Why Manchester United Should Appoint David Moyes as Alex Ferguson's Successor
Sir Alex Ferguson is “finalizing” his Manchester United succession plan, with a shortlist of two—namely, Pep Guardiola and José Mourinho—seemingly on standby.
That, at least, is according to a recent story published by Goal.com, the world’s largest football website.
The speculative “special report” by Chief Correspondent Wayne Veysey briefly quotes an anonymous source and bases the rest on reasonable-enough supposition.
It goes so far as to claim Fergie will have “the casting vote” in who replaces him on the Old Trafford throne.
If that article is to be believed, the aforementioned Iberian icons are “the only serious candidates” in the great Scot’s eyes, amid rumours that his retirement could be pushed forward to summer 2013 following a worrying health scare at the end of the 2011-12 season.
It was reported in the English Daily Telegraph in August that Ferguson’s departure had been penciled in for two years hence. But that would give rise to a situation where players would see next season as probably his last, with a consequent lackluster effect on performances, as happened in 2000-01.
When the Knight does decide to step down, the debate as to who United should turn to is already exercising the minds of football fans the world over—and everyone’s got their personal preference.
Before I get to mine, first here's what might seem like a trivial tidbit:
When Darren Ferguson got the Peterborough manager’s job first time around in 2007, guess who the son with the most knowledgeable father in football phoned, looking for a word to the wise?
To my mind, regardless of how Everton fare during the rest of this season, Moyes must be the man to replace Alex Ferguson when the time comes—if he wants the job.
“Swap the Scots” may sound simplistic—and “Alec” is a complete one-off—but I’m convinced that, armed with adequate resources, the 49-year-old has the unflappable fortitude and desire to succeed the most successful club boss in the history of football.
I’m not alone.
The (UK) Daily Mail’s Matt Lawton observed back in spring 2009 that Moyes, with his gritted countenance and heart-on-sleeve passion, was “Fergie Mark II…a fiery Scot with a burning ambition to reach the top.”
Two proud Glaswegians, they've known each other since United’s treble year, when Ferguson interviewed Moyes for the assistant manager’s job that was eventually given to future England boss Steve McClaren.
That newspaper profile also revealed how in early 2000 the “fiercely ambitious” then-Preston manager was presented with the chance to take over an unidentified top-flight club, thought to have been the fast-sinking Sheffield Wednesday.
Apprehensive, Moyes consulted the one man whose opinion you’d put store in above all others. Ferguson invited him down to Carrington for a chat and proceeded to run the rule over each of the players Moyes would have to work with.
He advised him to wait, that better offers would come along. Sage as ever.
There’s something about the Scots
Long before that meeting, Moyes had admired Fergie from afar, recalling:
“When I was a player at Celtic and Alex was manager at Aberdeen, I’d sit on the bench at Celtic watching him, and I was just struck by the intensity, the passion, the drive.”
He got to see it up close, courtesy of a heat-of-the-moment sideline bust-up during Everton’s 1-0 home win over United in 2005.
Moyes, whose father, like Ferguson’s, had worked on the docks in the shipping industry, didn’t take it to heart, and vice versa. From opposite ends of the Clyde Tunnel but hewn from the same steel.
It can be no coincidence that the Toffees gaffer is the third-longest-serving manager in all four English divisions after Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger and the record-breaking “SAF.”
Nor is it an aberration that 20 percent of current Premier League managers are Scottish.
With legends like Jock Stein, Bill Shankly and Matt Busby classic examples, Alba has always produced a breed of manager uniquely suited to the British game, particularly its biggest clubs.
But, where it should be a recommendation, the very fact that Moyes—who is out of contract next summer—has been at Goodison Park so long is one of the main reasons sceptics feel he isn’t the right choice for the mighty Man U.
Among those dead set against the notion is Manchester-based B/R Featured Columnist Terry Carroll.
An acknowledged authority on all-things United, in July he gave readers “8 Reasons David Moyes Won’t Replace Fergie”: a comprehensive response to his continued standing as the bookies’ second favourite (after Jose Mourinho, and ahead of Pep Guardiola).
The main tenets of Terry’s contention that Moyes would represent “a high risk appointment” are:
- He has never won anything.
- He lacks European pedigree.
- He has “never managed a top club.”
- He hasn’t the Big Business Management nous.
- He hasn’t the allure to attract international stars.
- He isn’t Pep Guardiola—the “calibre of manager United should be targeting.”
Having looked at the original “against” arguments in more detail, let’s take the above points one by one.
Failure to Win Anything
In David Moyes’ 11 seasons on Merseyside, Everton have finished eighth or better in the EPL eight times.
He has, as Terry Carroll notes, been voted Manager of the Year by his peers (across all divisions) on three occasions—a joint-record.
Those were, in essence, awards for working miracles. With piggy-bank money, Moyes has made Everton competitive in practically every game they play and has never once blamed the board for their shortcomings.
Perseverance in adversity is a sure sign of character. And Moyes—a journeyman lower-division player of more than 550 games’ experience—has defiance, not to mention working-class Alex Ferguson-type values like honor, in abundance.
Presuming a third-tier title with Preston doesn’t count—the closest he has come to actually winning top-level honours was a 2–1 defeat by perennial party-poopers Chelsea in the 2009 FA Cup final after having beaten Manchester United on penalties in the semi.
“It is very hard to be a manager of Arsenal or Manchester United for 10 years but they have chances of trophies which keeps that going. There is no magic formula for me.”
Having sorted his side’s customary slow start to the season and playing a refreshingly expansive brand of football, Everton, who drew 2–2 at Wigan on Saturday, sit third in the English Premier League table.
There’s a long way to go, but the Blues are singing, and it’s almost as if their manager is auditioning as well.
P.S. It doubtless helped Fergie’s cause that the top teams in England when Manchester United finally ended their title famine were the likes of Leeds, Aston Villa and Blackburn, with no Russian/Arab billionaires to contend with. Everything in context.
No European Pedigree
This, in the view of the Goal.com piece, is the biggest stumbling block to David Moyes’s prospects.
While the story cites Alex Ferguson as being among the Everton boss’s many admirers, his “lack of European success…rules him…out of the equation.”
He mightn’t admit it, but Moyes, with a threadbare squad, could be forgiven for regarding the lesser UEFA competitions as more of a hindrance than a help, telling the Daily Mail in 2009, “the league is a truer measure of success.”
When Fergie won the European Cup Winners’ Cup with Aberdeen in 1983, and even when he repeated the feat at United in ’91, it was still a glamorous competition and a coveted piece of silverware (much like the FA Cup of old).
As if to underline this, his sides’ opponents in those finals were Real Madrid and Barcelona, respectively.
Nowadays, a high-up Premier League placing comes above all else. Europa League? No thanks.
(Unless you’re Andre Villas-Boas. As Sky Sports talking head Phil Thompson said on television at the weekend, “It looks great on your CV.”)
Everton had just one shot at Champions League qualification, in 2005, but it passed them by—albeit, it should be said, at the hands of an inspired Villareal, who only just went out in the semifinal that season to eventual runners-up Arsenal.
What made it worse for Everton was the special dispensation holders Liverpool received, having pipped them to fourth place in the Premier League.
Has Never Managed a Top Club
This particular charge is a bit Benitez in my book—but I can see where David Moyes’s detractors are coming from. Up to a point.
Where was he going to go these past 10 years?
Chelsea? Somehow I don’t think he’d be Roman Abramovich’s cup of tea.
Manchester City? After Mark Hughes, they weren’t going to go British again in a hurry.
There was talk that Moyes might step into the breach at Tottenham Hotspur when Daniel Levy and Harry Redknapp parted company. However, the Spurs opted instead for a compensation-free free agent in Mourinho lite.
“How many managers get a chance to work with the top boys? You have to earn that right,” Moyes reasoned four Aprils ago. “I wouldn’t worry about the pressure that comes with the biggest clubs. I thought I would be under pressure when I went to Everton…”
Other than those, what English club is bigger, in traditional, trophy-winning terms, than the Blue-bearing denizens of Stanley Park?
Well, one, obviously. Everton had won the old First Division championship more times than Manchester United before Alex Ferguson finally bridged the gap back to the '60s and rewrote the annals of football.
Their glory days might be as recent as Tiffany’s, but Everton definitely have the edge on Aberdeen in the prestige stakes. And that didn’t bother Fergie nor United much when Ron Atkinson got the axe.
Maybe he hasn’t enjoyed the boundless bounty that equates to “big” these days, but Moyes manages more than soccer “stars.” He runs his club from the bottom up.
The success of Everton’s academy is testament to that. While certainly forced upon him to a large extent by fiscal constraints, it’s clearly an ethos he’s learned from Ferguson, and he from Busby—a belief system that will, one assumes, be upheld for as long as MUFC exists.
Abramovich has belatedly cottoned onto the cost-saving benefits of having a youth structure, while the Sheikhs, instead of spending half the world’s petrol and diesel money on prima donnas, may soon follow suit.
And so what if Moyes (seen above watching Dinamo Bucharest lose at Old Trafford in 2004) is privately holding out for the United job?
To me that shows desire—not a lack of it. Next.
Not Enough Business Management Nous
On the economical inexperience score, the fact that David Moyes doesn’t seem to do the whole Wall Street thing would be a plus in the eyes of the Glazer Bros (above).
Which is where, as Terry Carroll rightly says in his intro, some suspicions would be aroused—that he would basically be a books-balancer and, “For the most valuable sports club and brand in the world, that simply wouldn’t be enough.”
Which presumes it would be sufficient for Moyes.
We’re talking about a guy who took his first coaching badges at the age of 22, a year before Alex Ferguson arrived south of the border.
Whatever destiny the young David imagined for himself, I’m fairly certain it didn’t include being a patsy.
The owners may be as popular among United fans as Mitt Romney was with 47 percent of Americans before Tuesday’s 2012 Presidential debate, but even the debt saddlers know there’s no return in completely cash-strapping the manager.
Also, it’s up to supporters, as co-financers, to ensure Malcolm & sons—who’ve lumped United with £430 million in borrowings and cost £520 million more in fees and repayments—adequately back the next incumbent.
He’s certainly a shrewd judge of a player, and it’s not as if Fergie hasn’t wasted a few quid during the PLC/Glazer eras.
(Whisper it, but Davey could always sell Wayne Rooney…again.)
Lacks Allure to Attract International Stars
Cachet, X-Factor, call it what you will. David Moyes just hasn’t got it, apparently.
Asking whether he would have the allure to attract the world’s top talents (most of whom tend to look at zeros before heroes) is easily answered, in any language.
The pull to play for the club can be summed up in two words comprising 16 internationally-symbolic letters:
M A N C H E S T E R ... U N I T E D.
And that applies, no matter who is in charge. Comprende?
Still, Terry Carroll’s recommendation that Alex Ferguson, 71 in December, should stay on to assist with the transition—whoever is appointed—is, I must confess, a compelling one. But with a key proviso.
The man in possession has expressed an interest in a post-retirement ambassadorial role, á la Sir Bobby Charlton. However, Fergie has since had to cut down on his travelling on health grounds, and itchy feet need to be busy, or they’ll soon kick up a fuss.
Ordinarily, the idea of handing a new and already experienced manager a senior mentor—especially one with Ferguson’s aura—would seem like a surefire recipe for disaster.
Everyone knows how another Sir, Matt Busby, made matters immeasurably worse at the end of the '60s and early '70s by hanging around Old Trafford.
One would think that any manager worth his salt would turn the job down flat if “Fergie as Father Figure” was part of the package.
But of the candidates, Moyes, with his thirst for knowledge, could ideally suit such a partnership in the short term, possessing sufficient independence so as not to feel suffocated.
After all, he did say—in reflecting on the assistant role that passed him by in ’99—that, “Even now, I’ll take any opportunity to learn from him…He’s a source of inspiration for us [Scots].”
But, as for Terry suggesting that Moyes “might have a chance” of getting the main job if he became Fergie’s assistant first, there’s more likelihood of Mike Phelan taking over at the Camp Nou.
Consider Brian Kidd, Carlos Queiroz and, to a lesser extent, Steve McClaren. If you have managerial ambitions, being Sir Alex’s number two is the kiss of death.
So maybe Moyes had a lucky escape initially.
He Isn’t Pep Guardiola
There is certainly a widely-held view, in line with Terry Carroll’s, that only a big-name manager can “build the next dynasty” at Manchester United.
Terry’s choice is Pep Guardiola, “who took Barcelona as far as he could,” but “could make United into the next Barcelona, much as Sir Matt Busby made United into the next Real Madrid.”
Well, first off, Guardiola walked away. Something neither Sir Matt Busby—even after Munich—nor Alex Ferguson (albeit briefly) could bring themselves to contemplate, until health considerations caught up with them.
At age 41, Pep decided to quit while he was ahead…after a mere four years at the helm. “Brand Preservation,” the business and marketing gurus call it.
United will need a manager who shows leadership when crises arise and is capable of continuous regeneration, as Moyes has done.
Not someone who thinks winning everything in sight (with a little help from Lionel Messi, et al) is pressure.
The notion that Guus Hiddink or Carlo Ancelotti would be better placed than Moyes is also misguided.
Ancelotti didn’t do a lot wrong at Chelsea before being sacked, but the Italian hasn’t the force of personality (witness his weakness in the wake of Ray Wilkins’ dismissal at Stamford Bridge—imagine Ferguson taking that) or innate passion for the British game to build an affinity with a tradition like Man U’s.
Moyes, on the other hand, working-class sensibilities intact, gained instant approval at Everton by referring to it as the "People’s Club.”
Hiddink would be happy with the salary and potential pay-off, sure. But the much-traveled Dutchman is 65. Hardly an age you’d be inclined to start building a new kitchen extension, never mind a dynasty.
For all his success and devotion to the beautiful game, Guardiola doesn’t do longevity, admitting as he bade Barca an emotional farewell in April 2011: “I have always wanted short-term contracts. Four years is an eternity…I have given everything and I have nothing left.”
An eternity? Try 38 years. That’s how long Ferguson has been in management. Morning, noon and night.
Guardiola may have had time to “recharge the batteries,” but if United chiefs fear his inability to stay the course over the long haul, the main obstacle to Moyes—and I don’t underestimate it—will be the celebrity-obsessed media.
Expect them to insist, if not demand, that Mourinho—who, for all his hard-won hubris, brings more baggage on his travels than Boeing—is the man who should assume the mantle at the club he calls “Manchester.”
No way, José.
But that’s another article altogether.