By Andrew Leci
I don’t think I’ve ever started a piece in quite so self-indulgent a manner, or with such overt name-dropping, but you’re going to have to bear with me here.
Such is the nature of the media in these modern times, that by the time anyone reads this, everything that could be said about Sir Alex – his achievements, his character, his legacy – would already have been. What would be the point of rehashing what we already know in the possibly vain hope of coming up with something original? Hence the opening line.
I write “no inkling”, but that’s not strictly true.
Having sat down for a good chat with David Moyes a couple of days before last weekend’s Merseyside derby, I became pretty convinced that his time as Everton manager was coming to an end.
In recent weeks he has steadfastly refused to talk about his future, and has been equally coy in contract negotiations with the club he has managed for 11 years. When we were granted the interview with him, the Press Officer at Everton sought our assurance that we would not try to draw David on his future, before telling us that he wouldn’t answer questions on it anyway. We got the message.
There are clues here (I write, being oh so wise after the event), but the fact that he was, and has been, so reluctant to pledge his future to the club, should have told us something. Speculation has been rife as to a possible move to the Bundesliga, and in any talk over the past few years of a successor to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, ‘David Moyes’ has never been far from the hat into which potential candidates’ names have been thrown.
After the interview I was definitely left with the impression that his future lay elsewhere – why else would he have been so reticent? But I’m not sure, even then, that Manchester United was in his thinking. Moyes has, according to most people in the football world, done a very good job at Everton – invariably finishing in the top half of the Premier League table, and ‘punching above their weight’ bearing in mind the ‘limited resources’ apparently available.
I have used inverted commas above as the phrases have almost become mantras at Everton, and help to explain (or perhaps excuse) the fact that the club has won nothing during Moyes’ tenure. Kenny Dalglish pointed out to me (apologies again for the name-dropping) that Everton have spent plenty of money on players in recent years, but it all appears to have gone somewhat under the radar. Whichever way you look at it though, the Manchester United job will be a whole new ball game. It’s difficult to imagine a more difficult task than stepping into the shoes of the most successful manager in English football history.
While Sir Alex Ferguson’s announcement was a bombshell, I’m going to suggest that it shouldn’t have been.
Although the 71-year-old has suggested in the past that the only way he would leave his beloved club would be in a coffin, it’s clear that in recent times he has decided that this would not be the best, nor the most dignified way to depart.
There’s no doubt that when I interviewed him in the bowels of the Emirates Stadium after the Arsenal game, he retained all the vestiges of the steely determination and passion for the game that has characterised his 26 years at the helm and has made him such a formidable adversary. Only a few weeks previously he had stated his intention to continue in his role, and one can only speculate on what may have changed his mind.
He will undergo hip surgery in the summer, after which there will be significant recovery time. Perhaps he didn’t want to be limping his way through the first few games of next season, or maybe he felt that his body was beginning to tell him that it was time to slow down.
Sir Alex will hand over the managerial reins on his own terms, just as it should be, and just as it has been at almost every stage of his career. I don’t doubt for a minute that he was instrumental in appointing his successor – a fellow Scot, with similarly intense blue eyes (although Moyes’ are slightly less watery) and similar characters. Both have a fierce intelligence, and neither suffers fools gladly, I’m sure that the decision to appoint a British manager was a considered one.
It’s difficult to imagine the strength of feeling among supporters when Sir Alex takes charge of his final home game at Old Trafford this weekend. There will be tears; there will be a sadness tempered with an outpouring of genuine gratitude.
Not everyone loves Sir Alex Ferguson, but absolutely everyone recognises his achievements in the game and his contribution to football. The landscape is about to change, significantly, and although David Moyes has one of the most difficult acts to follow in the history of sport, he must know what he’s doing, as much as we all know that as a football manager you simply can’t turn down the job at Manchester United.
Moyes is smart, and sensitive. He knows what he’s taking on; and that’s authoring the next few chapters in the history of a very famous sporting institution.
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