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David Moyes' Manchester United Decisions Overshadowed by a Trick of the Mind

SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 04:  Manchester United coach David Moyes faces the media during a Manchester United Press Conference ahead of the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Real Sociedad and Manchester United at Estadio Anoeta on November 4, 2013 in San Sebastian, Spain.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Rob DawsonManchester United CorrespondentJuly 24, 2016

"Fergie wouldn't have done that"—it's a common soundbite around Old Trafford these days.

It's uttered in response to a team selection or even a simple substitution. But it's perhaps to be expected when a manager of 26 years leaves at the top of his profession, a sack load of medals hoisted over his shoulder as he heads off into retirement.

It's especially noticeable when things haven't quite gone to plan.

A goal up against Southampton at home last month, David Moyes decided to take off a striker, Wayne Rooney, and send on a defender, Chris Smalling. Two minutes later, Southampton equalised and then the grumbles started. "Fergie wouldn't have done that."

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 26:  David Moyes the manager of Manchester United talks with Wayne Rooney during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on October 26, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo b
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Sitting in the stands in his new role as a director and ambassador, it's impossible to know what Fergie would have done. The inference, however, was that the former manager would never have been so cautious.

Instead, in true Fergie style, he would have urged his team forward in search of a second goal that would have killed the game. After that, if there was time, they would probably have got a third and a fourth.

But the mind can play tricks.

Fergie was fond of saying that fans would often romanticise about his past teams. They would remember their qualities and forget their limitations. It was his way of demanding that his current crop got the credit he believed they deserved.

PETERBOROUGH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 02: Sir Alex Ferguson is seen in the stands during the Sky Bet League One match between Peterborough United and Leyton Orient at London Road Stadium on November 02, 2013 in Peterborough, England, (Photo by Dave Jones/Getty
Dave Jones/Getty Images

The phenomenon is nothing new.

At the 2010 World Cup, England drew their opening game with the USA. In the post-match fall-out it was speculated that the absence of Gareth Barry had contributed to England's sluggish performance and that his return would let Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard orchestrate the flowing football Fabio Capello's side were capable of.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 03:  Gareth Barry (L) of England tackles Martin Petrov (R) of Bulgaria during the UEFA EURO 2012 Group G Qualifying match between England and Bulgaria at Wembley Stadium on September 3, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Bryn
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

In an interview with Barry before the second game against Algeria, one television reporter opened with "What's it like being the saviour of English football?" Barry laughed. It was all he could do.

Barry became a better player overnight simply because he hadn't played against the USA. He wasn't tarred with the disappointment, and absence had made the heart grow fonder.

Darren Fletcher experienced the same thing when he was suspended for the 2009 Champions League final against Barcelona.

Had Fletcher played, surmised some United fans, Barca's midfield wouldn't have passed them to death in Rome. As it happens, they probably would. But again, the mind had started playing tricks.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 05:  Referee Roberto Rosetti of Italy shows Darren Fletcher of Manchester United a red card during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg match between Arsenal and Manchester United at Emirates Stadium on May 5, 2009 in Lond
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Ferguson would have undoubtedly done some things differently to Moyes this season. He probably wouldn't have signed Marouane Fellaini so late on deadline day, and he might not have replaced Rooney with Smalling against Southampton.

But to speculate that those decisions would have helped United get off to a better start is to fall into the trap.

Ferguson's achievements are so substantial that his powers don't need to be exaggerated. Moyes doesn't need it either.

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