This is my first post on this blog for months, and it should not be a surprise that what leads me to post here is the event of Ferguson’s retirement, and all the fall out from that. I have thought for about a year now that SAF had taken the team as far as he could, and that it was time to him to move on. After last season’s dramatic loss of the title to City, there was no way he was going to say goodbye on that note. Just like Liverpool, Sir Alex wanted to put City in their place one last time, and he did just that.
Some of the numbers of Ferguson’s reign are truly astounding. His last game in charge will be his 1,500th, and he has won 60% of them. Since taking over, more than 1,000 managers have been hired by clubs who are part of the English Football League. Just prior to his appointment on 6 November 1986, United were 19th out of 22 teams in the Old First Division. It seems like a lifetime ago. In fact, it is. More or less. United have had the same manager at the helm for a generation. The majority of people today all over the world who identify with Manchester United have never known any other manager.
All that can be said about Ferguson has probably been said already, but perhaps his biggest positive attribute is a sense of timing. He always seems to know when to do what: let this or that player go, sign this or that player, and so on. He has gotten many of the biggest decisions correct. His decision not to quit at the end of the 2001/02 season, with Sven Goran Eriksson apparently set to replace him, proved to be the right decision. Over 10 years later, he is right yet again.
The time has indeed come for change at Old Trafford, and by all accounts it is to come in the shape of David Moyes. The debate over the pros and cons of hiring him is already well underway. For a club that prides itself on its stability, Moyes is perfect. He has just turned 50, and has been at Everton for the last 11 years, consistently exceeding expectations in the process. Prior to his appointment on 14 March 2002, Everton were 16th in the EPL, staying out of the relegation zone only by a goal difference of 6. 13 points from their last 9 games meant they avoided the drop, and every season since then, Moyes’ league record is as follows:
2002-2003 7th 59 points
2003-2004 17th 39
2004-2005 4th 61
2005-2006 11th 50
2006-2007 6th 58
2007-2008 5th 65
2008-2009 5th 63
2009-2010 8th 61
2010-2011 7th 54
2011-2012 7th 56
2012-2013 6th 60*
*season still in progress
With regard to league placement, wage bill rank is the best predictor of where a club will end up. Everton only rank 10th on the wage bill table, but have placed 8th or better – averaging nearly 60 points – over the last 6 or 7 seasons. This means that David Moyes brings a ‘value added’ to the club similar to what Ferguson delivers.
His approach to management, excellently highlighted here by Simon Kuper, which relies significantly on statistics and an admirable attention to detail, is certainly a factor. These traits can reap dividend when trying to do well on a shoestring budget, or a much larger one.
The flip side, of course, is that Moyes has won nothing at Everton and has very limited experience in Europe. The concerns about how he will cope with the added resources, extra pressure, and better opponents are real and cannot be wished away. Ferguson came to United having broken the dominance of Celtic and Rangers with Aberdeen. When he won the first league title in 1979-1980, it was the first time in 15 years that the league didn’t go to Glasgow. It was no mean feat. Moyes’ own credentials are nowhere near as intimidating, and it is no surprise at all that a lot of people are skeptical, especially as Mourinho’s time at the Bernabeu comes to an end, and he has made no secret of his desire to replace Ferguson. Even Rafa Benitez would bring vastly stronger credentials to the table, having coached at every possible level – and situation – in club football, and his time as the ‘Interim One’ at Stamford Bridge will soon be at an end as well.
Eventually, it appears neither man was considered, and it will be one of those decisions that could either be a master stroke or clearly wrong from the start, depending on subsequent events.
Is there really a way to know which manager will succeed in a new job and which manager won’t? Just two very recent examples could be instructive. Jurgen Klopp, current coach of Champions’ League finalists BV Borussia Dortmund, coached Mainz for 7 years after spending his entire career there. Mainz were relegated at the end of 2006-2007, and he could not bring them back up the following season, so he resigned. Dortmund hired him in 2008, and the rest is history. As for Pep Guardiola, Barcelona was his first senior managerial position.
I view the appointment of Moyes with considerable curiosity, even excitement. I wonder whether Fergie can resist getting involved in team affairs behind the scenes or commenting about them in public. I also wonder about how the old man will cope with not having to go to Carrington bright and early every day, knowing that the club has been his obsession for a quarter century.
There are so many narratives that will spin off from this event. The following weeks, months, even years will be very interesting. Fall Out Boy said it best: ‘…this crystal ball is always cloudy except for when you look into the past.’
As the hairdryer era comes to a close, my overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude for the past and present.
Thnks Fr Th Mmrs, Sir Alex.
Hello, David. Welcome to Manchester.