One year after being sacked by Manchester United – no one is laughing at Moyes now

Having been undermined, criticised, and ridiculed at Old Trafford, the Scot changed the narrative by overseeing a revival at Real Sociedad and making himself popular

One year after being sacked by Manchester United - no one is laughing at Moyes now

When David Moyes takes on Diego Simeone and his team of Atletico Madrid champions at the Vicente Calderon on Tuesday, there will be no grand prize on offer. Relegation and European qualification are equally beyond Real Sociedad with nine La Liga games to go; the best-case scenario is the kind of top-half finish typical of more than a decade of understated achievement at Everton.

More significantly, no one will be laughing. That in itself is a credit to Moyes and his work in San Sebastian, less than a year removed from a 10-month ordeal and brutal professional trauma that threatened to become a permanent blight on an admirable – if over-promoted – managerial career.

Memories of Moyes, wide-eyed, attempting to explain yet another inept Manchester United performance but more often lurching unwittingly from one press conference faux pas to another, already feel like fragments of an ancient past. This is partly because Louis van Gaal’s sheer force of personality inevitably cows any recollection of what came before at Old Trafford, but it is also due to the fact that, more than 1600km away on the Bay of Biscay, Moyes’ rehabilitation progresses at a healthy pace.

Taking over La Real was a left-field choice and yet also a no-brainer. Having been undermined, criticised, ridiculed and finally sacked in the most cruel way possible, Moyes needed to escape – and not just on holiday to Miami, where paparazzi cameras still found ways to harass him. He needed to change the narrative, and the easiest way to start was a complete change of environment.

His new club had dire needs of its own. Less than 18 months after a thrilling Champions League qualification, the first 11 matches of the 2014-15 La Liga campaign had yielded just two victories. Despite selling the likes of Asier Illarramendi, Claudio Bravo and Antoine Griezmann, a squad that languished in 19th was better than previous coach Jagoba Arrasate had shown. Above all, La Real lacked organisation and toughness. They lacked Moyes.

He has done exactly what he was appointed to do. Having lost seven of 15 games prior to his arrival, La Real have tasted defeat just five times in 22 since. Two La Liga wins this season have become nine, including a famous triumph over Barcelona at the start of January, and the upturn has transformed an unforeseen relegation battle into mid-table serenity.

“Our immediate aim has been achieved,” sporting director Loren told Marca after a 3-1 swatting of Cordoba secured a third straight victory to end March. “I think the first thing that David [Moyes] did when he arrived was to try to give the team more solidity and consistency, and you can see that he has achieved that. The team is improving.”

No longer second-guessing himself on matters of style, Moyes has reverted to proven type. La Real are a disciplined, physical side that defends with a plan and attacks with haste. Four of their seven victories since mid-November have been achieved with a 1-0 scoreline, while there have been nine clean sheets in all.

As a couple of viral press conference clips have highlighted, the Spanish speaking is progressing somewhat more slowly than the on-field results. But Moyes is showing desire, attending classes two nights a week and undertaking tests on his iPhone daily, though he jokes he will never get his head around Basque.

Limited language skills have been no barrier to his bonding with supporters – or clashing with officials. In mid-January, during a hard-fought Copa Del Rey clash with Villarreal, Moyes was sent to the stands for making a ‘you need glasses’ gesture at referee Carlos Velasco Carballo. No sooner had he seated himself among the home fans than a friendly arm snaked towards him bearing an open packet of crisps. He good-naturedly dipped his hand in and munched as he watched.

Moyes is popular and, more importantly, seemingly happy within himself again. His contract with La Real runs just one more season beyond this one and he and his wife are still living in a local hotel, but he insists he loves San Sebastian and is looking for an apartment. The signs are that if an opportunity arose to extend his stay at Anoeta beyond 2017, he would be very open to taking it.

Before then, there will surely be clubs willing to offer Moyes a return to the Premier League – not least because the year since his departure has only served to accentuate his successes and mitigate his failings.

Roberto Martinez’s disastrous second season at Everton is rooted in a loss of the defensive cohesion his predecessor cultivated so well. Elsewhere in the north west, it has taken United eight months and more than €200 million of summer spending under Van Gaal to finally stumble across the beginnings of a post-Ferguson identity, with Moyes recruits Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata both playing significant roles in the revival.

But such thoughts will not assail the Scot as he pits his wits against Simeone at the Calderon for the first time. On his mind will be three points, and the chance to take another step away from the humiliation that already feels a long time ago.


Nedved: Real Madrid not as strong as Barca & Bayern

Los Blancos won the 2013-14 Champions League but they have suffered a dramatic dip in form since the turn of the year

Nedved: Real Madrid not as strong as Barca & Bayern

Juventus director Pavel Nedved says that Barcelona and Bayern Munich are the best teams in Europe, claiming that Real Madrid are not as strong as they were last season.

Madrid won the 2013-14 Champions League, defeating Bayern 5-0 on aggregate in the last four before beating city rivals Atletico 4-1 in the final.

Carlo Ancelotti’s men embarked upon a 22-winning streak in all competitions this term but their form has dipped dramatically since the turn of the year, with Los Blancos losing top spot in La Liga to Barca and only scraping into the quarter-finals of the Champions League by edging out Schalke 5-4 on aggregate after a shock second-leg loss at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Consequently, when it comes to weighing up the respective merits of those involved in the race for this season’s European Cup, Nedved feels that there are two obvious frontrunners.

“It’s good [for Juve] to have avoided Barcelona and Bayern Munich, who are the best teams in Europe at the moment,” the former Ballon d’Or winner told El Mundo Deportivo.

“Real Madrid are not at the level of last year. But everything can change very quickly.”

Juve will face Monaco in the last eight after the Ligue 1 outfit sneaked into the quarter-finals thanks to a victory on away goals over Arsenal, whose 2-0 success in the principality nearly overturned a 3-1 first-leg deficit.

However, Nedved says he saw enough during the principality club’s win at the Emirates to suggest that they can cause the Bianconeri problems.

“Obviously there were more famous possible opponents we could have drawn, but we must not underestimate Monaco,” the Czech added.

“They went dangerously close to being knocked out at home, but they impressed me against Arsenal in London.”

Sahin: My family stopped me joining Arsenal

The former Liverpool loanee has revealed the Gunners made a “great bid” for him in 2005 but says that Signal Iduna Park is the only place that he feels at home

Sahin: My family stopped me joining Arsenal

Borussia Dortmund midfielder Nuri Sahin has revealed his family prevented him from completing a move to Arsenal as a teenager in 2005.

The 26-year-old is currently back at BVB after three unproductive years at Real Madrid, which included a five-month loan spell in the Premier League with Liverpool.

Sahin made just 12 appearances for the Reds and after his departure blamed his lack of success to manager Brendan Rodgers playing him out of position.

However, the Turkey international has also revealed he could have moved to England much earlier, with the Gunners keen to snap him up as a youngster.

“When I was in the Under-17s in 2005, Arsenal wanted to sign me with a great bid. My family didn’t want me to go England,” he told Ntvspor.

“They knew that Dortmund would rise again. I’m grateful for this. After the bid, Dortmund realised that I’m valuable.

“The next year Bert van Marwijk put me in the first team. I was only 16. Also [Jurgen] Klopp trusted me. He is a great person.

“He still keeps his humanity in the professional world. When I was in Madrid, he called me many times. We would talk for two to three hours but not about football.”

The 26-year-old also spoke about his time at the Bernabeu and the differences between the Spanish giants and Klopp’s side.

“I came to Dortmund when I was 12. I scored my first goal against Schalke with the U-14 team,” Sahin added.

“The Bundesliga fans like loyalty. Dortmund is the only place that I feel at home. Dortmund is my home.

“Madrid is a bit different, every player dreams about it. Madrid fans are familiar with success. They feel excited only by the El Clasico or the Champions League.

“Liverpool and Dortmund are different, especially Dortmund.”

Bartomeu: Vilanova not to blame for Neymar tax case

The Barca chief was interpreted by some as suggesting the legal proceedings are the late coach’s fault, but he insists his words have been twisted

Bartomeu: Vilanova not to blame for Neymar tax case

Josep Maria Bartomeu has hit out at those who have suggested he was blaming the Neymar tax case on deceased former Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova.

The Barca president is facing a potential prison sentence if found guilty of misdemeanours with regards to the financial aspect of Neymar’s transfer in 2013 and a video of Bartomeu addressing public prosecutor Judge Ruz emerged on Friday showing him saying it was Vilanova’s idea to bring forward the move by a year.

That led to claims Bartomeu was pinning the blame on the coach, who died of cancer in April 2014, but the Barca supremo is claiming his words have been twisted from their original intentions.

“It’s a wrong interpretation to say I was blaming Tito,” he said. “I don’t like people playing with Vilanova’s name. I’m disappointed and we are against those who want to tarnish his reputation.

“Sandro Rosell carried out the signing as he was the most known in Brazil. The coach asked us to make sign him as soon as possible and that is how we could sign Neymar one season before.

“Tito is not responsible of anything, just of bringing Neymar to Barca. And that is great, as we are pleased the player is here.”

The quotes Bartomeu was referring to were spoken at a hearing in February and Cadena Ser published a video of the Barca chief’s explanation.

“We spoke to our coach, who at that time was Tito Vilanova, and he asked me and the then president Sandro Rosell if we could bring forward the signing of Neymar by one year as he felt that the team needed a player with his characteristics,” Bartomeu said in legal proceedings with Judge Ruz.

“He wanted to make the signing in 2013 instead of bringing him over in the summer of 2014. The plan was for Neymar to finish the World Cup in Brazil and then move to Barcelona but we wanted to carry out the wishes of the coach.

“Rosell, had a good relationship with his father, spoke to him and we saw how they’d forged a deal to bring him to Barcelona a year ahead of what was originally scheduled.

“The coaches don’t get involved in the price of players. He told us that he only had one match-changing player and wasn’t interested in keeping David Villa. He wanted Villa to leave and that we’d sign Neymar as a striker.

“If Neymar coming wasn’t realistic we’d stick with David Villa who had another year left to run on his contract. We understood the needs of the coach; this happened in New York in February 2013.”

Bartomeu then went on to reveal that Rosell was the one who eventually made the deal happen, stressing he did not play any role in the transfer.

“In this case as it was a Brazilian player and, as Sandro had lived there, he knew the market well, so it was Sandro Rosell who dealt in all negotiation with Neymar’s father.

“Did I get involved with any negotiation with Santos or Neymar’s father? No, no. At no point.”

It’s football, not UFC – Neymar angered by rough treatment

The forward was the victim of several strong tackles on Sunday but one of the alleged offenders says the 23-year-old was guilty of “theatre”

It's football, not UFC - Neymar angered by rough treatment

Neymar accused Chile of employing “UFC” tactics after he was on the end of some rough treatment during Brazil’s 1-0 friendly victory at the Emirates Stadium.

Roberto Firmino’s 72nd minute strike was enough for the Selecao to extend their winning streak to eight matches, but the major talking point was Gary Medel’s stamp on Neymar.

The Inter midfielder appeared to tread on the Barcelona star during a first half altercation, but escaped without caution, much to Neymar’s dismay.

“This wasn’t a game of football,” he said. “It’s meant to be football not UFC. The referee is there to stop these things from happening, but there were four referees and none of them saw anything!

“It seems we have to suffer. I am a sufferer!”

Medel, meanwhile, rejected the post-match protests of the 23-year-old in a scathing response on Twitter, in which he accused him of “theatre”.

“Tackles are normal in a game. Some players do theatre, others play football … it’s a pity that not everyone gets on with the game.”

The victory means Brazil boss Dunga has won every game since taking over from Luiz Felipe Scolari following last summer’s World Cup.

Isco: Don’t compare me to Iniesta

The former Malaga star has urged people to stop comparing him to the Barcelona midfielder and is determined to become a household name himself

Isco: Don't compare me to Iniesta

Real Madrid midfielder Isco has admitted he is growing tired of the comparisons with Andres Iniesta, even though he feels honoured to be likened to the Barcelona man.

The 22-year-old, who joined Madrid from Malaga in the summer of 2013, has drawn comparisons with his fellow Spain international due to his style of play, yet he is determined to become a big name himself.

“It is an honour that people are comparing me to Iniesta because of everything that he has achieved,” Isco said at a press conference.

“But, and I have said this before, I do not like these kinds of comparisons. Andres is Andres and I am Isco. I am a different person and player.

“I want to etch my name into the history books myself, both at club and international level.”

Isco went on to stress that he is a good relationship with Iniesta and is happy to play alongside him with the national team.

“I get on with Iniesta very well. It is very easy to get along well with him, just like with all players at the national team.”

Henry: Messi was treated differently for his infamous handball

The ex-Arsenal and Barcelona star is still bitter he was so heavily criticised for the role he played in France earning a spot at World Cup 2010

Henry: Messi was treated differently for his infamous handball

Thierry Henry says the reaction to his infamous handball against Republic of Ireland was unfairly hysterical, claiming that when Lionel Messi was involved in a similar incident, he was labelled “a genius”, whereas it was if he had “killed someone”.

The former France international used his hand to control a cross during the second leg of his country’s 2010 World Cup qualification play-off with the Irish in Paris before teeing up William Gallas for a goal that saw Les Bleus book their berth in South Africa courtesy of a 2-1 aggregate win.

Henry was vilified for his perceived dishonesty both by the press and his peers but he pointed out that former Barcelona team-mate Messi did not have his character called into question after scoring with the aid of his hand in a game against Espanyol in 2007.

“You are talking about people I spent so many times on the pitch with,” he told Canal Plus.

“I just said to them, ‘Yes, it was hand, I’m sorry.’ And you know what? They told me: ‘We don’t blame you.’

“I saw Liam Brady, the Arsenal legend, and he asked me: ‘Did you touch it with your hand?’ And I answered, ‘Yes, it was my hand.’ I spoke to the press that night. I could have ignored them but I didn’t.

“I spoke honestly – it was a reflex. A reflex by a competitor, just like when you reach out for the ball on the line when your goalkeeper is beaten.

“When I see Messi scoring against Espanyol, diving to touch the ball with his hand, people say, ‘What a genius, now he is closer than ever to Maradona.’ But when it was me, it was like I had killed someone.”

Henry also dismissed the suggestion that his decision to leave Barca for MLS outfit New York Red Bulls just six months after the handball incident was in any way influenced by the flak he received in his native France for the alleged act of poor sportsmanship.

“I have always wanted to go there [to the United States],” the Arsenal icon added.

“Anyone who knows me would tell you that. Also, to escape what? To escape who? I wanted to go as soon as 2009, but I didn’t because I kept playing with the national team. That is total rubbish.”