David Moyes swiftly emerged yesterday as a heavily odds-on favourite to replace Alex Ferguson as boss at the Theatre of Hollow Myths. On the face of it, there’s an obviousness about this solution; Moyes has performed solidly for over a decade in the top flight at Goodison Park on a budget that, if not exactly shoestring, certainly lacked the munificence of the chests of bullion in other parts of the North West. He has failed to win a trophy in that time but that is not in itself a criticism of any coach in an era when the silverware tends to go to the highest bidder. The best coach around, M. Wenger, has been potless since 2007, after all. Moyes has the appearance of a “safe pair of hands” option – someone who will come in and instigate evolution rather than revolution, a guy who can be relied upon not to depart too suddenly or drastically from the blueprint laid down by the man whose brooding presence upstairs will be a palpable influence on any new boy, whoever he might be.
This acceptance by Man U that Fergie will still be kicking about the place is tinged with danger; the lesson of history taught by the hanging-on post retirement of Matt Busby seems not to have been heeded. The legacy of Fergie is more akin to a poisoned chalice than an inspirational example; the new coach on the block will have to set off on his hoped-for marathon at 400 metre pace. There will be little chance or latitude afforded for any cosy bedding-in period at a club with a constitutional, almost Freudian need to be the biggest and the best. A large proportion of their support has been conceived, weaned and nurtured on this propaganda and the last thing that any of them will want to feel is the chill blast of reality as the likes of City, Chelsea and Arsenal walk off with next season’s honours. So Moyes (most likely) or whoever else it might be will simply have to hit the ground running, compete effectively at the highest level, placate a squad of big egos who are used to a very particular type of regime and solve the immediate Rooney wantaway (or wantanewcontract) problem. All of this under the basilisk glare of elder statesman Fergie, glowering from a handy balcony over his former empire, hairdryer silenced but still handy.
The immediately noticeable thing about Moyes is his relative lack of European experience, and Man U is a club that sees itself as a European force despite the threadbare achievements on the continent under Fergie. The other burning question that has to be asked then is: what would other European “giants” have done after losing a quarter-century institution as Man U have just done? Would they have plumped for Joe Bloggs from down the road, or would they instead have scoured the continent and beyond for a stellar personage of massive achievement elsewhere, someone whose CV is festooned with honours and who would breeze in expecting to maintain the winning habit?
It’s irresistible to feel that the latter would be the preferred option for your Barcas and your Real Madrids, your Bayern Munichs and – yes – your Chelseas, too. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement that Fergie would be chewing his gum in the directors’ box next term, hopeful noises were emanating from the Man U-friendly press that The Purple-Nosed One might possibly be succeeded by The Special One, maybe even with one C. Ronaldo in tow. It may yet be that Christiano brings his balletic skills with double-pike and twist back to Man U, but any prospect of Jose heading to Salford appears remote in the extreme – he is far more likely to be strolling down the Kings Road this summer. Other ideally-qualified coaches have scrambled over each other in their haste not to queue up for the Man U job. The poisoned chalice image appears to have lodged within the minds of Europe’s coaching elite.
So it is likely to be Moyes – not for his own sweet self, but more for the lack of any realistic alternatives. It is this paucity of choice for a club like Man U – who were supposedly aware of Fergie’s retirement decision as far back as February – that is rather baffling. Perhaps they expected Fergie would soldier on for a few years yet. Perhaps also they weren’t expecting the grumpy Govanite to give up so easily on his ambition to overhaul Liverpool’s European Cup record. But the emergence of crack teams from Germany as well as the still-formidable forces from Spain and elsewhere in England appear to have been a reality check for “S’ralex”, who must in his more coherent moments have realised that climbing the European summit again in the foreseeable future is a dimly remote prospect. It may well be that a “safe” appointment such as Moyes will serve to dilute expectations just enough to cure these fanciful notions that Man U could possibly break into the Continental elite. Perhaps an FA Cup run and top four in the Premier League will suffice next season, and save Moyes from the fate of Wilf McGuinness back in the day. But I frankly doubt it.
The King is dead. Long live the King – but who, and for just how long?