DAVID Moyes need only ask Wilf McGuinness how it feels to follow in the footsteps of a legend at Old Trafford. McGuinness was the last Manchester United manager to be handed such a daunting brief, following Sir Matt Busby’s first attempt to retire.
A Mancunian, McGuinness possessed some encouraging credentials. He had played for Manchester United, having made his debut at just 17. Injury finished his playing career in his early 20s and then, aged only 31, and following five years as reserve team manager, he stepped up to replace Busby in 1969.
The Scot had won the European Cup the previous year. It was an emotionally charged success underlining the club’s recovery from the Munich air disaster ten years previously. “Following great people is a bit difficult,” McGuinness said yesterday, in an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live. In a cautionary tale for Moyes, McGuinness’s hair began to fall out in clumps and he lasted only 18 months before Busby took over the reins once more. “I was very inexperienced and it didn’t work, although we did reach three cup semi-finals,” added McGuinness.
Three cup semi-finals in 18 months were not enough then; Moyes knows it will not be enough now. The circumstances in which the Scot replaces Sir Alex Ferguson are very different to those in which McGuinness was promoted. Arguably, replacing Ferguson is an even more intimidating prospect than Busby, certainly in terms of his legacy of trophies. Indeed, Moyes summed up the challenge yesterday, when he described his pride at being asked to follow “the best manager ever”.
Football, too, is a completely different arena now, hence the obligation for the Old Trafford club to make the announcement about Ferguson’s retirement to the New York stock exchange. McGuinness has also since explained how difficult it was to impress his authority on players who had once been his team-mates, particularly those of a similar age to him. There is a story, relayed in McGuiness’s book Manchester United – Man and Babe, where he “forces” his great friend Bobby Charlton to do push-ups in the mud. The rest of the squad were said to have looked on, cringing at this staged attempt to make a statement.
Moyes does not have so many close ties with the United players in the dressing room, and, indeed the one he does have “history” with could well be moving on, with Wayne Rooney having again intimated his desire to leave the club. Rooney, of course, was just beginning to emerge when Moyes took over at Goodison Park 11 years ago, and though he sought to carefully introduce the player to the first-team environment, there were inevitable clashes along the way. When Rooney later accused Moyes of revealing some sensitive information to the Liverpool Echo in his autobiography, My Story So Far, Moyes was incensed, and sued his former player.
They later settled out of court, and Rooney and he are since said to have made up. Indeed, a picture of Rooney scoring for Everton is reported to still hang in Moyes’ home in Preston. However, the index to Rooney’s autobiography traces their rather fraught early relationship. Beneath the heading for Moyes, are included the sub-headings: “captain’s arm band incident”, “CD player incident” and “warning Rooney to stay away from Duncan Ferguson”.
Rooney was just one problem on Moyes’ arrival at Everton, although given his talent, it was a pleasant one to have to deal with. On his first day at the club, Moyes was presented with an entire dressing room full of challenges. He has since recalled addressing the players for the first time. Standing there staring back at him were Paul Gascoigne, David Ginola and Ferguson, among others. “And there was me, just a big centre back who played for Shrewsbury Town,” he told Ian McCall, a great friend from their playing days at Dunfermline. But Moyes steeled himself and quickly made his mark at Goodison Park, drawing on an inner strength that has always impressed McCall.
“The first time I thought he was destined to be huge was when I heard him speak at his mother’s funeral,” the former Dundee United and Partick Thistle manager said yesterday. “There was a hardness, a strength of purpose shot through with emotion. It was incredibly poignant.”
He will call on this when he greets the Manchester United players in July; seasoned Champions League campaigners one and all, and him, a former Everton manager with only a single Champions League qualifying tie to his name, although he did make a playing appearance for Celtic in the European Cup, against Juventus. So he hasn’t won a major honour with Everton? Portsmouth have won something in the recent past, and look at them now. What matters has been Everton’s consistency in the Premier League, against all odds.
Moyes’ methods have become slightly more refined since he tangled with one of his Preston North End players in an Austrian nightclub after his side lost two pre-season friendlies, and yet he is still capable of sending a shiver of fear through reporters with an intense, cobalt blue-eyed stare. As with Ferguson, journalist visitors to United’s Carrington complex will not be able to get away with much, but Moyes, undoubtedly, will also have to adapt to the greater demands placed on him.
Current Dundee goalkeeper Steve Simonsen played in Moyes’ first game in charge of Everton, in March 2002. “The person that was portrayed at Preston was not necessarily the man who came to Everton,” he recalls. “David Moyes had to change his ways ever so slightly when he arrived. With all due respect to Preston, he was managing a different level of player, lads who were earning a hell of a lot of money. And he handled that transformation really well.
“He came in and quickly told Paul Gascoigne and David Ginola, thanks for your efforts, but you are not part of my plans,” he adds. “To come in and speak to two people like that in the first week must have taken a lot of bottle and courage. That said a lot about him; it showed his mentality. He was not going to keep people around just because they were Paul Gascoigne and David Ginola. He did it his way.”
Everton scored within the first minute of Moyes’ first game against Fulham, going on to win 2-1, despite being reduced to ten men following Thomas Gravesen’s first-half dismissal. Moyes gave Everton more than just a short-term boost however, although the next again season saw the Goodison club avoid relegation only very narrowly. It might be surprising to some, but Everton fans are not completely fazed by Moyes’ departure. They knew the time would come one day soon, and there is a feeling that he had done as much as he could at Everton, given the financial restrictions.
He needed a new challenge. Yesterday he got it, and then some, as he prepares to follow the greatest manager ever at the biggest football club on the planet. Not bad for a former Shrewsbury Town centre-back.