Come on David Moyes
Play like Fergie’s boys
We’ll go wild, wild, wild
We’ll go wild, wild, wild
The Manchester United travelling support welcomed the club’s incoming manager in their own unique way on Sunday.
As the Red Devils and West Bromwich Albion played to an entertaining 5-5 draw at The Hawthornes on the final matchday of the season, the visiting fans in the Smethwick End broke out into a chant based on the 1973 Slade single “Cum on Feel the Noize,” (covered 10 years later by Quiet Riot) imploring Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor to maintain the standard set by the 71-year-old Scot over the last 26-and-a-half years.
“Play like Fergie’s boys.”
It will be the criteria by which departing Everton boss David Moyes is judged at Old Trafford. And the club, which hasn’t experienced a managerial transition since Ferguson replaced Ron Atkinson in 1986, will expect nothing less.
Stability is as much a part of the fabric as winning is at United—the two are hardly mutually exclusive—and unless Moyes can at least maintain the status quo, he will be less compared to Ferguson than Wilf McGuinness, who succeeded Sir Matt Busby in 1969 and lasted just 18 months.
United botched that transition, and they are hell-bent on avoiding a similar descent into mediocrity this time around.
They want Moyes to succeed, and they’ll likely take a patient approach as a result.
On the shoulders of giants
There’s a school of thought that suggests unless Ferguson is completely out of the picture, Moyes will be unable to realize his potential at Manchester United. The example of the shadow Busby cast at Old Trafford long after his retirement as manager is often trotted out to back up the theory, but it’s one Ferguson, himself, would have no problem debunking.
On May 15, 1991, United travelled to Rotterdam for the European Cup Winners’ Cup final against Barcelona. And while Ferguson had guided Aberdeen to a European trophy just eight years prior, the experience with United was a different one entirely.
He describes it himself in his autobiography, Managing My Life:
As our coach made its way to the stadium through streets brightened by the colours of rival fans, the sight that warmed me the most was the smiling face of Sir Matt Busby. He was glowing with pride. When the coach drew up outside the main entrance, our supporters were in a frenzy, battering the windows and sides of the bus, urging us with clenched fists and screaming out affection for the team. But as the door swung open and Sir Matt led us out, the clamour ceased instantly and in its place there was polite clapping, which he acknowledged with a dignified wave. There could hardly have been more reverence for the Pope in St. Peter’s Square. It was a moment I knew I would remember forever. I just followed on behind Sir Matt. ‘I’m with him,’ my body language was saying.
Busby was 81 years old at the time and had been a director and president at United after stepping down as manager in 1969.
Having arrived at the club several months before the end of the Second World War (while Old Trafford was a bombed-out shell of a stadium), he became inseparable from a narrative that would eventually include the Busby Babes, the Munich Air Disaster and the 1968 European Cup.
Given the transformative times—both at the club and in the early post-war period—he was, perhaps, even more a central figure at United than Ferguson would become, although there are certainly parallels between the two.
Over nearly a quarter-century, Busby would turn an outfit with just three major trophies to its name into a continental contender, and during a stint that lasted two years longer, Ferguson brought an underachieving, boozed-up side into the 21st Century, embracing the establishment of the Premier League and the worldwide marketability it enabled.
The challenge for Moyes will be rather more straightforward, but maybe even more difficult than those his famous predecessors were faced with.
His job is to keep on winning, to not be poor Wilf McGuinness and to ensure the errors of transitions past do not repeat themselves.
The title is his starting point.
If anything, having Ferguson down the hall will be a reassuring, even a helpful thing as he tackles a near-impossible task.
“I know how hard it will be to follow the best manager ever,” Moyes admitted to reporters after it was revealed he had been appointed Ferguson’s successor, per The Sun. “But,” he added, “the opportunity to manage Manchester United isn’t something that comes around very often.”
Moyes, United were careful to point out, had been personally recommended by Ferguson before receiving unanimous approval from the decision-makers involved in the process. And Ferguson, in endorsing the 50-year-old, made sure to shed some light on his thought process.
“David is a man of great integrity with a strong work ethic,” he said in a statement in the Guardian. “There is no question he has all the qualities we expect of a manager at this club.”
Some of those qualities, not coincidentally, are mirrored in Ferguson’s own experience.
Both are Glasgow men, and Moyes’ father worked as a draughtsman in the same shipyards where Ferguson served his apprenticeship.
“With all the great Scottish managers you can see the working class backgrounds—from the shipyards, the coal mines,” said Moyes in a statement earlier this month per The Sun. “They came from that background and were keen to get into something they really wanted to do.”
Ferguson, who brims with energy and commitment, has no doubt noticed the same elements in Moyes’ character. And even though Moyes failed to win a single trophy over 11 seasons at Goodison Park, he never once took his attention away from the design, never once backed off from the coal face.
He is a long-term man, and the six-year contract presented him by United speaks to that.
On Monday Moyes turned up at his new club’s training complex—reporting to work 43 days early. If he doesn’t go on to be the next Alex Ferguson, it won’t be because of lack of work, or because the club didn’t have everything in place to give him every chance at becoming just that.