By Greg Stobart
In the short statement that confirmed David Moyes’ sacking, Manchester United inadvertently drew attention to the Scot’s deficiencies during his disastrous 296 days in charge at Old Trafford.
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Ed Woodward and the rest of the Manchester United board, including Sir Alex Ferguson, will now be well aware of that, even if they weren’t last summer.
For Ferguson, it will be a matter of considerable embarrassment that his hand-picked appointment failed so spectacularly, taking the runaway Premier League champions to seventh in the table this season, with absolutely no sign of improvement.
But as the 72-year-old wrote in his autobiography, he has always been quick to accept mistakes. And this was one of the biggest he’s ever made.
The decision to overlook the likes of Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti last summer in favour of a manager who had never won a trophy or even managed in the Champions League could set the club back years.
It will cost United around £10 million to sack Moyes while missing out on the top four could cost as much as £40m - but even with those eye-watering numbers it’s still a perfectly retrievable situation. If they can appoint the right man.
Now United have to ensure that the club does not regress into a full-on barren spell reminiscent of the 25-year wait for a title between 1967 and 1992 before Ferguson finally replicated the achievements of the great Sir Matt Busby.
It might sound ridiculous for a club of United’s size, stature and wealth, but they should heed the example of Liverpool, who are on the verge of winning the league for the first time in 24 years. The thought that the Reds would have to wait so long to lift the Premier League trophy was once unthinkable.
David Moyes was the second Wilf McGuinness after all. No-one really wanted to be the man to replace Ferguson, an impossible job even for the chosen one. It should be much easier to replace David Moyes.
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United cannot afford to make the same mistake again. The next decision must not be made based on some idealistic principles about the club’s culture or who Ferguson enjoys sharing a glass of wine with.
It needs someone who can handle the pressures and understand, even thrive on, the expectations. The theory that United give their managers time has been exposed by Moyes’ departure. You have to be good enough, first.
United’s decision to appoint Moyes last summer means they missed the boat on Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, but there are still plenty of managers around who can steer the ship back on course.
Jurgen Klopp would be the most ideal candidate for many United supporters but the charismatic Borussia Dortmund coach insists he will not be leaving this summer. Guardiola has, unsurprisingly, also ruled himself out of contention.
Ryan Giggs is in temporary charge until the end of the season, but he is not ready for the job and won’t be considered.
Given the importance of the appointment, United need someone they can trust. The criteria will be simple: they must have won trophies, managed in the Champions League and have an understanding of the Premier League.
That is why Louis van Gaal is the frontrunner for the job. The Netherlands coach is a serial winner having won the Champions League with Ajax as well as domestic titles in Spain, Germany and Holland.
He is also a coach in the true sense, someone who will work to get the best out of the players given to him and fit them into his system. He plays with a clear philosophy and United could look forward to some exciting attacking football again after the dross of the last eight months or so.
Van Gaal is also, frankly, bonkers, at different times dictatorial, aggressive, confrontational and arrogant.
Whether this will put off the United board remains to be seen, but there are obvious parallels with Ferguson. They may deem that a strong character is needed after Moyes floundered out of his depth.
Ancelotti is the other interesting option. The Real Madrid boss has not settled in Spain and could be tempted to Old Trafford. He is another serial winner and, crucially, won the double in England with Chelsea in 2010.
Either way, United know they cannot afford to make the same mistake again. They need to make sure they are back in the Champions League for the 2015-16 season, back competing against the other top six or seven sides in the Premier League rather than suffering embarrassing defeats.
Under Moyes there was a lot of “trying” to win games. United know next season they have to start doing.
And it means this could be the most important management appointment in their history.