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Replacing Alex Ferguson

My first reaction, yesterday:

The press have appointed David Moyes as Ferguson’s successor. Will he follow in the footsteps of Wilf McGuinness or Frank O’Farrell?

Man Utd would be better off trying to coax Jupp Heynckes out of retirement, as least for 3 years. You need an experienced and successful interim between a legend and younger man for the long term (and Moyes isn’t it) – if nothing else, to the reduce the immediacy of the shadow that will be cast.

Their respective records before joining Manchester United (from Wikipedia):

  • Wilf McGuinness
 No previous managerial position.
  • Frank O’Farrell
Team From To P W D L
Weymouth June 1961 1 May 1965
Torquay United 1 May 1965 31 December 1968 162 76 34 52
Leicester City 1 December 1968 8 June 1971 114 51 35 28
Honours:With Weymouth
Southern League: 1964–65With Torquay United
Fourth Division: 1965–66With Leicester City
Second Division: 1970–71
  • Alex Ferguson
Team From To P W D L
East Stirlingshire 1 June 1974 20 October 1974 17 9 2 6
St. Mirren 21 October 1974 31 May 1978 169 74 41 54
Aberdeen 1 August 1978 5 November 1986 459 272 105 82
Scotland 10 September 1985 13 June 1986 10 3 4 3
Honours:With St. Mirren
Scottish First Division: 1976–77With Aberdeen
Scottish Premier Division: 1979–80, 1983–84, 1984–85 (3)
Scottish Cup: 1981–82, 1982–83, 1983–84, 1985–86  (4)
Scottish League Cup: 1985–86
European Cup Winners’ Cup: 1982–83
European Super Cup: 1983
  • David Moyes
Team From To P W D L
Preston North End 12 January 1998 15 March 2002 234 113 58 63
Everton 15 March 2002 Present 516 217 139 160
Honours:With Preston North End
Football League Second Division (Third Tier): 1999–2000

Notwithstanding the similarity of their Scottish background, and the close personal relationship between Moyes and Ferguson, there can be no doubt that Moyes’s footballing pedigree is more O’Farrell than Ferguson.

Apart from limited success in the lower divisions, Moyes and O’Farrell both led their previous clubs to an ultimately unsuccessful FA Cup Final:

  • O’Farrell in 1969, where Leicester City lost 1-3 to Manchester City.
  • Moyes in 2009, where Everton lost 1-2 to Chelsea.

Compare that with Jupp Heynckes:

Team From To P W D L
Borussia Mönchengladbach 1 July 1979 30 June 1987 340 167 77 96
Bayern Munich 1 July 1987 8 October 1991 198 114 46 38
Athletic Bilbao 1 July 1992 30 June 1994 90 39 21 30
Eintracht Frankfurt 1 July 1994 2 April 1995 34 12 9 13
CD Tenerife 1 July 1996 26 June 1997[4] 54 20 13 21
Real Madrid 26 June 1997[4] 28 May 1998[5] 53 26 15 12
S.L. Benfica 1 July 1999 30 September 2000 50 27 10 13
Athletic Bilbao 1 July 2001 30 June 2003 86 36 22 28
Schalke 04 1 July 2003 15 September 2004 51 24 12 15
Borussia Mönchengladbach 1 July 2006 31 January 2007 21 5 4 12
Bayern Munich 28 April 2009 30 June 2009 5 4 1 0
Bayer Leverkusen 1 July 2009 30 June 2011 84 44 26 14
Bayern Munich 1 July 2011 30 June 2013 105 79 12 14


With Bayern Munich
Bundesliga: 1988–89, 1989–90, 2012–13 (3)
DFL-Supercup: 1987, 1990, 2012With Real Madrid
Supercopa de España: 1997
UEFA Champions League: 1997–98

With Schalke 04
UEFA Intertoto Cup: 2003, 2004

He may not have the sterling record of Ferguson, and is only four years younger, but he has won titles in Germany, and has won the Champions League. He is also on the verge of taking Bayern to their first ever treble.

He has the pedigree to be his own man, reducing the effect of Ferguson’s shadow.  Can anyone imagine Moyes standing up to Ferguson, who is not only a close friend, but also responsible for him getting the job?  If nothing else, Ferguson has always been his own man.

Also, the fear factor will be great for Moyes, who has not had any major success in 15 years of management.  If Heynckes had been coaxed out of retirement, there would have been much less at stake for him at a personal level.

No one can say if Heynckes could have been persuaded to take over, but the timing of Ferguson’s announcement of his retirement left little chance of finding out.  A quick replacement was sought, Moyes was available as he had yet to sign a new contract with Everton, and Ferguson wanted Moyes to replace him.  It would have been highly unlikely that Heynckes would have committed himself to Manchester United before the UEFA Champions League Final on 25 May 2013.  You can imagine a scenario:

* Moyes to Ferguson:  Will I be getting the job or not?  I am under great pressure here to sign a new a contract extension.  And if we leave it until the end of the season, other names will come into play.

* Ferguson to the Manchester United board a short while later:  I’m retiring.  Moyes is your man.  If he signs a new contract at Everton, you may not get him.  Move now for him.

Mike Phelan, the current assistant manager, and with no previous managerial experience, would have been a Wilf McGuinness.  Manchester United seem to have learnt half the lesson of the post-Busby era, and gone straight for a Frank O’Farrell.

Personality-wise, they are of course very different.  Moyes is a “fiery Scot”. According to Wikipedia, O’Farrell was “a soft-spoken Irishman”. And while at Manchester United, “O’Farrell’s impersonal approach whereby every player had to schedule an appointment just to see him didn’t help morale”.

But I dare suggest a winning mentality matters more.  And there, Moyes doesn’t look much better than O’Farrell.

Manchester United are looking at several years similar to the post-Busby era, or equivalent to Liverpool post-1990. Or perhaps Liverpool post-1988 would be more accurate – the last time they truly dominated the top flight. 1990 was more like a last hoorah.

The similarities between Manchester United and Liverpool continue:

Not something we think about much but when league football was interrupted by WWII, the clubs with the most number of English titles were Aston Villa and Sunderland, with 6 each.

Arsenal joined them on 6 with the title in 1948, and were the first to reach 7 with the title in 1953. They were joined on 7 by Liverpool, with titles in 1947, 1964 and 1966. Manchester United joined them on 7 with titles in 1952, 1956, 1957, 1965 and 1967. Everton were the next to reach 7, with titles in 1963 and 1970.

Arsenal were the first to 8, with the title in 1971. Liverpool joined them on 8 with the title in 1973, became the first to 9 with the title in 1976, and were the first to title nos. 10 to 18, winning in 1977 (10th), 1979 (11th), 1980 (12th), 1982 (13th), 1983 (14th), 1984 (15th), 1986 (16th), 1988 (17th) and 1990 (18th).

Manchester United levelled on 18 with titles in 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Remarkable how similar the 8th to 18th titles of both Liverpool and Manchester United were – both managed 11 titles over 17 or 18 seasons.

Manchester United were first to 19 in 2011. Now first to 20.

We can’t see who’s going to come along next, but that’s how it looked in 1990 with Liverpool.

Of course, Moyes has several advantages when compared to McGuinness or O’Farrell. While McGuinness took over an ageing side, and O’Farrell one that was being rebuilt, Moyes comes in with Manchester United still at the top and several younger players in the team. Early success may disguise his shortcomings for a season or three. Maybe even another title. Manchester United’s last hoorah.

McGuinness lasted 18 months.  O’Farrell also lasted 18 months.  In between, Busby returned for 6 months.  Moyes has signed a 6 year contract.  I see him lasting 42 months at best, equivalent to the period from the appointment of McGuinness to the sacking of O’Farrell.

It would have taken a lot of courage for the club to make an audacious approach for Heynckes. In the end, a conservative board went for the safety of Ferguson’s favourite.

For those who seek comfort in the similar Scottish background of Ferguson and Moyes, here are a couple of other similarities between Moyes and O’Farrell to balance against that:

  • O’Farrell is Irish, while Moyes mother was Irish, albeit from Northern Ireland.
  • O’Farrell ended his professional playing career at Preston North End, where he made 118 appearances over 5 years (1956 to 1961, although he did go on to play non-league football with Weymouth, where he entered management).  Moyes also ended his professional playing career at Preston North End, making 143 appearances over 6 years (1993 to 1999, and where he entered management).

2 thoughts on “Replacing Alex Ferguson

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