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Ferguson - The Overhanging shadow

Ferguson - The Overhanging shadow

David Moyes is cut from the same cloth as Sir Alex Ferguson. The Manchester United cloth. However, he’s had a disappointing start to the season, and could it be because Ferguson’s still there?

When Sir Matt Busby retired from football, tributes flew in from papers all across the globe, former players and fans of football, not just Manchester United. When Sir Alex Ferguson retired it was very similar. When Busby retired, a massive bulk of names were suggested, Don Revie – who soon became England manager, Brian Clough – Revie’s great rival, Stein, Noel Cantwell and more. When Ferguson retired, the same happened. A huge amount of names were mentioned, some less likely but the main ones being Jose Mourinho – who was always favourite for the job, David Moyes – who’d always been admired by Ferguson and Jurgen Klopp – despite insisting he’d stay at Dortmund. The cases are so similar and it continues. One key factor that hindered the club both times though, was the timing of replacing the manager.

Matt Busby announced his retirement in January 1969, Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement in May 2013. Both managers made the same mistake in different ways. Busby made the right choice to announce retirement early, so he could decide a manager quickly and let them ponder on how they will run the club. However, what the Scotsman did instead was enclose the manager who was to take over from him with in the club. It turned out that they hadn’t actually decided until Wilf McGuiness (remember the name), was appointed and announced as United manager 3 months on from the retirement announcement. The end result? Stories leaked about the new manager, there was unrest at the club, there was no motivation for the players under Busby, no statement that they’d be under quality management the next season. Sir Alex Ferguson knew he would be retiring in December 2012, he told virtually no one. Why did he not announce it in the months that followed December? I don’t think we’ll ever know. But why was it wrong that he did this? On May 8th, Ferguson announced his retirement, for football fans, it was like the King dying. The BBC’s Political Editor, Nick Robinson, labelled him as the greatest living Briton in the aftermath, not completely meaningfully but still a demonstration of the magnitude of the 72-year-old’s stature. May 9th was the day David Moyes was announced as Manchester United manager, three days before the last home game, 10 days before the final day of the season. Now, Ferguson always said he established his transfer targets for the summer in February, being appointed on May 9th for some reason I don’t think Moyes would have been able to do that. The right move for me would have been after United were knocked controversially out of the Champions League. Yes, it would have overly depressed following the cruel way they were sent out of the competition. However, in the long run, it would’ve benefited the club and the fans. David Moyes would have been announced in March, giving him a few months to watch United and establish his transfer targets.

The next stage in these two iconic footballing figures retiring was them both taking up roles in the boardroom. Sir Matt Busby became General Manager and he chose who would be the next manager. Sir Alex Ferguson became/is a big influence in the board room and he chose the manager. Then, they both chose their managers. Sir Matt Busby looked for some one who worked in the club, he eventually chose youth team coach, WIlf McGuiness. Sir Alex Ferguson decided he didn’t need some one already in the club but needed someone who was cut from the same cloth as him. He chose David Moyes. Moyes is also Scottish, also someone who has stays at a club for a long time, also a player in Scotland, then a  manager in Scotland and then a manager in England. The similarities are uncanny and it’s a great appointment.

The biggest problem is the next point in these two identical cases. Busby and Ferguson both board members, both there to help with any problem the men they appointed have. But you thought Ferguson would’ve learned that isn’t what happens. Manager’s who have been at a club for 20 years or more still have an impact in the dressing room, a spirit living on in the corridors. And when something goes wrong, everything is blamed on the new manager. The players are adapting to life after such a long reign by one person but the manager should do everything right, he must be perfect. All the same, as football fans we know a manager can’t be perfect, and we know perfectly well a manager can’t be perfect within weeks of being appointed.

Now onto the present. David Moyes was appointed on May 9th 2013 as we already know, he had no time to prepare for transfers so it all seems like a big mess up. It is, in a way. A better mess up than back in 1969 when Busby retired, but still a disaster waiting to happen.
Sir Alex chose the right man in David Moyes. We know the similarities are uncanny. What was made better was the deal he was given. 6 years until he’d be out of contract and this benefited him and the club. It’s a statement of intent. The club won’t have to answer any questions regarding the sacking of Moyes. Meanwhile, Moyes won’t have as much pressure behind him, he knows he is trusted and knows his job is safe for a while yet.

Wilf McGuiness, left, with the man he took over from, Sir Matt Busby, right.
In the next stage of events, it’s harder to compare the two cases as Moyes is only a short way through his, what we hope will be, long tenure. However, we do know about Busby and McGuiness and what happened there.

Busby wanted some one in the club, as we know, and chose youth team coach, Wilf McGuiness, as we know. Comparatively, Ferguson chose Moyes, someone very similar to himself and Busby & Ernest Magnall (the first man to win the league with Manchester United). What I know and what Ferguson knows, is not to do what Busby did. Busby appointed Wilf McGuiness and made himself general manager. Busby controlled transfers, board issues and talking to the press. Wilf would handle the team selection. However, although he had control of the team selection, he didn’t have a say in who he added to the team. In 1969 he wanted Malcolm McDonald, Colin Todd and Mick Mills. His request ended up being lost, not even reaching the board. Instead, Busby disregarded it and bought Ian Ure, a player McGuiness didn’t even want, even when he was with the team. Even at the start, McGuiness didn’t have a say in anything, he was never asked if he was okay with the terms and conditions, let alone if he wanted the job. He just got on with it, as was the United way back then; you were given a job and you did it.
Now with Ferguson on the board now, everyone suspects him as a shoulder to lean on for Moyes. However, that was what the role of Busby was meant to be and in the end, Busby ended up returning as manager the next year following poor form in the league; and to be honest, he barely did anything different, that’s how much Wilf McGuiness could do. Like then, other coaches retired or moved on with the manager. With Ferguson, left René Meulensteen, Eric Steele, Mike Phelan and others. No questions were asked about the latter two, they just moved on simultaneously. With Busby, moved on Jimmy Murphy, the saviour of United following the Munich Air disaster, no questions were asked. Murphy still played a role at the club, but his salary was left looking miserable and as he couldn’t drive he had to get the bus to work, unlike when he was employed earlier when he received a taxi from the club each day. What Ferguson knows not to do now, is overshadow Moyes. And so far he has not done so. He has kept back, he even went on holiday for a while to stay away from questions which may have disrupted the team. Nonetheless, despite his best efforts, his shadow will always haunt Moyes in the corridors just like Busby’s did with McGuiness and Frank O’Farrell who came in after Busby’s second spell. Opposite Moyes when United play at home is the Sir Alex Ferguson stand, and Ferguson deserves that so it should be there but there’s no way Moyes can avoid it.

Frank O’Farrell, the shadow of Busby, the man he took over from.

United had problems again when Busby decided time really was up and went back into retirement. Frank O’Farrell was appointed and the club was a mess. O’Farrell brought in a few youngsters, as most United managers always have done. He set up United well and topped the table as Christmas dawned on the world. But it most of it, was not down to him. It was down to George Best, football’s first superstar. So much so that O’Farrell said “Every night I’d say one simple prayer. I’d thank God for George Best”. What United need now is the superstar like Best to perform. They have Rooney and van Persie up top but neither are performing to the best of their ability and that’s why things have started badly. Starting the club off into a new era without the world-class player playing like a world-class player is all but impossible. That’s why the transfer window was so important, but what happened then? United failed at every aspect; two midfielders were wanted, one midfielder was bought for a ridiculous deadline day fee. Why was the transfer window so bad though? Yes, Moyes is partly to blame, maybe he tried to go too big too fast. But for me, the fault of this transfer window lay down at Sir Ale Ferguson’s feet. Not because he personally did anything, but he had established targets already, he had the boards mind set on a few players, players like Cesc Fabregas who may have been attracted when Ferguson was still there (not a stab at Moyes by the way). Further more, he had spoken about players like Thiago Alcantara and Kevin Strootman in the press, making United fans want them even more. Making United fans think any one slightly less prolific than them would be terrible. Just that ‘tinsy’ bit worse and the whole summer was a failure. Due to this Moyes and his backroom staff – Steve Round, Phil Neville and most importantly Edward Woodward – concentrated on the big names, the shirt sellers, the goal scorers. Which wasn’t what United needed. What United needed was someone like Danielle De Rossi, who they ended up looking at on Deadline Day. But the questions that should’ve been asked were ‘Why were realistic players not targeted earlier?’. Players like Cesc Fabregas who plays for his boyhood club isn’t going to be interested with out the father like figure of Sir Alex, players like Thiago are going to much prefer to play for the Champions of Europe.Moving on we can think about what conversations between David Moyes and Ferguson will be like. Should Moyes come for help it could lead onto a number of things After 26 years managing at the club, things could move onto ‘Why is player X not in the side?’ or ‘I don’t think player X is doing well of late.’ Interference with the team is something that cannot happen, for Moyes to succeed, Moyes needs to be Moyes. He has to pick his team and with Ferguson there it’s going to be hard to live with the temptation not to ask him.Frank O’Farrell commented on his meetings with Busby once: ‘at a club function. Matt said to my wife after a few drinks, “Your husband is an independent sod, why don’t you get him to talk to me?” I invited Matt for a coffee at my office the  following Monday, as I did most Mondays. I told him what he had said to my wife. Matt mumbled on before saying “I don’t think you should have dropped Bobby Charlton.” With that Matt was interfering with my team. He also said, “I don’t think Martin Buchan is playing so well.” He was picking on Martin Buchan who wasn’t playing badly at all. From then it was only a matter of time before the situation disintegrated. He shouldn’t have gone to my wife.’I’ll leave you with that and this. If Ferguson interferes with the team, United will be plummeting in a downwards spiral.

Leave him Fergie, you chose him, he must be good.Written by Harry Robinson – If you have any thoughts, please tweet me at @HRFootball,

Many thanks to Jim White and his wonderful book ‘Manchester United: The biography’ which I used a few quotes from and learned about the club from. I highly recommend it, it’s top quality. Buy it on Amazon here:


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