Why Manchester United Made a Mistake Allowing Ferguson to Choose His Successor

Sam Pilger@sampilgerContributing Football WriterJanuary 10, 2014

At the time it seemed eminently sensible that Sir Alex Ferguson should have a role in appointing his successor at Old Trafford.

The Glazers had limited experience in football, and had never appointed a new manager before, while the executive vice chairman Ed Woodward hadn’t even started in his new role.

No one could possibly compete with Ferguson’s knowledge and experience of the game, and so he would naturally use this to find a manager capable of building on his legacy.

After what appears to be a very short search, Ferguson personally selected David Moyes.

Moyes was Ferguson’s choice, which the Glazers promptly approved, and then even allowed Ferguson to make the initial approach and offer him the position at his own house.

It meant that Moyes was unveiled to the United fans as Ferguson’s man, and his last-ever signing for the club.

To some extent it has fireproofed Moyes from even greater criticism in these difficult early months, for to doubt Moyes would be to doubt Ferguson as well.

Six months in to the job and with Moyes’ United having lost three games in the last week, being out of the title race and slumming it in seventh place, it increasingly looks as though it was mistake to allow Ferguson to handpick his own successor.

This might seem harsh, but there appears to be too much ego and too much self-interest in Ferguson’s choice of Moyes.

When Ferguson stepped down there were two obvious candidates to replace him: Moyes and Jose Mourinho.

In his recently published autobiography, Ferguson justifies why he went for Moyes by extolling the virtues of his character.

A lot of Scots have a dourness about them: a strong will. When they leave Scotland it tends to be for one reason only. To be successful. Scots don’t leave to escape the past. They move away to better themselves…The Scottish dourness others talk about sometimes applied to me as well.

David had some of these traits. I knew his family background. His father was a coach at Drumchapel, where I played as a lad. They have a good family feel about them. I’m not saying that is a reason to hire someone but you like to see good foundations in someone appointed to such high office.

This is all very romantic and misty-eyed, and David Moyes is certainly a likeable and solid character, but in over a decade of being a manager it hasn’t helped him to win trophies.

It appears as though Ferguson got too carried away in trying to find someone in his own image to replace him.

Manchester United is too big a club to appoint a manager for the content of his character rather than the contents of his trophy cabinet.

After 26 years, maybe United should have actually done something different, gone with a new approach and been more radical.

But is it really that radical to select a manager with a proven track record of winning rather than these good foundations that Ferguson speaks about? 

Ferguson and United clearly feared Mourinho; he was unpredictable, he was different, but overall he is a winner and worth the risk.

It would possibly be wrong to suggest that in Moyes, Ferguson has someone he can continue to exert control over, for he is aware of what damage can be done with meddling from the director’s box, but it is certainly fair to say he is more comfortable with Moyes.

The difference is Moyes will forever be grateful to him for the chance, while Mourinho would simply believe he deserved it.

Ferguson would also not have been keen to hand over his legacy to a former rival in Mourinho (Moyes was never a rival) and then watch as the Portuguese manager enhance his own already sizeable reputation on the back of all his hard work.

Moyes was sold to United fans as the candidate who offered the most stability, but in reality his lack of experience of managing a big club also meant he carried a greater risk, which is now being played out with disastrous results.

Mourinho has a track record of walking in to some of Europe’s biggest clubs, including Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, and always delivering a title—sometimes a Champions League trophy too—whereas Moyes has a track record of once finishing in the top four with Everton.

Mourinho would have excited this current United squad and immediately earned their respect, while Moyes is still working hard to earn it.

If Moyes and Mourinho could be compared to players, it is as if Ferguson had the chance to sign either Cristiano Ronaldo or Leon Osman, and chose Osman.


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