THOSE who witnessed Danny McGrain in his pomp as a player would tell you that replacing him as right-back was perhaps just as daunting a task as taking over from Sir Alex Ferguson as Manchester United manager.
Having taken on the former challenge with limited success during his brief spell at Celtic, David Moyes has now made a career move which has long been regarded in the game as the footballing equivalent of Mission Impossible.
But McGrain has no doubt that the man who was his understudy for a couple of years at Parkhead is the ideal successor at Old Trafford to the most successful manager English football has ever known.
Moyes’ failure to land any silverware during his lengthy and generally much-lauded tenure at Everton may be regarded by some as a reason to cast doubt on his suitability to follow in the footsteps of serial trophy collector Ferguson. Celtic first-team coach McGrain, however, believes that will have been regarded as irrelevant by Ferguson himself.
“I think Davie is the perfect replacement for Fergie,” said McGrain. “The fact Davie hasn’t won anything with Everton won’t matter to Fergie. If it did, he would haven’t got the job.
“It’s the way Davie works that has got him the job. I think he and Fergie are very similar in how they act. Sir Alex has watched David over the past few years and he will have ticked a lot of boxes for him in terms of how he goes about his business.
“His man management is very good and Fergie will have heard about it because he has ears everywhere in football. Davie stuck in at Everton when other managers might have walked out on them for something else.
“I’m sure he will have had other requests from other clubs down the years, whether that is in England or elsewhere in Europe. I’m sure he has received a few telephone calls asking if he wanted to go elsewhere.
“People might have thought Davie would go for more money somewhere else but he has a great relationship with the Everton chairman Bill Kenwright. He could see Everton were making progress, getting better all the time.
“But he had reached the stage where his contract is up at the end of this season and there was speculation linking him with a move, perhaps to Schalke in Germany. I think that’s why Fergie timed his announcement when he did, perhaps to move in first and make sure Manchester United got Davie.”
Moyes made just 34 appearances for Celtic between 1981 and 1983 before leaving the club at the age of 20 in search of regular first-team football. He did play alongside McGrain on 14 occasions, but most of his outings in the Celtic defence came when his more illustrious team-mate was sidelined by injury.
He stood in for McGrain with notable distinction during a European Cup tie against Juventus in Turin in September 1981, receiving praise for his display despite a 2-0 defeat, and also starred in an Old Firm thriller at Celtic Park two months later when he was involved in all of the home team’s goals in a 3-3 draw with Rangers.
“Davie was alright as a player,” added McGrain. “As a centre half, he was good but obviously not good enough for Celtic to keep him. He also played at right-back a few times when I was injured.
“I remember thinking ahead of that Old Firm game that he might struggle. He was tall for a right-back and was up against Davie Cooper, who always gave me a hard time when we played Rangers. But he did okay in that game.
“He was a lad who just loved football and I remember his dad was a great influence on him back then.
“He came from Drumchapel in Glasgow, the same as me, and I remember his dad travelling all over the place to watch football. He took Davie with him and he would take notes. I think that passion for the game rubbed off on Davie.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve kept in constant contact with Davie since he left Celtic. My only recent meeting with him was when I took the Celtic development squad down to Everton for a friendly match a couple of years ago.
“Davie was sublime that day. He took us around the entire Everton training complex and I couldn’t believe how good he was, in terms of giving up his time and speaking to our young lads.
“Here was the manager of an English Premier League club, who must have had more important things to do, acting as a tour guide for a young Celtic team. I’d imagine it is the kind of thing Sir Alex would also have done for us a few years ago if we had been visiting Manchester United.”
Scotland’s capacity for producing great football managers shows no sign of diminishing and McGrain believes Moyes has retained some of the basic standards impressed on the young players at Celtic as a result of the foundations laid back in the 1960s by Sir Alex Ferguson’s own managerial idol, Jock Stein.
“Mr Stein worked in a very different era,” said McGrain. “If he was a manager now, he’d be kicking out agents for a start.
“But the core priniciples he set out have been passed down, things like timekeeping and discipline for example.
“That’s just what I am used to, having come through the ranks at Celtic. I see other clubs who are not as precise. I take it for granted because that’s the way I’ve been brought up and Davie has been brought up the same way. Fergie would have had that as a player at Rangers, too. They had to turn up in collar and tie every morning, which I thought was a bit over the top, but that’s the kind of discipline which has stuck with Fergie and Davie throughout their time in management.”
McGrain was speaking at the launch of the search for the 2013 inductees into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame at Hampden.
Nominations can be made online at sfmhalloffame.com until midday on Friday 30 August. The inductees will be announced at a gala dinner at Hampden on 10 November.