and Antonia Valencia being short of the quality required to be United players they have been hopelessly out of form, yet Moyes has continued to pick them because he fears the alternatives to 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1.
Of course wingers still have a place in the modern game but they have to be adaptable and be able to come inside and play. It also helps if they can beat a man and put in a decent cross. Young and Valencia have seemed incapable of both this season but Moyes persists with them because they fit his tried and tested, outdated system.
Time and again on Tuesday night they ran down the line, checked and passed it backwards. It’s predictable play, ineffective and easy to defend against.
The performance in Piraeus was about as bad as it gets, not just from Young and Valencia but from everyone.
Wayne Rooney, again masquerading as an effective number 10, did nothing to justify his £300,000 per week wages. Robin Van Persie bereft of any kind of service looked completely disillusioned with life under Moyes. The midfield was non-existent again and the less said about Rio Ferdinand’s performance the better.
It was a new low; worse than the pathetic performances at the Etihad and Anfield. Worse than the two Capital Cup semi-final games against Sunderland and worse than the home defeats to Newcastle and West Brom.
Surely this is the end for Moyes. He looks way out of his depth and the players are playing as if they have little belief in his methods or any interest in taking them on board.
And who can blame them? A team of champions who would have expected a man equally as successful to lead them into a new era have found themselves taking orders from a mid-table manager who has never won a trophy.
His appointment was negligence of the highest order by the United board who instead of targeting the best in the business went for mediocrity in Moyes and have been rewarded with mediocre performances from a squad who were capable of winning the Premier League title by 11 points the season before.
It was an irresponsible decision, akin to putting the paperboy in charge of News International.
There have been absolutely no signs of progress under Moyes and there is no hint of him developing a philosophy or style of play which can give the fans hope for the future.
The thought of Moyes being given £200m to spend in the summer doesn’t bear thinking about. What happens if he spends the cash and continues to serve up the boring, backwards football he is at the moment?
Do the board sack him at Christmas and then give his successor another £200m to sort out his mess?
He should go now. United should conduct a proper recruitment process and identify a manager with a clear football philosophy and the personality to take the club forward.
The fear is that we are stuck with Moyes for the foreseeable future. It is highly unlikely that Sir Alex Ferguson will admit that choosing him was a huge mistake and will no doubt fight his corner in the boardroom where he has a great deal of influence.
But for the good of the club Ferguson has to swallow his pride before this mess becomes unsalvageable. If things continue the way they are, attracting players will become extremely difficult, especially without Champions League football and with a manager bearing a reputation for negative, one-dimensional football.
The time to act is now, before it’s too late.