Manchester United’s dismal road defeat against Olympiakos on Tuesday may not have been the final nail in the coffin for manager David Moyes, but it could well prove to be effectively that for some of the players involved.
Nemanja Vidic’s departure in the summer has already been announced and there are sure to be more to follow. Moyes has now had plenty of time to evaluate those at the club and has been given the green light to conduct a significant overhaul of his squad this summer.
Here are six players who could be on their way out.
Robin van Persie
While the quotes attributed to the forward after the Olympiakos defeat, where he appeared to imply criticism of his teammates as well as Moyes, appear a case of miss-translation, Van Persie’s future still looks far from certain. Reports of his unhappiness, which have persisted since Moyes took over, have resurfaced in the wake of the defeat in Greece. On the pitch, he certainly doesn’t cut a joyous figure. It is easy to see why, with the tactics clearly not getting the best out of him, as testified by him only having 24 touches against Olympiakos.
It is also true that after two injury-free years, Van Persie has had two spells on the sidelines this term. There has been speculation that he was unhappy about the rigor of Moyes’s fitness work, while he also suffered a relapse having played a full 90 minutes on his return from injury earlier in the campaign.
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Van Persie’s motivations for joining Manchester United were to win trophies and to work with Sir Alex Ferguson. United’s legendary manager has now departed and his replacement thus far looks incapable of continuing the club’s success. It would be no surprise were Van Persie to want no part of a long and uncertain rebuilding process at the age of 30.
Aged 35, with his contract set to expire in the summer and having made comments earlier in the season implying his unhappiness with Moyes’s policy of not naming his lineup until right before kickoff, Ferdinand’s future at Old Trafford already appeared deeply uncertain. Ferdinand has made just 15 starts this season and, in contrast to his fine campaign last term, now looks past his sell-by-date at the top level. The former England captain was dreadful against Olympiakos and, while it would leave a significant void to lose Vidic and Ferdinand at the same time, there appears little virtue in him staying if Moyes is in charge.
Like Ferdinand, Evra will be out of contract at the end of the season and, like Ferdinand, he has regressed this campaign after a return to form last term. With so much of United’s attacking strategy under Moyes being based on getting the ball wide and hitting crosses into the box, Evra has played a big role higher up the pitch. Sadly, that has often meant him being caught badly out of position. Aged 32, his recovery pace is clearly not what it once was, while his mind also appears to have slowed.
It seems certain that Moyes will sign a left-back this summer and, with potentially lucrative offers awaiting in France, he may not want to settle for being a backup option. It would be risky, though, for United to lose so many experienced, influential figures in one summer.
Whether Evra stays or goes there appears little prospect of his current backup sticking around. Buttner was a surprise signing from Vitesse Arnhem in the summer of 2012 and, despite showing some ability going forward, has done little to suggest that he belongs at the elite level. The Dutchman was set to move on-loan last summer before the collapse of a deal for Fabio Coentrao. With just one start in the Premier League this season, Moyes appears to have even less faith in him than Ferguson developed.
Despite United in need of an away goal that would have changed the face of the tie in Piraeus, poacher-supreme Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez remained on the bench. More than ever this season, he has been restricted to the role of "super-sub." The Mexican striker has made just six starts combined in the Premier League and Champions League, scoring just twice. Speculation suggests that he may be understandably tiring of his limited opportunities. A move may well be what’s needed to reenergize a player who has lost some of his vigor for both club and country in the past year.
Since Juan Mata became the club’s record signing last month, Kagawa has seen just 29 minutes of action. They came against Olympiakos, when Mata was cup-tied. It is perhaps one of the great failings of Moyes’s reign that he has failed to put any sort of trust in the former two-time Bundesliga winner with Borussia Dortmund in his favored No. 10 role. While it is true that Kagawa has not always helped himself when selected, there is also a strong case that two of his rare outings as the team’s chief playmaker produced United’s two best performances of the season -- home and away against Bayer Leverkusen. With the arrival of Mata and Wayne Rooney signing a new contract, the writing now looks on the wall for the 24-year-old. If that proves to be the case, it will have been an awful waste of a talented player.