Moyes proved too ordinary for greatness of Manchester United job

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From the start – from the FA Community Shield match at Wembley back in August — David Moyes seemed overmatched as the manager of Manchester United. It wasn’t an easy thing to put into words. He had obviously been a successful manager at Everton. He was obviously a smart guy, driven, committed to the cause, and certainly likable enough … I recall him saying two or three pretty funny and interesting things in the short time he spoke with the press before and after that game.

But there was something else, something that will come out harsher than intended.

He just seemed kind of ordinary.

It wasn’t exactly his fault. Well, it’s never the successor’s fault. The blunt and cold way Manchester United announced the news of Moyes’ sacking makes clear what his place in the club’s long and celebrated history will be:

“The Club would like to place on record its thanks for the hard work, honestly and integrity he brought to the club.”

Yep. Moyes will be the successor forever. The harsh truth is that, as the man who took over for Sir Alex Ferguson, “successor” was probably all he ever could have expected to be.

* * *

Phil Bengtson was a 55-year-old man from Minnesota who had coached football all his life. His claim to fame, before 1968, was that he had the patience, humility and strength to be Vince Lombardi’s assistant coach for nine years. No other coach managed to work that long for Lombardi. He was “rewarded” with the Packers head coaching job when Lombardi left before the 1968 season.

The successor lasted three years and never made the playoffs.

Gene Bartow was an accomplished 45-year-old college basketball coach who had led Memphis State to the 1973 national championship game. The Tigers lost the championship to UCLA – that was the game Bill Walton scored 44 points, making 21 of his 22 shots – but Bartow impressed enough people that he was chosen as the man to replace the great John Wooden in 1975.

Bartow had some limited success. He coached UCLA to the Final Four in 1976 and to the Sweet 16 the next year. But limited success was not what anyone had in mind after John Wooden won 10 national championships in 12 years. After two years, Bartow left to go start a basketball program at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

“Gene had the unenviable task when he arrived at UCLA of following the greatest coach in college basketball history, John Wooden, and he did so admirably,” UCLA’s athletic director Dan Guerrero said in a statement when Bartow died in 2012.

His legacy too, alas, was as the successor.

(MORE: How the Manchester United job has become a poisoned chalice)

Speaking of unenviable tasks, Tim Floyd replaced Phil Jackson in Chicago after six NBA championships … and without Michael Jordan too. Floyd was considered by many to be the next great thing in coaching. His teams won 49, lost 190 and at last check he was coaching at University of Texas at El Paso, where he has yet to guide the team to the NCAA Tournament.

Ray Perkins, one of legendary Bear Bryant’s favorite players, got to replace the Bear at Alabama. He had four up-and-down years before racing off to coach Tampa Bay in the NFL for more money and fewer headaches. Bill Guthridge was Dean Smith’s trusted longtime assistant coach, and he replaced his mentor and friend in 1987. He lasted three years and did reach two Final Fours. He retired and left the job to Matt Doherty, who almost crashed the program. Terry Simpson, a brilliant junior hockey coach, was given the task of replacing Al Arbour after four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders. He lasted two and a half seasons before being fired.

When Bill Snyder “retired” at Kansas State – he engineered the greatest turnaround in college football history there and was perhaps the most respected man in the state – he was replaced by a man named Ron Prince. Countless bad things happened the next three years, so bad that Prince was canned and Bill Snyder CAME BACK. And he is still the Kansas State coach almost 10 years after retiring.*

*Something similar happened when Minnesota Vikings’ legend Bud Grant was succeeded by the generally disastrous Les Steckel, a marine who went 3-13 his one and only season as an NFL head coach. Grant came back for one season.

This is not to say it’s impossible to replace a legendary coach. There are some positive examples. Every now and again a Jimmy Johnson will replace Tom Landry or Bill Cowher will replace Chuck Noll. But, in those two specific cases, there was something else at work. Landry and Noll were both legends, obviously, but fading ones. Landry’s last three teams had losing records. Noll’s teams had made the playoffs just once in seven years. In a way, Landry and Cowher were replacing ghosts.

David Moyes was not so fortunate. He was replacing a vibrant, active and very present legend in Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. On the one hand, Ferguson’s success was unprecedented – 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, winner of two doubles and the first treble in English football history when his 1999 team won the Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League.

(MORE: Giggs named interim boss  |  Candidates  |  Klopp not interested)

On the other hand, Ferguson was a larger than life figure, a tough, manipulative, literary and brilliant mastermind worthy of his own “House of Cards” like television series.

And on the third hand … Ferguson’s Manchester United team won the Premier League title in 2013. They were the defending champions, which brings with it another kind of pressure. Ferguson was every bit the force on the day he stepped down that he had been for two decades. David Moyes was not following some fading star, no, he was taking over the biggest team on earth and following the man who had made it so.

Moyes brought some solid credentials. He was successful at Everton and was known as someone who worked with 21st Century analytics. He was widely admired. But, again, right from the start, he just seemed … unspectacular. The man who tries to follow Sir Alex Ferguson, you would think, needs to have his own power, his own charisma, his own magnetism. Moyes just seemed like a nice guy.

Then the worst possible thing happened for Moyes: The team got off to a bad start – the worst start in almost a quarter-century. Manchester United lost at Liverpool and was destroyed at Manchester City. December proved to be the toughest month almost any Manchester United fan could remember. They lost at home to Everton for the first time in two decades. They promptly lost to Newcastle at Old Trafford for the first time in four decades. After a brief spurt of success, the Red Devils lost at home to Tottenham on New Year’s Day … the first New Year’s Day loss at Old Trafford since 1992.

All the while, Moyes tried to keep looking forward. But he was not reassuring. The word “disappointing” became his shield. He seemed to use it after every game. Manchester United lost at Stoke City. They could only manage a draw with Fulham at home. The anger and frustration over the early rough start was replaced by a realization: Manchester United for the first time in more than 20 years was not particularly good and Moyes did not know how to fix the problems.

When the Red Devils were utterly destroyed 3-0 at home by both Liverpool and Manchester City in March, Moyes’ fate was sealed. Fans paid to have an airplane banner reading, “Wrong one – Moyes out” flown over Old Trafford during a late March win over Aston Villa. Sir Alex had asked the fans to “stand by your new manager,” but there was no standing by Moyes after that. The listless 2-0 loss at Everton Sunday – in Moyes’ return to Goodison Park – clinched what everyone already knew: Manchester United for the first time ever would not finish Top 4 in the Premier League and, so, were eliminated from next year’s Champions League. And Moyes was a sacked-man walking.

All that was left was the announcement that Moyes was leaving the club, and the announcement was predictably short and chilly and dismissive. It had been a disaster. In a way, the Moyes tenure did serve one purpose: It reminded everyone just how great Sir Alex Ferguson really was. Unfortunately, that’s often the only thing successors accomplish.

If the 2018 World Cup started today…

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Another international break has passed, with fortunes rising and falling in most of FIFA’s confederations (Africa took a break during the break, having staged AFCON in January).

[ MORE: All World Cup qualifying news ]

Brazil joined hosts Russia as nations to have qualified for the 2018 World Cup, and 30 spots remain. Let’s take the opportunity to project the field for Russia.

In October, we took the projected qualifiers and simulated all the way down to the World Cup final. Germany beat Brazil. Let’s go again. Who will “win” it this time?


QUALIFICATION

We’ll again use actual qualification, as flawed and early as it is in some confederations, to be predict our combatants.

Asia (7 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia
PLAYOFF: Uzbekistan vs. Australia

PROJECTION: While Uzbekistan has been better in terms of overall form, Australia’s experience boosts it into a match-up with the USMNT.

Africa (2 of 6 qualifiers played)
IN: DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt

CONCACAF (4 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama
PLAYOFF: United States

(AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

South America (14 of 18 qualifiers played)
IN: Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Chile
PLAYOFF: Argentina

Oceania (4 of 6 qualifiers played)
PLAYOFF: New Zealand vs. Tahiti

UEFA (5 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: France, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium, Croatia
UEFA PLAYOFFS: Sweden, Portugal, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Italy, Greece, Iceland

SIMULATED PLAYOFFS (random draw):
Sweden vs. Iceland — Sweden wins
Portugal vs. Republic of Ireland — Portugal wins
Northern Ireland vs. Slovakia — Slovakia wins
Italy vs. Greece — Italy wins

Intercontinental playoffs:

Australia vs. United States — USMNT wins
Argentina vs. New Zealand — Argentina wins


FIELD (FIFA Rankings)

  1. Russia (hosts, 60)
  2. Argentina (1)
  3. Brazil (2)
  4. Germany (3)
  5. Chile (4)
  6. Belgium (5)
  7. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    France (6)

  8. Colombia (7)
  9. Portugal (8)
  10. Uruguay (9)
  11. Spain (10)
  12. Switzerland (11)
  13. Poland (12)
  14. England (13)
  15. Italy (15)
  16. Croatia (16)
  17. Mexico (17)
  18. Costa Rica (19)
  19. Egypt (20)
  20. Slovakia (25)
  21. USA (30)
  22. Iran (33)
  23. Burkina Faso (36)
  24.  (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

    DR Congo (38)

  25. South Korea (40)
  26. Nigeria (41)
  27. Sweden (45)
  28. Ivory Coast (47)
  29. Japan (51)
  30. Serbia (52)
  31. Panama (53)
  32. Saudi Arabia (57)

THE POTS

The 10 European qualifiers mean two will have to join Pot 2. Our random selections were… Croatia and Spain.

Pot 1 (seeds): Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, France, Colombia, Brazil

Pot 2 (CAF, CONMEBOL, UEFA): DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Uruguay, Croatia, Spain

Pot 3 (AFC & CONCACAF): Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, USMNT

Pot 4: (UEFA): Sweden, Slovakia, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, Poland, England, Portugal


THE DRAW

Group A: Russia, DR Congo, Saudi Arabia, Sweden
Group B: Chile, Croatia, Mexico, Portugal
Group C: Brazil, Nigeria, Panama, Switzerland
Group D: Germany, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Poland
Group E: Argentina, Spain, Japan, Slovakia
Group F: France, Ivory Coast, South Korea, Italy
Group G: Belgium, Uruguay, USMNT, England
Group H: Colombia, Egypt, Iran, Serbia

So… should we play it out? We’ll try to throw in some upsets and not just go with the chalk.

Round of 16
Mexico (B2) def. Russia (A1)
Brazil (C1) def. Poland (D2)
Spain (E1) def. Italy (F2)
Belgium (G1) def. Egypt (H2)
Portugal (B1) def. DR Congo (A2)
Germany (D1) def. Nigeria (C2)
France (F1) def. Argentina (G2)
Colombia (H1) def. England (G2)

Quarterfinals
Brazil def. Mexico
Spain def. Belgium
Germany def. Portugal
France def. Colombia

Semifinals
Brazil def. Spain
France def. Germany

Final
Brazil def. France

Dempsey leads way for MLS players during Cup qualifying

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The latest round of World Cup qualifying saw a major increase in the number of players from MLS called in for their national teams.

A number of those decisions paid off for their countries, perhaps no one more than Clint Dempsey.

A few months ago, Dempsey wasn’t even in consideration for the U.S. after missing the latter half of last season because of a heart issue. But the Seattle Sounders forward scored four times in two matches as the U.S. gathered four critical points in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Dempsey was part of an influx of MLS players contributing during the latest round of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

In all, MLS had 55 players called in for qualifying in CONCACAF, CONEMBOL (South America) and UEFA (Europe) competitions. Last September, the league saw 58 players called in to their national teams, but there were more countries still alive in qualification at that time. The 55 players selected this time was an increase of 16 from the last round of qualifying matches in November, and 40 of the 55 saw action during the two days of competition in the past week representing 12 countries.

In the three CONCACAF games last Friday, 29 of the 84 players to see the field were from MLS. That outpaced LigaMX, which had 17 players among the 84 used in the three matches.

Dempsey wasn’t the only MLS player coming up big for his country. Minnesota midfielder Kevin Molino had the only goal for Trinidad and Tobago in its 1-0 win over Panama. The Vancouver duo of Christian Bolanos and Kendall Waston teamed for the only goal in Costa Rica’s 1-1 draw with Honduras.

But not all went well for MLS players during qualifying.

Young Atlanta star Josef Martinez injured his left leg during the second half of Venezuela’s 2-2 draw with Peru in CONEMBOL qualifying. Martinez returned to Atlanta and an MRI revealed a left quadriceps injury that will keep the MLS leader in goals scored out for four to six weeks. Martinez had five goals in Atlanta’s first three games.

U.S. midfielder Sebastian Lletget was forced off early in the match against Honduras but not before scoring the opening goal for the Americans. Los Angeles announced Tuesday that Lletget suffered a Lisfranc injury that will require surgery and he will be sidelined for four to six months.

[ MORE: BWP a DP; Nephew called up to England U16 ]

MATCH OF THE WEEK: The club that set the bar for expansion debuts faces the newcomer looking to topple that standard.

The Seattle Sounders will host Atlanta United on Friday night. It’s the only regular-season matchup between the two sides, but there’s more than just the competition on the field.

Seattle’s expansion season of 2009 was regarded throughout the sports industry as arguably the best franchise launch ever, not just in MLS. Between ticket sales and fan engagement, Seattle’s start could not have gone better.

Atlanta might be setting a new standard. Atlanta drew more than 55,000 for its first match and more than 45,000 for its second home game, a win over Chicago. Atlanta seems to be following significant parts of Seattle’s blueprint, down to having an influential NFL owner highly involved from the start.

As for the on-field product, the validity of Atlanta’s promising start will be tested over the next month with four straight road matches.

“It’s definitely still an expansion team,” Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst said. “We’ve got our bumps and bruises along the way. Off the field, everyone’s still trying to get sorted and situated to the new city.”

BEST OF THE REST: Toronto finally gets to come home after opening the season with three straight road games. The Reds will host Sporting KC on Friday night. The trade-off for opening the season on the road is that Toronto gets five of its next six league matches at home and was able to get five points out of those three road contests to start.

Also of note will be what kind of lineup Vancouver rolls out on Saturday night against Los Angeles. The Whitecaps play in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals four days later.

BACK ON THE BENCH: Real Salt Lake introduced Mike Petke as its new head coach Wednesday, less than two weeks after firing Jeff Cassar. Petke was the head coach of the New York Red Bulls for two seasons, including the 2013 season when they won the Supporters’ Shield. After two years out of coaching, Petke signed on to be the head coach of the Real Monarchs, the minor-league club associated with RSL.

OFF TARGET: The other expansion debut this season by Minnesota United is on pace to set records, but not any they want to be associated with. Simply put, Minnesota can’t play defense.

Minnesota allowed at least five goals for the third time in four matches in last week’s 5-2 loss at New England. Minnesota allowed five goals to Portland and six to Atlanta and is on pace to allow more than 150 goals this season.

LAST WORD: “I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve seen over the last 10 days. It’s going to take some time to piece that team together.” U.S. coach Bruce Arena after the latest round of World Cup qualifying.

Messi explains actions that warranted 4-match ban

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Lionel Messi is set to miss four Argentina matches for something we arguably see every week on TV.

That doesn’t make it okay, but is anyone else scratching their head at the suspension handed down to the world’s best player for verbal abuse of an official?

[ MORE: Barca defends Messi ]

Messi, 29, shouted an obscenity at the linesman in Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile, and was both banned and served the first match of his ban on Tuesday, as Argentina was beaten 2-0 in Bolivia.

Messi explained his actions Wednesday with the following:

“My expressions were never directed to the referee, they were said to the air,” Messi told La Nacion.

That’s pretty ridiculous, yeah? But I can’t help but feel the four matches are a bit harsh. Hardly a high-level match goes by without seeing a player clearly being derisive toward an offical, and usually lipreading proves it wasn’t G-rated.

Again, I have no problem for setting a standard, as abuse of officials is unnecessary (and even those of us who are serially offenders know it).

But if confederations and leagues want to get serious about cutting it out, this can’t be a one-off suspension; End the group upbraiding of referees during games, the wild gesticulations, so on and so forth.

Bradley Wright-Phillips gets new deal; Nephew called up to England U-16

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It’s been a big 24 hours for the Wright-Phillips family.

Bradley Wright-Phillips signed a new Designated Player deal with the New York Red Bulls, while his nephew has been called up the England U-16 national team.

D’Margio Wright-Phillips is the son of Shawn Wright-Phillips, the former RBNY player currently plying his trade with Phoenix Rising of the USL.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Of course that will only serve to grow the pride of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who adopted Bradley and Shaun.

The details:

BWP has signed a new multi-year deal with the Red Bulls which brings the 70-goal man into Designated Player status.

“I’d like to thank Denis, Jesse, and everyone at the club for the opportunity to continue wearing this shirt and playing in front of the best fans in MLS,” said Wright-Phillips. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished in my time here, but my sole focus is on trying to win MLS Cup.”

As for D’Margio, he’s in Manchester City’s academy and obviously taking the right steps toward making it three generations in the Premier League. Both Shaun and Bradley spent time in City’s academy.