My name is Ben and I am a Liverpool fan. There, I said it. Now, let’s hear no more about it as I share my thoughts- as objectively as I can- on the end of the Ferguson era and the appointment of David Moyes as Manchester United manager.
Yes, I am glad that at last the Ferguson ‘perch-knocking off’ era (read; United winning, Liverpool not winning!) is over and I am hoping that Mr Moyes does not continue this domination of English football. But Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement from management is not just the end of an incredible era of success- unrivalled in the history of our national game- but the end of an era of his type of management.
Ferguson is ‘old school. He ruled over his players (I use the word ‘ruled’ advisedly) in the style of a manager from another time. His is not the approach of more recent, mostly non-British managers.
He was fiercely loyal in public (something we should all be with our teams in whatever industry we work) but not backward at coming forward to show his true feelings in private (yes, yes the hairdryer treatment- which in my view has been way overblown- pardon the pun); he commanded the respect of his players based on his outstanding playing career and subsequent extraordinary success as a manager- I rank his achievements at Aberdeen almost as amazing as his trophy haul in Manchester; his approach to man-management- getting the best out of a hugely diverse range of players; his eye for buying and selling players is second to none- in 26 years you can count on one hand the number of players he has sold that have gone on to do better after they have left him and on many, many hands the great buys he made and the players he helped make great; his knowledge of the game is outstanding; and his desire, no obsession, to succeed has provided a turbo-boosted drive to his club for 26 years.
That drive manifests itself positively- goals in injury time more often that I have been able to stomach (cue Mr Tyldesley amongst others) and at times negatively- with a demanding approach towards match officials, mirrored sometime uglily by his players. In summary, he was a winner and his players and fans knew it and became winners too.
Now to Mr Moyes. I have another confession to make. I have not been in the ‘David Moyes is a brilliant manager’ fan club down the last ten years. No, that is not just because he has been the Everton manager, but because I see an occasionally tactically naive manager; someone who waits too long before making changes when the game is going against him; someone who too often sets his team out not to lose rather than to win; and, I know people will think this harsh, but in ten years managing a club with the history and reach of Everton- whatever the post-1992 view of football- they are still one of the biggest clubs in the game- he is trophy-less. During the same time, teams like Leicester, Birmingham, Swansea and Middlesborough have picked up silverware. Moyes has not been ambitious enough when it comes to winning- whether that is games or trophies.
In the plus column, he has a lot going for him. He has bags of integrity. Cliche alert: he is cut from the same cloth as Ferguson. Strong values, a fierce work ethic, bags of passion, and an appreciation of the need to take his fans and his club seriously. He has shown loyalty to Everton and has played for one of the biggest and most passionate clubs in the world in Glasgow Celtic. He has a superb Premier League record, given the resources he has had at his disposal, and commands respect across the game. He has shown a great commitment and aptitude for developing young players- something coveted at United. He has in short, served his apprenticeship and deserves his opportunity to manage at the highest level of the European game. He must surely also have been given the Ferguson seal of approval to have been appointed.
The decision United have faced in replacing Ferguson is near impossible. How can you replace the greatest manager of all time? Who can handle the pressure of following the unfollow-able? United have been here before and did not get it right after Mr Bubsy moved upstairs. In many ways this decision is even more difficult after a generation of success and continuity.
What United have done with Moyes is both risky and risk adverse. I will explain.
The risks. This is a manager with no Champions League experience and limited European experience. He has not experienced the pressures of spending big money on big players, or in managing big star players (Mr Rooney aside- and we know what happened there). He has not won a trophy in his managerial career. He has not managed somewhere where the expectations come anywhere near those he will experience in Manchester. He remains in my view slightly untested at this level.
The risk aversion. United have appointed someone they hope will provide continuity. A safe bet. Someone they think can be the Alex Ferguson of the next 26 years by picking someone like him. But he cannot be. No-one can. Alex Ferguson is a one-off. No matter how similar Moyes is to Ferguson he cannot out-Ferguson, Ferguson. They have resisted a Mourhino-type appointment because it would be too much change, too much personality, too different from before. They have chosen Moyes hoping it will be steady as she goes and after all Mr Ferguson will be around, ready to help behind the scenes if needed. The first time United lose two or three games on the run, how long will it take for some fans to start calling for a second coming of the great man? In an attempt to go for a low risk, more of the same approach, I think they may have set Mr Moyes up for a fall. In an attempt to replace Ferguson with a younger but the same type of model, I think they will find he will come up short.
I obviously don’t want Moyes and Manchester United to succeed- my United friends would expect nothing less- but I am interested to see if they have got this right. Time will tell. I have my doubts.