Manchester United & Moyes must make their own magic in life after Ferguson

The new Old Trafford boss leads the club into unknown territory for the first time in over a quarter of a century, but can still look to harness his predecessor's genius
By Jonathan Birchall

In the 44 days since starting work as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor, David Moyes has seen one player escape bailiffs at the training ground, been asked to change the shirt number of another on a seeming whim of superstition and won his first trophy at Wembley since the 1986 Associate Members Cup with Bristol City.

He will understand now. Weird and wonderful things happen at Manchester United.

Through little but some fault of his own there has been more than enough of the former at Old Trafford under Moyes’ brief tenure so far. Such is the way of the transfer window, and such is the way of Wayne Rooney, who manages to be bafflingly brilliant and brilliantly baffling at any one time. It is he who the world is watching three days before United begin their title defence under their first new manager in 26 years.

Does Rooney want to leave to join Chelsea? Yes. Is there anything on the table from United to extend Rooney's contract? No. Is he for sale? If he blinks first and hands in a transfer request - despite United's very public protestations to the contrary. Take the smoke and mirror politicking away and it all becomes quite simple, but it never is, is it?

Moyes, to his credit, has dealt with a delicate, inflammatory situation well. Ferguson-like, you could say. It’s difficult to believe his insistence that Rooney’s wasn't fit to feature in Sunday’s Community Shield at all when the forward was seen in full contact training with the England squad 24 hours later, but when did similar inconsistencies ever stop Sir Alex?

To compare Moyes to the man who led before him seems as unfair as it is sadly inevitable. The win over Wigan makes it two trophies down, 47 to go for the former Everton boss, who prior to last weekend had a grand total of a Second Division win in 2000 with Preston in comparison to the man who effectively gave him the job. Forty-nine trophies. It's a wonder Ferguson never got a shoulder injury of his own.

6/1 Manchester United are 6/1 with Coral to win next season's FA Cup
And there will be some for whom the separation is just a little too hard to swallow. Taking a point away from home in Europe? Not under Fergie. Pies that bit colder in the Stretford End? Sir Alex wouldn't stand for it!

Can Old Trafford really maintain its fear factor with the man who built it into the glass-walled, 75,000-seater behemoth that it has become present in statue form only. Ferguson has left United and now United must leave Ferguson.

That isn't to say that Moyes shouldn't embrace the residual specks of Ferguson magic at the club. If ever the tawdry middle-management cliche of 'evolution not revolution' rang sensible, it is now for United.

The great unknown ahead of the forthcoming season is essentially the same as it has been for so many previous at Old Trafford: where does one cultivate the near-maniacal will, and habit, of winning football matches as Ferguson's many title-winning squads did for two decades. And how on Earth does Moyes harness it?

The Scot is clearly keen to unearth the formula, appointing former Ferguson stalwart Phil Neville as his first-team coach, as well as seeking counsel from both player-coach Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand during pre-season.

Ferguson himself looked to ensure as smooth a transition as possible in a series of meetings alongside Giggs in Alderley Edge back in May before enjoying a summer holiday for once not consigned to a pre-season tour in the latest 'emerging market' at the behest of the club's all powerful commercial arm. For Sir Alex and his wife Cathy, it has been France, New York and the Scottish Isles while his successor navigated a rather more stormy honeymoon period.

The Rooney saga, or soap opera as it has more closely resembled at times, remains a heavier millstone for Moyes and new assistant vice chairman Ed Woodward for as long as United's ineffectiveness in the transfer window continues this summer. How much easier it would be for United to discard of the striker-cum-migraine had Thiago Alcantara or Cesc Fabregas arrived in Manchester, attestations of the club's continuing ambition.

As it is, 20-year-old Uruguayan Guillermo Varela remains the club's only summer signing at £2.4 million - around two per cent of Manchester City's spending in this window to date.

The failure to secure neither Thiago or Fabregas was compounded by the club's frequent press briefings regarding both players, and whether going public was a tactic driven by Moyes or not, it is difficult to argue that the Scot wasn't made to look, if not out of control, then at least struggling with how exactly to go about his business. lt's easy to forget that Moyes' Everton were one of the most watertight, inaccessible clubs during his time at Goodison Park. Diverting from that this summer didn't suit him, or United.

Ferguson's ability to overcome, or adapt, to such situations are what made him truly unique. Constant reinvention and re-application made his sides unstoppable. They'd lose a battle or two along the way, but there's a reason United never went more than three seasons waiting for a title after breaking their 26-year hoodoo in 1993.

Moyes will be forced to make do. With those pursuits having failed, Marouane Fellaini will almost certainly be the man trusted to plug the much-maligned gap in the centre of United's midfield, while Moyes is also considering a move for Leighton Baines in what would be a double-raid on his former club.

And with that in mind, reports of United's death seem to have been heavily exaggerated again. Robin van Persie's two goals in Sunday's Community Shield win served as a timely reminder as to who the club's most important forward is, regardless of the headlines, while Wilf Zaha and Adnan Januzaj have impressed in pre-season to the point that both could feasibly figure in Moyes' first-team from the off. You sense the club's fans will demand they are at least given the opportunity, along with the club's top scorer in pre-season, Jesse Lingard. You can win things with kids, after all.

But it is finding the magic formula, that weird and wonderful win-at-all-costs drive that has seen United overcome better squads and better teams countless times before, that is what Moyes needs above all this season.

Ferguson built champions at Old Trafford and has on paper left a platform for the new regime to do the same. No man, as he always maintained, is bigger than Manchester United. Now it's time for Moyes to prove him right.

Follow Jonathan Birchall on