Moyes and the Man Utd Fiasco

By , Posted on 24th April 2014 - Posted in: Sports And Design

Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot.

Amongst many interesting points of discussion arising from Manchester United’s decision to sack manager David Moyes this week was the realisation that Aston Villa’s Paul Lambert is now the sole member of the so-called ‘Largs Mafia’, that select group of Scots previously at the helm of many of our Premier League clubs. For a while there seemed to be one everywhere you looked: Lambert at Villa (and Norwich City before that), Moyes (Everton/Utd), Sir Alex Ferguson (Utd), Kenny Dalglish (Liverpool), Steve Clarke (West Brom), Malky Mackay (Cardiff), Steve Kean (Blackburn), Alex McLeish (Aston Villa) and Owen Coyle (Bolton) simply cover the past two or three years, but it’s been a rich tradition all the same.

This week’s not been a kind one to traditionalists though, particularly so if you’re a United supporter. Gary Neville, member of their famous class of ’92 and now working as a Sky tv pundit, professed himself to be appalled at the manner of Moyes’ sacking. “I’m a traditionalist and I think it could have been dealt with a whole lot better”, he remarked in the wake of the media frenzy that surrounded the sorry business.


Tradition ain’t really what it used to be though. Neville’s grasp of history, like much else that is spouted about Manchester United, is distorted beyond reason by the successes of Ferguson’s golden era. Traditionally United have been a sacking club as much as any other. Look through the record books at the poor saps who came and were duly sent packing between the Busby and Ferguson epochs. Between 1970 and 1986 managers Wilf McGuiness, Frank O’Farrell, Dave Sexton, Tommy Docherty and Ron Atkinson were all given their P45s. The club stuck with Ferguson because, as luck would have it, they’d stumbled upon the right man for once. They did nearly sack him of course in 1989, but gave him the benefit of the doubt. He was allowed to continue in charge for a forthcoming cup tie the club subsequently won. The margin between success and failure was that fine.

Now, like every other club in the football pyramid, they’re back to chancing their arm with whoever happens to be flavour of the month. Welcome back to the real world then.

According to many Sir Alex must take most of the blame for the unfolding fiasco because it was he who championed the former Everton manager as his successor. Furthermore, he left the new man with a hopelessly useless squad of over-the-hill and not-good-enough types (and did this in full knowledge for some bizarre reason). Hmm, I’m no apologist for Ferguson, far from it, but these claims are nonsense.

The decision to appoint David Moyes was taken by the owners, the Glazers. If they felt compelled to follow the wishes of the previous, outgoing manager, without implementing any sort of due diligence, then they showed a worrying lack of business acumen. It’s hardly Ferguson’s fault, if when asked for advice, he gives it. Secondly, whatever limitations the squad may have had were clearly not evident when it won the Premier League by eleven points back in May. Apparently Ferguson’s skills at wringing deep lying qualities from players are beyond other, less extraordinary managers. At work for him also was the sheer longevity of his tenure, the accumulation of a psychological dominance over everyone and everything at the club, including it would seem, the Glazer family.

I don’t believe Ferguson is blameless in all that has ensued but to my mind his guilt lies in an area that seems to have been overlooked. His face at Old Trafford on match day has clearly had an inhibiting effect on his successor. He casts an almighty shadow across proceedings during home games and surely it would have been wiser for the man to have stayed away from the ground, at least for a season. It’s bad enough trying to fill a big man’s shoes as it is but you don’t need the guy sitting there glowering at you as you stumble about putting your right foot into his left shoe.

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson

Wilf McGuiness, the man thrust into the spotlight when Sir Matt Busby passed the baton in 1969, was constantly undermined by the ghostly presence of his predecessor. A similar thing happened at Liverpool in 1974 when Bill Shankly handed over to Bob Paisley. Famously, Liverpool were forced to tell Shankly to stay away, a horrendous state of affairs given the heroic status the man had (and still has) at the club, but one forced into being by an all-round lack of foresight. I feel the onus was on Ferguson to recognise the inevitability of this scenario playing out and to make the sacrifice of staying away. It’s not as if we haven’t seen this sort of thing before. It’s just the way it has to be if the new pretender is going to have space to breathe and be himself.

For the time being then the Premier League is virtually bereft of Scottish managers. Sir Alex’s departure last year appears to have been a harbinger of their demise and it may be a while before we see them back in the same numbers as before. But, as Manchester United are discovering afresh, there are no guarantees in football. It’s time to move on. The Ferguson era is over and so now is the Moyes one. For auld lang syne and all that.





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