When Does Patience Become A Folly?

Statements from Manchester United regarding their commitment look foolish in the face of such underperformance. Daniel Storey says that it's time questions were asked...

Last Updated: 10/02/14 at 09:29 Post Comment

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The consistently repeated line on Manchester United and David Moyes is that this is a club that affords patience to its managers, the evident example being Alex Ferguson's three-year grace period in which to prove himself.

However, there are two pertinent caveats to that. Firstly, that was Ferguson. He had won three Scottish titles before joining United, five other domestic trophies and two European honours. Secondly, that was 1990. Football is a vastly different entity to 24 years ago, days without the Premier League, inflated television revenues or leveraged debt, all factors that increase pressure (and therefore inevitably reduce patience). It is absurd to state that United have been patient over the last two decades, simply because they have not been required to demonstrate anything close to tolerance or persistence. In the Premier League today even standing still is moving backwards, and United have regressed significantly.

When Fulham's line-up was announced for their trip to Old Trafford, you feared for the outcome. They effectively attempted an extended version of defence vs attack with what initially appeared might be a 6-4-0 formation, although 18-year-old Muamer Tankovic was used as a roaming forward - his remit was to chase down any ball, and not much more.

For United, Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata all started again, the trinity that was supposed to herald the return to form. After all, the absence of Van Persie and Rooney was the reason why Moyes had used his programme notes to bemoan his lack of fortune during his tenure at the club. Quite honestly, you shouldn't need fortune to beat Fulham at the moment.

In fact, Manchester United managed to make it look like Fulham had ten defenders and three attackers, time and again leaving themselves exposed on the counter-attack. It was from one of these that Steve Sidwell registered his sixth goal of the season, the chance provided by a sumptuous pass from Lewis Holtby. United probed and prodded, but such verbs shouldn't be required in home games against the team in danger of being cut adrift at the bottom.

Martin Stekelenburg's shot-stopping and reflexes were, at times, astounding, but again such descriptions should have been a mere observation on a fixture that United should have won with comfort. Even when they did get back into the match, and were in a scenario where their opponents were on their knees, significantly fatigued after the rigours of their defensive resilience, it was all thrown away.

A first home defeat to West Brom since 1978. A first home defeat to Everton since 1992. Consecutive home defeats for the first time in 11 years. First defeat to Stoke since 1984. And now, as the cherry on the top of a particularly sh*tty cake, snatching a draw from the hands of victory against a Fulham side who are bottom of the Premier League with 17 defeats in their first 24 games. United are now nine points from the top four, and they are as far behind Chelsea at the top as they are ahead of Crystal Palace.

So how long do you leave it?

Do you leave it until Moyes finally discovers a Plan B? Until he realises that simply running the ball to the byline and crossing into the box might not be the most effective tactic when the opposition have a 6'7" central defender capable of heading the ball away from now until July - United attempted 81 crosses, more than any other team in a match since Opta stats began in 2000. Or until he realises that leaving Ashley Young on for an hour when your player of the season Adnan Januzaj is sat on the bench and eager to impress (Adam Johnson scored a hat-trick against Fulham, let us remember).

Do you let things play out until the summer, at which point you provide the manager with the inflated funds to overhaul a jaded squad? Well, perhaps, but that relies on the confidence both that Moyes is the man to both attract the desired players, and that United will be competing at a high enough level for world-class performers to want to join. It also depends on the club's belief in Moyes spending their money wisely - £27.5million for Marouane Fellaini anyone?

Or, do you cut your losses? Admit you were wrong, concede that despite all the propaganda of 'transition' and 'work in progress', you c*cked it up?

Forget those aforementioned unwanted records, because they have now passed. Forget the talk of patience afforded, and (if you can) forget talk of the club being 'against the immediacy of modern life', as Gary Neville rather lamely claimed. No, David Moyes' immediate future should come down to one issue - whether or not the players believe he is the answer.

When David Moyes went into the dressing room at 6pm on Sunday, the players will have felt shame, guilt and anger. They will have resolved to improve and to put things right. But will they have believed hand on heart, that David Moyes is the man to lead them to redemption, to lift them from their knees?

Patience is indeed a virtue, but at some point virtue becomes folly, twisted into blind logic through the commitment to an ethos that is beginning to look rather foolish indeed. That point is nearing on the Old Trafford horizon with each passing disappointment.

Daniel Storey - follow him on Twitter

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