It was only a matter of time. David Moyes is shown the door by Manchester United and light aircraft owners everywhere breath a sigh of relief. Expect a banner to be flown over Salford this week with the short, hard-hitting message: “Thanks”.
Keep it in the family. Ryan Giggs is appointed interim manager, but if United have any sense, they will not prolong the caretaker role. Time to sweep the Ferguson legacy away and make United into a modern European club. Harsh assessement? Perhaps, but in their own way, United are a parochial outfit. It wasn’t the Anfield boot room, but the Ferguson Flying Boot room.
Moyes was a “safe” appointment that wouldn’t create controversy. Ferguson liked him, indeed chose him as a successor that wouldn’t outshine the master. The doyen of Manchester United players and keeper of the Busby flame, Bobby Charlton, also anointed the new man. How many of the people who endorsed the hiring of Moyes will be quoted in the press in the coming days? Ferguson has already been less visible in recent weeks as the United empire crashed around the hapless Moyes.
United, as a club, have made mistakes over the sustainability of the Ferguson dynasty. And it is not as if they were not warned. Between 1967 and 1993, they failed to win the title. The period between 1968 and 1990 saw United decline as a force as Liverpool came to the fore. Sir Matt Busby also picked his successor(s), turning to the shock appointment of Wilf McGuinness and then Frank O’Farrell before [probably reluctantly] bringing in Tommy Docherty, a manager who was every bit as media-commanding as men like Jose Mourinho are today. United stuttered their way through the 70s and 80s before Ferguson arrived in 1986. But if the Glazers were in charge in 1989, for example, Ferguson would have been ejected as quickly as Moyes has been driven out of Old Trafford.
For the second time in their relatively recent history, United have made the mistake of assuming that continuity is a given. But what works for one man doesn’t necessarily work for another. To give both Busby and Ferguson due credit, they were remarkable football men. But neither were genial, avuncular figures – they controlled and possessed steely, driven qualities that bred success. Footballers need to be pointed in the right direction and Busby and Ferguson did just that. I would wager that when United players are told about the “United way”, the managers discarded by the club – McGuinness, O’Farrell, Docherty, Sexton and Atkinson – don’t get a mention. It is the Busby and Ferguson club. Moyes was probably told about the embedded ethos of the club in much the same way.
Ferguson’s hold on the club was such that he was allowed to pick his man. Was that the right thing to do? No. It possibly highlighted the lack of knowledge behind the scenes at Old Trafford, although any suggestions of that would be treated with incredulity. Ferguson had already worked beyond his retirement and while he brought fresh honours to the club, nobody minded too much. His eventual retirement seemed to come suddenly, maybe leaving the club unprepared for a new era. But given Ferguson was heading towards his pension, United should have been grooming a successor or sounding out a new man long before they did. Furthermore, the squad was starting to look thin with one or two names needing to be replaced. Ferguson extracted the maximum from this bunch, but once he was no longer there, it appeared jaded, aged and lacking direction. After the intensity that came with the man who presided over playing resources for so long and defined the narrative, the squad was burned out. United’s problems have become visceral and frankly, Moyes didn’t stand a chance if he was expected to carry the Ferguson legacy forward with the same level of success.
Where do they go from here? There’s a £ 150m war chest and clearly the new man will be given the funds to build a new United. They cannot afford to make a mistake. Mourinho would be the ideal choice given his track record and this season, the way he has transformed Chelsea into title contenders with no major investment. But United would not go for such a man and he won’t leave Chelsea (yet). United need a manager with European credentials, but the list is not a long one. The same names come to the fore whenever a gold card job is on offer. It might be predictable, but unless United grasp one of the “rain-makers”, they will forever be playing catch-up in much the same way Arsenal have for the past decade. They need to move quickly, because the managerial merry-go-round is about to start again. Here’s one to consider, Mr Glazer. Diego Simeone.