Ever since it was announced that David Moyes would be stepping into the Manchester United hot seat last summer, the vultures have been circling around Old Trafford – and finally, it’s feeding time.
Following a miserable ten months at the helm, the ex-Everton boss has this week been hung out to dry by his employers, who bowed to building pressure in the aftermath of a 2-0 loss to Moyes’ old club over Easter weekend.
In truth, the new man was always going to find it difficult to follow in the footsteps of Sir Alex Ferguson – but even the most cynical Red could not quite have predicted such a nightmare tenure for the successor to the throne.
As they look towards new horizons, the United board will undoubtedly try to put a brave face on things – but what can they learn from the story, and the way that it unfolded?
One thing’s for sure – if they were in any doubt as to the power of social media, then they need look no further than the Moyes debacle.
Sitting pretty as the Biggest Club In The World™ for the best part of two decades, Manchester United has long been at the forefront of explorative forays into unexplored and untapped territory.
Their early in-roads into the vast and lucrative commercial undergrowth of the Asian markets in the late 1990’s gave them a pioneering advantage on their rivals, and cemented their position as the number one club in the region.
But in terms of an expedition into the digital world, it’s fair to say that the North West club has been a little slow on the uptake.
Indeed, United did not even implement a wide-reaching social strategy to speak of until last July – an incredibly late arrival to the party for a global brand operating across all seven continents.
That summer 2013 rollout across the likes of Twitter, attracting over 250k followers within 24 hours of launching @ManUtd, and Sina Weibo, a platform providing Mandarin-based content to over 500 million users, was long overdue, but underlined the vast global potential at United’s fingertips.
The club’s Twitter account, in particular, features regular high-quality content and eye-catching, bold imagery – not least the image of Moyes alongside the somewhat loaded caption ‘The Chosen One’ when the Scot was appointed last year.
Shareable content? Most certainly. But, of course, the problem with sticking your head above the social media platform parapet in such a way, is that, when things begin to fall apart, the subsequent backlash comes fast and frenzied.
As United kicked off the season, hopes were high. But very quickly, it became clear that all was not well with the new regime.
One loss turned into another, and another, and before they knew it, Manchester United had endured their worst start to a campaign in nearly a quarter of a century.
Inevitably, a flurry of internet fury ensued: Moyes’ name ringing loudly from hate campaign to hashtag, and meme after meme hitting the Twittersphere.
As one thing led to another, and professional publicity-seeking mischief makers Paddy Power commissioned a plane displaying a huge ‘#MoyesOut’ banner to fly over Old Trafford during United’s clash with Aston Villa, the Old Trafford club could perhaps be forgiven for feeling like the whole story had spiralled out of control.
But the truth is that, ever since his arrival at the club last summer, United have never really had a firm grip on the Moyes furore.
Rumours of a failed attempts for transfer targets, a broken dressing room, and player unrest within his camp leaked to the press, making the new manager’s transition into life in Manchester extremely difficult.
And perhaps, in retrospect, one of United’s biggest mistakes was allowing a wet-behind-the-ears Chief Executive, Ed Woodward, to take over from previous incumbent of the role, the vastly experienced David Gill – leading to a period characterised by poor communication and fractured personal relationships.
Of course, many United fans are pointing the finger of blame for the whole, embarrassing 10 month furore firmly at the top of the club hierarchy – the Glazer family.
Since their takeover back in 2005, the American owners have failed in their attempts to win over large swathes of the Reds support – with some of the fan base feeling so strongly that the club had become detached from its ethos and identity, that they decided to form a new, democratic club in direct protest.
Borne from such negative beginnings, FC United of Manchester has gone from strength to strength ever since, and currently sits second in the Northern Premier League Premier Division, attracting around 2,000 fans to each fixture.
Nearly a decade on, and, both on and off the pitch, the club finds itself at its lowest ebb from the best part of 30 years.
But that’s not to say things won’t get worse. United’s failure to crack the top four positions this campaign means that they have slipped out of the European elite, and the delayed ripple effects of that collapse might not be fully felt for a year or two.
Their absence from the continent’s premier cup competition is likely to cost them at least £50m in ticket sales and prize money next year – but it is the effect that their fall from grace will have on their ability to retain current players, and attract new talent to the club, which will be most interesting.
After all, how many top players would be willing to sacrifice the opportunity to ply their trade on the European stage, and to join a club which has a mountain to climb if it is to reclaim the dominance it has shown for so long?
The United board has supposedly earmarked a hefty figure of around £150m for their next boss to rebuild a squad which is currently lacking in quality and overflowing with ego – and that could well prove to be the tip of the iceberg.
As the club bowed to supporter pressure, dismissing Moyes less than a year into his six year contract, it’s clear that not only has there been a power shift in English football; there has been one down at the Theatre of Dreams.
More than ever, the rising influence, and immediacy, of social media, has seen the line between supporters as ‘dedicated fans’ and ‘demanding customers’ blur.
And, as Manchester United – and David Moyes – have found out the hard way, the customer is always right.