Manchester United no longer world’s greatest club

Moyes was Sir Alex Ferguson's pick as his successor. Picture: AFP/Getty
Moyes was Sir Alex Ferguson's pick as his successor. Picture: AFP/Getty
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As WE awoke to the inevitable yesterday, as the Sky Sports News blonde promised that the next rent-a-quote was emerging soon from make-up to help keep the story rolling all day long, it already seemed like the end of quite a lot of things, and not just David Moyes’ brief, disastrous reign as manager of the greatest football club in the world.

No more can Manchester United be called that. They won’t play in next season’s Champions League, might not make Europe at all and could end up the worst defending champions in Premier League history, having already lost a club record number of games including double reverses to Manchester City, back-on-their-perch Liverpool and the Glaswegian’s old team Everton complete with joke-shop Grim Reaper – plus there were those first Old Trafford defeats by the likes of Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion since the glam-rock ditty which begat the “Come on David Moyes” chant was a hit for Slade. No longer the greatest, and they won’t be again for a while.

No more will a club owned by venture capitalists allow the appointment of a manager without him being interviewed or asked to outline his ambitions and future plans. No more will the word of a great boss be accepted as the stamp of approval, even if he’s the greatest boss there’s ever been.

No more can Manchester United boast of being different from other clubs and above football’s sacking culture. They get rid, just like Chelsea, just like the rest. Maybe no more will they allow a manager to build long-term, given the dismal failure of that approach here, and perhaps we’ll see a more regular turnover of coaches purely concerned with the on-the-field and working under a director of football as happens at Manchester City, another club they deem their intellectual and spiritual inferiors. No more, perhaps, will the Old Trafford chain of command only feature British managers, and no more will someone like Jose Mourinho be discounted for being “not Man U enough” because he is an egomaniac and a controversialist; the best man for the job will be the best man for the job.

No more will we talk of the battle-hardened, bent-nosed senior stars of United’s last title success – Robin van Persie, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra – as possessing towering will to win and unquenchable commitment to the cause, because this season under Moyes they have shown themselves to be fairly quenched. No more will Moyes, wherever he attempts to revive his career and his name, place faith in Marouane Fellaini after his Everton enforcer proved so powder-puff ineffectual as a Red Devil.

And, when the day comes that the newspaper supplements and pullouts devoted to Sir Alex Ferguson exceed the acres of newsprint that were given over to coverage of his departure from Old Trafford – not that I wish to hasten Fergie’s departure from this earth; football is less fun without him – it cannot be cover-to-cover praise again. There will have to be chapters on the failed succession and some are bound to look at Sir Alex’s choice of a man in his own image and ask: wasn’t ego involved there, too?

In the aftermath, we want to hear Moyes on what went wrong, what was never right, what he really thought of Wayne Rooney’s £300,000-a-week new contract when a good-news story seemed so urgent but he was uncomfortable throughout his public utterances at United so we’ll have to wait for all of that. And we want to hear from Fergie.

There’s no way he can blame Ronnie McKinnon this time. Playing for Rangers in the 1969 Old Firm Scottish Cup final, he failed to prevent a first-minute goal and to McKinnon’s amused outrage later claimed his team-mate had been given the responsibility for marking Billy McNeill. Fergie picked Moyesy and we’d love to find out his take on why the appointment went so horribly wrong and maybe what was said between them yesterday after Moyes was relieved of his duties.

Their meeting when he was offered the job had been written up for posterity. The fact Moyes was self-conscious about wearing jeans when he took the call summoning him to Sir Alex’s home was viewed as a nice human touch to what it was hoped would be an epic story. Yesterday in the Old Trafford obits, Moyes’ reaction to being told he was the Chosen One – “As you can imagine, the colour drained from my face” – was pinpointed as the first sign of weakness. Did these sound like the words of a man about to think nothing of dismantling a highly-decorated but ageing squad?

This was what was required; this was what Fergie hadn’t done. The most successful manager in British football may not feel like talking either, although his analysis of United at this dramatic moment and where they go from here would surely be as engrossing as anything in last year’s autobiography.

There are some who already want him to do much more than talk. They want him back as the old hand keeping Ryan Giggs right; they even want him back as manager. Remember when he said he was going only to change his mind after the team went soft on him? Some seriously under-performing players, who must shoulder part of the blame for Moyes’ demise, must be absolutely dreading such a prospect. AhcomefiGovan and ahcomebackagain? Surely it couldn’t happen…?