A United history lesson

by Joseph Bush

Thursday, May 9th, 2013


It may be slightly preemptive, and could leave me looking foolish by the end of the week, but it’s now looking a nailed on certainty that David Moyes will up-sticks and head off up the M62 to attempt to fill the considerable void, and rather large shoes, left by Sir Alex Ferguson, following his announcement this week that he will be stepping down from his role as manager of Manchester United at the end of the season, after 26 years at the helm.

On the face of it, and according to most pundits, this all seems a perfectly natural fit. Like Ferguson, Moyes has been in his current post for a significant amount of time, so he’s certainly not the type of manager to give itchy trigger fingered chairman the jitters. And he’s clearly cut from the same cloth – appearing, on the face of it at least, another hard-nosed, no nonsense Scotsman – even hailing from the same area of Glasgow.

The job he has done during his tenure at Goodison Park is undoubtedly impressive. With very limited resources he has regularly managed to forge teams that have competed with the Premier League big boys and that have been consistently hard to beat. He also has a canny knack of being able to bring previously little known players to the club and turn them into top Premier League performers – Tim Cahill, Marouane Fellaini, Steven Pineaar etc – and he seems to have pulled off the same trick this campaign with the exciting to watch Kevin Mirallas. The club’s youth system has also flourished under Moyes with numerous players having been nurtured through the ranks into regular first teamers either at Everton or elsewhere, with Jack Rodwell, Ross Barkley, Shaemus Coleman and a certain Mr Rooney to name but a few.

Indeed, whenever anyone lists the qualities of David Moyes, his ability to make the best out of limited resources, and do it consistently, is usually near the top of the list. However, in a way, therein lies the cautionary tale. If you search the history books you don’t have to look far to find an instance of a manager who has made a name for themselves at a ‘lesser team’ only to have come unstuck after their success has taken them to a more high profile job.

Indeed, one only has to look at the current England manager Roy Hodgson. Who can forget the job that he so admirably performed at Fulham. Joining them when in 18th place in 2007, he managed to perform something of a great escape to stave off relegation on the final day of the season. Wind forward three years and he had taken the club to a top ten finish and the brink of a European trophy the following season, having successfully negotiated Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk and Wolfsberg on route to the Europa League final in 2010 where they were unlucky to lose to Athletico Madrid.

That cup run led Liverpool to come knocking and he joined the Merseyside club in July that same year. However, whether it was fan pressure or increased expectation, results failed to go Hodgson’s way and he left the club a mere six months later.

This is by far an isolated incident. Much lauded manager Martin O’Neil’s recent acrimonious departure from Sunderland seems a far cry from when he was defying the odds, and relegation, at Leicester City in the mid to late 90s. Once touted as a possible Ferguson successor himself, his spells at the Stadium of Light, and at Aston Villa, has led to his stock reducing in value somewhat – to the point where his name has not even been mentioned in the running for the vacant manager’s position at Old Trafford, despite the fact he is now a free agent.

Sam Allardyce’s career has followed a similar path to O’Neil’s. He forged a reputation at Bolton Wanderers for (perhaps unfairly) a physical style of play, but that determined, never say die attitude, combined with an ability of being able to squeeze an Indian summer out of several aging European players thought past it by everyone else (Youri Djorkaeff, Freddie Bobic, Ivan Campo, Fernando Hierro et al), transformed Bolton from a yo-yo team into an established Premier League outfit who he even took to the League Cup final in 2004.

However, his tenure in the goldfish bowl that must be the Newcastle United hot seat went anything but smoothly and a run of bad results coupled with fan protests led to his sacking in January 2008 – just eight months after being appointed. While he is now forging out another career at West Ham, he is far from universally approved of at Upton Park and, lest we forget, Allardyce was once one of the front runners for the national team job following Sven-Göran Eriksson’s departure in 2006.

The history of the Premier League is littered with these types of examples, right back to its infancy in the early 1990s – remember Mike Walker? Working wonders at Norwich before moving on to Everton, he lasted less than a year with only six wins from his 35 games in charge – he never managed in the Premier League again!

I’m far from claiming that David Moyes will fail should he, as expected, take over at Old Trafford, but nor is it going to be a guaranteed success merely due to the man and the club involved. The type of man and manager that David Moyes is will lead many fans to just assume he will pick up where Fergie left off, and a parade of trophies will follow, but history will tell you that it’s just not as simple as that. And, we should also not forget that Alex Ferguson is moving upstairs at Old Trafford into an ambassadorial role so, should things start to unravel for David Moyes in his new position, that’s a mighty big shadow to have looming over you from on high – how’s that for pressure?

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