During a recent private conversation with Sir Alex Ferguson, cycling czar Sir David Brailsford inquired of the 26-year coach of the biggest sports team in the world, “what is your secret to constant success and longevity?”
“Get rid of the c****,” was Ferguson’s reply.
In his typically effervescent way, the response is clarion clear. In Ferguson’s view, group stability is the key to unlocking the door to a long path of success. Whether it’s brusque casting aside of important players, who had become disruptive to the regime, or the allegiant focus on youth and future potential, to his adamant refusal to publicly disrespect his contestable employers in the Glazer tribe, everything Ferguson does at the club is dogmatically focused on maintaining a stability. It’s a stability plan that’s always required him as the fulcrum of course, but he’s been doing it so well that no fan would have it any other way. The problem is, soon we will have to.
This legacy of the stability of Ferguson at United is what should be heeded most carefully upon his retirement. There is no avoiding the boat being rocked at that moment. Not even the aggressive Malcolm Glazer tidal wave and the media storm the fan reaction brought was enough to destabilize the ship under Ferguson. The exits of star players popular with fans like Ince, Stam, Beckham, Keane, Van Nistelrooy, non of these potentially damaging rifts ever destabilized the vessel. The vital thing down all the years was clear; no outside influences must be allowed to effect the players on the pitch. If we are to learn anything from his time, it should be allowed to be no different when he is no longer around.
But at some point, the catch-22 in the Ferguson master plan will be upon us. The man that has devoted his life to keeping United stable, will be unavoidably at the heart of the clubs most traumatic schism.
Not an opinion I held until quite recently, but like the finest reds in Ferguson’s cellar, the idea of David Moyes as manager has gotten better over time. In the past 10 years, managers names allegedly in the frame have come and gone, waxed an waned, yet Moyes’ has stayed steady. Moyes doesn’t have a gleaming trophy cabinet. Yet his fellow managers have voted him a record 3-time LMA Manager of the Year for good reasons. And I believe these reasons make him the most suited candidate for the job. The fact is, there is no easy option to replace Ferguson. Moyes’ lack of experience in Champions League games for me counts against him far more than his lack of trophies, yet his experience in English league football is unrivaled amongst other potential suitors.
“‘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.”
The transition to a Moyes led Old Trafford would be the smoothest, and not only in terms of the football played. The personal similarities alone between the two Glaswegians is in itself uncanny. Moyes is from Partick, a part of Glasgow that sits directly opposite across the river of Ferguson’s famous area of Govan. Ferguson’s father was a shipbuilder in Govan, and Moyes’ father worked as a draughtsman in the same shipbuilders. It goes on, Moyes’ father also coached one of the boy’s teams that a wee Alex Ferguson played for. Both men have been brought up with fiercely working-class values, and both men as managers instill this no-nonsense and hard-work ethos into their teams.
Moyes exemplifies stability
Firstly, Moyes being British affords him a great advantage over continental suitors. The long-term inclinations and history of both Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho is contestable. Mourinho’s relations with club owners makes him a genuine risk as manager, and his affiliations with Chelsea don’t sit great with me personally. Pep’s Barca-burnout naturally makes you wonder if he could cope with the extravagant stress and focus on United, especially long-term. Mourinho has often stated he wants to return to England at some point (in doing so at the same time destabilising his own team in Madrid), but he has also stated his strong desire to manage the Portuguese national team eventually.
Moyes’ attraction for and experience in planning for the long-term gives him more similarities with Ferguson, and means he already is in tune with the club’s values. His canny and thrifty dealings in the transfer market shows he is not a manager who relies or needs masses of cash to do his job. Could Jose Mourinho work comfortably under the same restraints? It’s fairly unknown. What is known is that Mourinho has had confrontations with bosses who have not given him the cash he feels he needs, when he feels he needs it. In tempestuous times in managerial climates Moyes has been the beacon of stability for his club for 10 years with humble resources.
When Moyes joined Everton, in 2002, he said “what Everton need more than anything is stability and continuity. That will come through having a group of young players.. and a manager to lead them”. Of course Moyes was the manager who successfully unleashed Wayne Rooney into the league, and has always shown interest in young players and players with potential when possible. He recently commented on his admiration of the youth policies of German teams, and his desire to emulate them. Leon Osman, Tony Hibbert, Wayne Rooney, Victor Anichebe, Jack Rodwell are some Everton academy graduates Moyes has successfully brought into the first team. (A side note of trivia while we’re on the subject, Moyes coincidentally was the Preston assistant manager when David Beckham was successfully sent there on loan by Sir Alex.)
Youth development of course has always been crucial, if not the most crucial tenet at Old Trafford, and it’s absolutely vital we bring in a manager post-Ferguson who understands and encourages this. A British manager, also, has a major advantage in this case. Ability to communicate completely effectively and relate or explain some cultural intricacies to young players in this country is indispensable.
Style of play
This season, as I write this on 4 January 2013, Everton have scored more goals from open play than either Chelsea or Man City. Any watcher of Everton can see that Moyes has a real understanding of team-play, it’s an understated fact that Everton display some of the most attractive one touch passing and interplay in the league. Moyes’ teams play with width and deliver plenty of crosses. It’s an attractive style of play the fans at Old Trafford are accustomed to watching, with wide midfielders linking and exchanging with their full backs.
Whatever players are around at Old Trafford when Ferguson moves on, under Moyes there will not need to be a potentially dramatic overhaul of the United style of play, potentially destabilizing the way the players are used to playing. Moyes’ teams are good at creating scoring chances and attacking set pieces, it’s an aggressive style of play that suits the Old Trafford faithful. Defensively, last season Everton finished with the fourth best defence in the league.
Moyes’ teams are also noted for their strong ability to come back from losing positions. Indeed, Moyes’ ability to bounce back from upset was probably most evident after the season they finished 17th, 2004, just avoiding relegation. The following season they finished in 4th, qualifying for the Champions League, where they went out unfortunately to a Villareal team who went on to be unbeaten in the group stage that included Sir Alex’s United, and reached the semi-finals.
Operating under one of the tightest budgets in the league, Moyes’ hawkish eye for a successful player has more than impressive. Jelavic (6m), Lescott (4m), Arteta (3m), Jagielka (4m), Cahill(2m), Fellaini (15m), Pienaar (2m), Neville (3.6m) and Baines (6m) have all been unbridled success stories.
Moyes’ track record of achieving his aims with minimal funding should make him a serious contender in the eyes of any potential employers. With United currently in debts of over £300 million, a manager in charge who needs to demand a new stock of expensive players to fit in with his methods is surely a recipe for disaster.
Moyes, like Ferguson, is known to be a bit of an obsessive when it comes to monitoring potential players. Often jetting to multiple countries during a week to watch players. It’s the sort of effort in detail successful managers are known for.
The idiosyncrasies of the press and media coverage in English football requires a manager who is experienced in dealing with it. The scrutiny, especially that United and it’s players are under of course, is intense. No manager that is replacing Ferguson is getting a free-ride, the pressure will be like no other any manager has faced, but Moyes has a good relationship with British press and this would again surely help with the stability of the club at this time. This is again an area I have my concerns about Mourinho. A media darling, but this is mainly due to his soundbites. His apparently unstoppable desire for making ‘outrageous’ comments to the press has a high possibility of backfiring on Mourinho, and therefore United, at such a delicate time.
While David Moyes was a young and ambitious manager of Preston, he had a managerial offer from a Premier League club. Ferguson, who was contacted in a request for guidance by Moyes, told the young manager to reject the offer, and wait. Twelve years on, Moyes has shown himself in my opinion to be a man capable of stepping into Ferguson’s own position, when the time is right. As I previously said, there simply is no easy choice for this unique position. Guardiola and Mourinho clearly have the European experience that a club like United might expect of a new manager. However, I think the benefits of appointing Moyes out-weigh this point. European success isn’t guaranteed for any manager, and plenty have also succeeded without any prior experience.
Ferguson has always preached continuity, but he has also often achieved that continuity through change. I think in employing Moyes (and as long as SAF’s health is good, I don’t expect it to be anytime soon), United would keep alive that great tradition.