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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.

3 things we learned from the USMNT win over Canada

PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO - NOVEMBER 17: Jermaine Jones #13 keeps the ball in play during a World Cup Qualifier between Trinidad and Tobago and USA as part of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for Russia 2018 at Hasely Crawford Stadium on November 17, 2015 in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. (Photo by Ashley Allen Getty Images)
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The United States played to a disjointed and sloppy win over Canada to wrap up January camp. It was promising at times, but mostly a cringe-worthy display by both sides. Here are the key notes from the 90 minutes at StubHub Center in California.

1) Jermaine Jones should never play CB again

Look, this probably wasn’t ever the plan, and it probably never is. It’s the “break glass in case of emergency” option. With Matt Miazga likely supposed to start one or both these games before he left for Chelsea, and the departure of Michael Orozco and Brad Evans, the U.S. was thin at the back.

Still. Yikes…

Jones was flat out awful. Just days after he played well in a midfield distribution position against Iceland, he was a total mess at the back. Jones was miserable on the ball, giving it away with ugly touches, he lunged in on challenges including one on Cyle Larin early that very well could have resulted in a Canadian penalty. And he charged forward – something a central defender can never do – leaving his teammates caught out at the back. This ended with Matt Besler getting a yellow card:

Please, Jurgen. Never again.

2) Jordan Morris is developing into a useful player

In his first cap since signing a professional contract with the Seattle Sounders, Morris gave his critics much to think on. Many said the 21-year-old would come and go without much staying power, but he partnered well with Jozy Altidore. There wasn’t much service up front during his time on the field, but when there was, Morris drew defenders off Altidore, and he provided a solid foil to his bigger partner with his speed and precision. He didn’t have many opportunities, but when he did, he made his presence known.

3) Playing players out of position very rarely bears fruit

Soccer coaches often have two choices at their disposal when building a lineup: either pick the best 11 players and position them into a formation that fits their skills best, or pick a formation and then select the 11 players that fit that formation the best. Klinsmann prefers neither. Instead, recently he’s been picking 11 players he wishes to play, choose a formation he feels will fit the opponent, and then tries to force the players he chose into the formation he selected.

It hasn’t worked, especially not today. He tried to force 3 center-backs onto the back line. He tried to force three central midfielders (and Zardes) into a flat four midfield that occasionally looked like a flat diamond. Neither worked. It’s an experimental environment, sure, but the benefits of his choices aren’t entirely clear.

We know what doesn’t work, but we still don’t really know what works, and isn’t the latter what January camp was for?

4) Jozy Altidore needs to work on his heading…oh

Bonus! So, as the game wound down, I had written that Jozy needed to work on his heading in front of net. The 26-year-old had a few headed opportunities in the box throughout the game, and he failed to capitalize. He looked to drill it into the ground on multiple occasions, but from the distance most of his efforts came from, he likely should have looked to aim his headed shots rather than use the ground pound technique.

Then, you know, he scored the late winner on a header. So, yeah. Never mind. But still. Yeah. Whatever.

United States 1-0 Canada: Altidore snatches late winner in sloppy meeting

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 5: Jozy Altidore #17 of the United States battles with Steven Vitoria #15 of Canada during the first half of their international friendly soccer match at StubHub Center February 5, 2016 in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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It was sloppy. It was sleepy. It was cringe-worthy at times. By the final whistle, Jozy Altidore refused to let it end goalless.

January USMNT camp wrapped up with an erratic, disjointed but successful 1-0 win over their northern neighbors as Jozy Altidore bagged a headed winner in the 89th minute.

U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann chose to start a number of players out of position, including a trio of central defenders along the back line and an odd midfield combination that sat back for much of the game. Jozy Altidore and Jordan Morris partnered up front, and worked well with the sparse service they received.

Both back lines looked relatively shaky to start, and each midfield was sloppy under heavy pressure from the opposition. The first true chance came on 15 minutes as a beautiful touch with the outside of Gyasi Zardes’s foot found a cutting Jozy Altidore, and the forward’s shot beat Maxime Crepeau but crashed into the post. The ball then rebounded into the back of Crepeau and back off the post a second time before the Canadian goalkeeper finally collected.

Four minutes later, Canada had a penalty shout as Jermaine Jones lunged into the back of Cyle Larin who was attempting a volley from the top edge of the box, but the referee waved it off.

As those chances faded, the game became a snoozer and the U.S. attack devolved into long balls lumped forward. Jones was miserable at the back, looking completely out of position. Both Michael Bradley and Mix Diskerud sat back in possession, leaving Lee Nguyen and Gyasi Zardes isolated up front with no wide threat.

The U.S. had another spell of attack before halftime. Altidore sprung Jordan Morris on the left edge of the box, but his chipped effort skittered just wide. Bradley tried a left-footed effort on net on 39 minutes, but his shot was easily saved low by Crepeau. Matt Besler earned a yellow card by clipping the heel of Larin just before the break, forced into the foul after Jones was caught out of position.

Thankfully, the first half ended. Klinsmann made one halftime change, bringing on Brandon Vincent for his first USMNT appearance in place of Kellyn Acosta, whom the manager said had a hamstring problem. The U.S. pushed forward early, and they had a 53rd minute chance when Diskerud lofted a ball to the far post where Altidore met it with his head, but he pushed an effort on goal just wide left, inches out of Morris’ reach.

Things settled until the 66th minute, when substitute Jerome Kiesewetter found Altidore in the box, but he drove it into the ground meekly. In the 70th minute some U.S. pressure bought a shot for Vincent, but it was saved well by Crepeau’s feet. Altidore had another big chance with six minutes to go, and he went for the off-balance chip that aged as it traveled through the air, slow enough to allow Crepeau to recover and slap it out of danger.

Klinsmann brought Morris off with just three minutes to go in regulation, bringing on Ethan Finlay, who had an instant impact. Finlay cut inside from the left and lofted a ball to the far post, one which Altidore lept to meet, finally finding the back of the net after having bungled a few earlier headed opportunities.

The win leaves the United States 2-0 in January camp, and despite a few clear deficiencies, the end results were there.

USMNT lineup vs Canada sees Jermaine Jones at CB, Morris and Altidore up front

at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.
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The United States takes on Canada for the second of two friendlies that test those involved in January camp. With Iceland already dispatched 3-2, Canada is next up, at 10:30 p.m. ET from the StubHub center in California.

Jurgen Klinsmann has chosen his lineup, and it’s not easily discernible.

[ MORE: Full preview United States vs Canada ]

The back line is the biggest head-scratcher, with three central defenders starting, and at least one of them out of position. Jermaine Jones, who performed well in a midfield distribution role against Iceland, has been moved back to the defensive line, partnering with Matt Besler. Steve Birnbaum, also a central defender who had ups and down against Iceland, is back in the lineup. There’s nowhere to fit a third central defender, so he will play out wide. Kellyn Acosta, a natural full-back, rounds out the back four.

In midfield, the personnel lends itself to a flat four, if only because there’s really no other way it can go. Again, a multitude of central defenders are deployed, with Michael Bradley, Lee Nguyen, and Mix Diskerud forming some kind of CM/CM/Winger combination (Nguyen is likely the odd man out wide), with Gyasi Zardes out wide on the other end.

[ MORE: 3 key battles for USMNT vs Canada ]

Jozy Altidore returns up front, this time to partner with Jordan Morris, who makes his first USMNT appearance as a professional player.

Finally, San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper David Bingham makes his USMNT debut between the sticks.

Jurgen Klopp says Daniel Sturridge is focused on getting healthy, not leaving Liverpool

during the Capital One Cup quarter final match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on December 2, 2015 in Southampton, England.
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Jurgen Klopp has made his frustrations with Daniel Sturridge‘s injury history very clear, but he still knows the England international is a crucial part of his squad, and he will be patient, no matter how frustrating it is.

Sturridge has been out since early December, and has made just five appearances all season due to a number of recurring injuries that have sapped him of his consistency for the last two years.

But with the 26-year-old back in training the last two days, the English media has speculated that Sturridge is looking to leave Liverpool, and that the club is trying to rid themselves of him as well. Klopp does not see it that way.

[ RELATED: Daniel Sturridge says he’s “good to go” ]

“I have no feeling that Daniel is thinking like this so stop thinking about it,” Klopp said in his pre-match press conference, speaking ahead of the match Saturday against Sunderland. “I spoke to him but not about this. I didn’t ask: ‘do you want to leave?’ “Why should I? He’s been back in training for two days. I don’t go over and say: ‘Daniel, I hear you want to leave? Is there truth in it?’ I don’t believe that it is like this.”

Klopp called the rumors a “non-story” and believes as soon as Sturridge is out on the field, the rumors will stop. He just has to get out on the field first.

“Since I was here I’ve had a normal relationship with Daniel Sturridge,” Klopp said. “The only problem is I have only had him 10 or 12 times on the training pitch – that is the truth. Now he is back we hope he can stay in team training and everything will be good. If everything is normal from now on then he is in the race.”

The German said that just having returned to training, Sturridge won’t be ready for Saturday’s game, but he could potentially be back to action for the FA Cup match against West Ham on Tuesday.