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What's gone wrong!

Matt Lawton Of The Daily Mail
Monday, January 13, 2014

WHEN David Moyes took charge at Manchester United, Rene Meulensteen — then the first-team coach — told him he had moved from a yacht to the bridge of a cruise liner.

Now that ship appears to be hurtling towards the rocks with the former Everton manager struggling to steer it clear of danger.

A side which won last season's title at something of a stroll are suddenly unable to keep pace with their rivals and much of the blame is being laid at the door of Moyes. The Chosen One has become the chastened one since leaving the relative comfort of Goodison Park to replace the seemingly irreplaceable Sir Alex Ferguson.

Sportsmail has spent the past week talking to central figures in this unfolding drama in an effort to establish what exactly has gone wrong at United, the club who have dominated English football in the Premier League era.

How did it get to the point that defeat in yesterday's encounter with Swansea would come as no great surprise to anyone? (Man United won 2-0).

A picture emerges of a divided dressing room, a squad with some senior players who seem to have "retired when the manager retired" and a group of players disaffected by Moyes's apparent indulgence of Wayne Rooney.

Confidence is shot at a club renowned for their flair and never-say-die spirit. That spirit has been crushed. Never was it more apparent than in United's pathetic reaction after Emmanuel Adebayor's goal for Tottenham on January 1.

But amid the swirl of speculation and gossip that has swept across Old Trafford, some of the accusations levelled at Moyes are simply wrong.

He did not stroll into the Carrington training complex and fire Ferguson's entire coaching staff. He sat down with all of them individually, more than once, and offered Meulensteen the assistant manager's position that had belonged to Mike Phelan for the previous five years. Promotion, essentially, for the Dutchman.

But Meulensteen didn't like the idea of Moyes being more hands-on than Ferguson and decided, instead, to pursue his ambitions in management. Even though Ferguson was of the opinion, in his recent autobiography, that of all his assistants only Steve McClaren was really cut out for the top job.

Moyes wanted to bring his people in but Steve Round became No 2 only after Meulensteen (now in charge at Fulham) opted to leave. To suggest — as some have this week — that the new manager 'broke up the family' would appear to be a one-eyed view of events. There are, however, deep concerns within the dressing room, some of which Moyes might even acknowledge.

There is a feeling among key figures that some older players have been unable to accept change. The majority of footballers find it easier to adapt. They move clubs, see managers come and go.

But Moyes has inherited a squad that has been together for a long time in an unusually stable environment. Of the 31 members of the senior squad, 18 have been at the club for more than three years; 14 of those more than five.

Ferguson's departure was seen by some not simply as the end of an era but the end of their careers, and the sudden drop in performance levels has reflected that. As one senior source said, there is a view that influential players effectively retired when Ferguson quit.

Clearly, some of the older players are not the force they were. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic can no longer command a penalty area in the manner they once did and Ferguson's exit seems to have hastened their decline. Ferdinand, 35, increased the pressure on Moyes last month when he bemoaned his habit of announcing his match-day team at the last minute.

Ferdinand complained it had turned him into "a madman", saying: "You spend a lot of nervous energy thinking, 'Am I playing?' or 'Am I not playing?' and you're just going round in circles in your head."

Would he have dared challenge the authority of Ferguson in such a way, particularly when, back at Old Trafford, his words were felt to be more than a little misleading. When Ferdinand was a central figure at United, Ferguson would give him advanced warning that he wanted him fit and prepared for a particular game.

If the Manchester derby was two weeks away, Ferguson would let Ferdinand know he was in his plans. That way the former England captain would manage his chronic injury problems and get his creaking body ready.

The idea that Moyes leaves the players sweating until two hours before the game is incorrect. The majority of the time, players will be told the day before. Perhaps Ferdinand is wrestling with the fact he just isn't someone Moyes has in mind for the big games these days.

Not when Moyes is of the view Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have the potential to become the finest centre halves in the Premier League.

Rooney is already central to his manager's plans even if Chelsea's Jose Mourinho is sure to come calling again, on this occasion possibly offering the Champions League football that might not be available at Old Trafford next season.

Some players feel Moyes went overboard in his praise of Rooney earlier this season. Moyes might argue he needed to give his attention to Rooney after the England striker had told Ferguson he wanted to leave. He might also point to how successful his management of Rooney has proved.

In the mind of some players, however, Ferguson had been more than justified in isolating Rooney as in recent seasons Ferguson had been forced to reprimand Rooney.

In his new autobiography he confirmed that disciplinary action was taken in 2011 after Rooney and two teammates turned up to training worse for wear after a night out.

Ferguson also wrote of how Rooney struggled to stay in peak condition and confirmed that he had indeed asked to leave in the summer — having also done so back in 2010 when he publicly questioned the club's ambition.

The change in attitude towards Rooney between the two managers has not sat comfortably with all of United's players.

There are some who believe Ferguson's ruling of Rooney with an iron fist was the correct approach.

Others are operating on a baser emotion, resentful of the special attention — and playing time — Rooney is getting.

Whatever criticisms have been levelled at Moyes, he can't be attacked for a lack of effort. Since starting work on July 1 last year, he has taken only two days off. He is working tirelessly to revive a fractured and demoralised squad.

It can't be easy knowing that supporters would give anything to see Ferguson back in charge but some of Moyes's time has been devoted to tapping into Ferguson's expertise. The pair meet regularly, they might talk twice in a week or three weeks can pass without a conversation.

Until then Moyes knows he must work with what he has, and continue steering the cruise liner through some very choppy waters.