There are some striking similarities between this year and 1974: Margaret Thatcher is pissing people off, Bruce Forsyth is on television far too often and the biggest football club in the country is going through a period of monumental transition.
In 1974, it was the mighty Leeds United who were making a change – their longest serving and highly successful manager, Don Revie stepped down to take the England job. Controversially, the club appointed the even more controversial Brian Clough as his replacement, following his achievements with Derby County.
At Derby, Clough had transformed a middling midlands side into one that won the first division in 1972. While Clough had built his reputation on building a team at Derby, the job at Leeds proved too big for him – Revie’s regime infrastructure was ingrained, his ethereal presence permeated the club and Clough was never really able to silence the ghost that haunted it. Clough was sacked after just one win, in 9 games and 44 days.
And although he would go on to cultivate his own similar legacy at Nottingham Forrest some years later, the fact remains that in replacing the irreplaceable, there is a pressure that not just any manager can handle. This is not to say that Brian Clough was not one of the greatest managers in the history of English football (he really was), but it is to say that when the champions are looking for a new boss, the right call must be made. Builders, like Clough, are great if they can start from scratch, but give them something that is not their own, and the bastard reality of player loyalty, cultural hegemony and ultimately habitual fandom spoiled by success, might prove too much to overcome.
Fast forward to 2013, and it’s Manchester United who are looking for a new manager to replace their very own golden goose. To be quite honest, comparing David Moyes to Clough is flattery of the highest order, but he is in the same situation, facing the prospect of inheriting not just a legacy, but a duty to perform.
11 years in a job usually means one of two things; success or stagnation, but Moyes’ tenure at Everton has been a combination of both. On the one hand, we can argue that on a shoe string budget four European campaigns and several top half finishes is quite the achievement.
But scratch beneath the surface and the shoe string budget is revealed to be one that can afford £16.5m worth of Marouane Fellaini after being subsidized by £23m received for Joleon Lescott. Furthermore, consider a record of just one FA Cup final appearance and no other trophies and the reality becomes more jarring.
Compared to Clough’s CV at Derby which included a top flight title in less than six years from being at the bottom of the second tier; a man who has managed in the Champions League only once and is not known outside of England (be honest), Moyes does not seem ready to take over the world’s biggest sporting franchise.
Naturally, the populist smokescreen that engulfs sports media would have me shouted down for heresy if I said this on Match of the Day; and metropolitan police would probably have me arrested for breaking on to the set. But that’s beside the point.
It seems you can’t say a word against Moyes because he’s achieved ‘so much’ at Everton, and heaven forbid that you question the judgment of the elders at Old Trafford.
I’m not saying Moyes is a bad manager – far from it; but I am saying he’s the wrong choice. And here’s why.
Not least because he looks like Moe Szyslak from The Simpsons, but Moyes is not the most marketable man for the media. The absence of poster boy looks on its own seems a highly superficial and irrelevant reason not to hire someone, but this would be to forget that football is a business. The attenuation of market value has already set itself into motion with Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement; advertising stocks have shaken up in the wake of the news; and without a sufficiently marketable figure in replacement, they risk falling in the near future. Jose Mourinho, aside from being the superior tactician, had the poster boy looks to accompany lucrative sponsorship deals.
I’m sure some readers are rolling their eyes at that point; and those readers probably don’t understand anything about economics.
Ok so let’s move on to footballing reasons. We’ve already established that compared to other candidates, ahem Jose, that Moyes’ CV is barren. This cannot be excused by Everton’s finances when other, lesser funded clubs have won trophies during his tenure – even war torn Portsmouth have won The FA Cup during this time and minnows Swansea have won the League Cup this season.
As for playing style, I dare say there is nothing distinct about a David Moyes team beyond one that ‘always does well in the second half of the season’. A lot of good that’ll do when the title race is wrapped up in January, eh?
One of the main problems that Clough faced at Leeds was that leading players such as Billy Bremner and Johnny Giles could not get behind him; they persisted a loyalty to the absent Revie while their egos would not allow them to be managed by a man who had achieved less than they had. It seems unlikely therefore that the likes of Robin Van Persie, Rio Ferdinand or Patrice Evra would resonate well with a man whose own personal trophy cabinet is on par with my own. It seems equally unlikely that the likes of Robert Lewandowski would be tempted by the prospect of playing under Moyes at United when they could play under Mourinho at Chelsea.
I’m being obtuse. Moyes is not a bad manager; he has steadied the ship at Everton marvellously and clubs like Newcastle and Aston Villa could learn a lot from their fellow ‘big’ club. But this is not a wee club in the North East, or one that feels the need to remind everyone that they won a European cup, long long ago in a galaxy far far away; this is Manchester United.
Those swept up in Moyes mania will have my head for this article I’m sure; and when Manchester United win the League Cup in three years, will probably tell me to eat my words; but I’m afraid I disagree with the board’s decision.
Mourinho might be a globe trotter, but if any team was going to hold him down surely it was this one? And surely, he was the obvious candidate for all reasons considered: a glowing CV, good looks and you know that every player in world football respects him, even if they don’t like him.
I wish Moyes well, but I won’t be surprised if we see another Damned United.