The firing of David Moyes at Manchester United seemed inevitable, whether it was now or anytime before his gargantuan six-year contract expired. Call it gut instinct, call it the proverbial reading of tea leaves, there was something about the marriage between Moyes, the club and, most importantly, the players he inherited from the best manager England's ever witnessed that didn't exude an air of happiness and lasting relationship.
Over time, stories will start to come out how the fraction between manager and locker room occurred, with juicy details no doubt providing entertaining reads and lessons in how to prevent such a thing from happening. However, let the bigger picture of the challenge in taking over the managerial reigns from a long-serving manager serve as a warning to Arsenal fans about life after Arsene Wenger.
I don't think it's a taboo thing anymore to say that Wenger's failed to deliver success in the form of trophies to Arsenal in a really long time. He has, though, managed to keep the club financially afloat through one of the most expensive, privately-funded club stadium projects in the world through continual qualification of Champions League. Not a small feat considering the EPL financial goalposts didn't necessary move on Wenger and Arsenal, as the Ashburton Grove project kicked off, so much as they were packed hastily in a box, tossed carelessly on a plane, and shipped halfway around the globe - specifically to Russia and Qatar.
The day will come, though, when Wenger calls it a day and hands the keys over to his successor. Whether you're a supporter of Wenger's or wish to see him leave, the lesson of Moyes at United should be that it's extremely difficult to replace a long-standing manager, especially one that had trouble winning trophies in his last years at the club. The situations, of course, will be dissimilar since the variables are different within each club, but the relationships built over time between players and manager, and comfort of continuity in each player's life patterns, are a nice, warm blanket the squad snuggle up with over time.
The thing is, though, change is difficult. Change management is one of the most studied areas in the business world, and while Moyes and Wenger's eventual successor probably know a lot about the sport, it's probably safe to assume they haven't spent a lot of time diving into the philosophies of guiding their direct reports through the stages of dramatic, sudden change. The biggest key in change management is that it takes time. How much time depends on the actors involved.
It's my personal belief that David Moyes didn't get enough time to remake Manchester United into his club. He took over from a legend and was given less than one season to prove his worth, all while trying to guide the players through the change. The results don't speak to his lack of ability as it speaks more to how hard it was for him to take over from Sir Alex Ferguson. And I don't think any other manager would produce better results with the squad Moyes had; certainly not Jose Mourinho (although I don't believe Mourinho would have panic-bought Marouane Fellaini for £27.5 million on Deadline Day). The fans demanded better results immediately, and the pressure became too great at the Board level that they couldn't not act before the fanbase collectively took up arms and stormed the castle.
Be careful though, Arsenal fans. The very same thing could happen here with Wenger's successor. The instinct to overreact when matches go awry is easy when the narrative's visible. The bigger picture, the succession of managers and integration of the new manager into the club and squad, is a novel and not a one-page essay in a magazine. It takes time to develop the story and see how the change progresses and evolves. It won't be easy and there will be bumps in the road, no matter who the club appoints. But it's up to the fans to reward the new manager with patience and understanding, and the Board should allow the manager time to see out his vision for the club. And that's what concerns me, knowing how the fans react to Wenger when he doesn't win silverware each season. If they sing about how Wenger doesn't know what he's doing, in the face of all the hurdles he's successfully maneuvered in the past, what will they sing about if his successor finishes out of the top four like Moyes did?
If the fans don't exercise patience and understanding if the results are similar to Manchester United's in the first Wenger-less season, which I severely doubt, then what we'll get is the David Moyes at United story. No one wins in this situation. The club looks weak, the fans can dictate policy from the stands and the players realize that if they kick up enough dust then they can ultimately get their way. This firing today does nothing for club stabilization, and further sets back the transition from Ferguson to whoever takes over the club following Moyes' departure in the long-term.
My wish is that when we go through the first season with Wenger's successor, everyone involved in the change - the club, the new manager, the players, and fans - look back at Manchester United's 2013/14 season and learn a few lessons in how to act and, more importantly, how not to act.