LONDON (AP) — In this bleakest of introductions to Manchester United, David Moyes is struggling with the hand dealt to him by the club. A squad that was in need of more than just tinkering when Alex Ferguson retired, has faded as a force and seems incapable of competing with the elite.
The giants of English football lurch to a new low each month as the transition following Ferguson's 26-year reign proves more difficult than the fans or owners could have envisaged. Under Ferguson, seasons were about chasing trophies. Now it's about avoiding further embarrassment, with United out of the domestic cups and sixth in the Premier League, 11 points from the Champions League places.
Needing to lift the trophy in May to return to the Champions League, United's matchup with Olympiakos in the round of 16 seemed like a gift to Moyes from UEFA. But United was insipid in Greece on Tuesday, and bereft of any attacking threat or defensive cohesion in a 2-0 loss.
Thirty years ago pre-Ferguson, United overturned such a deficit against Barcelona to advance in the European Cup Winners' Cup at Old Trafford, but such a feat would seem beyond this group of players, for whom the Theatre of Dreams has become the scene of too many nightmares this season.
"I take responsibility, it's my team," Moyes said at Olympiakos.
The message from within Old Trafford remains that Moyes will be entrusted with leading the club's revival.
How much is Moyes to blame for United's misfortunes? The Scot was chosen to replace his compatriot partly because he was low-maintenance and would not storm in wanting to rip up the squad.
It was in an unusual moment of candor from within the United hierarchy, the day after the title was clinched with four games to spare last April, when this became apparent — just before Moyes was approached to replace Ferguson.
At that point, then-chief executive David Gill knew Ferguson would be retiring within weeks, despite the manager's public denial days earlier. And, although Gill did not let slip Ferguson's secret, what he said in an Associated Press interview indicated that a change might not be too far away, and that the Glazer family didn't want any drastic changes to the team.
Although United would go on to win a 13th Premier League title under Ferguson by 11 points, such rampant success masked the necessity to strengthen an aging squad.
"The quality of the squad, the composition of that squad, means that any new manager coming in will inherit a great squad of players," Gill told the AP on April 23, 2013. "And yes he may, whenever that is ... clearly want to bring in one or two of his own people, new players. But he won't want to change the squad wholesale because (then) he won't be our manager. We've got to be consistent with that and that's what we are planning on."
The comments were eye-catching but set against Ferguson's retirement denial. The succession plan, however, would be implemented rapidly, as Moyes was handed the job — initially secretly — to leave Everton and fill one of the toughest vacancies in football.