“Manchester United did not handle it well,” Buchan said yesterday, when asked about the treatment of his fellow Scot, who was sacked just over three weeks ago after only ten months in charge at Old Trafford.
“It is not what you would have wanted,” said Buchan, who made over 450 appearances for United between 1972 and 1983. “I played for Manchester United when it was a football club but now it a world brand, a big business. You notice the difference.”
This comment has echoes of former Tottenham Hotspur manager Keith Burkinshaw’s withering assessment of the White Hart Lane club in the days of controversial owner Irving Scholar. “There used to be a football club there,” Burkinshaw said, after being sacked in 1984.
Manchester United were once a club known for doing things in the correct manner, which meant the leaking of news regarding Moyes’ sacking was especially shocking. Whichever way you look at the manager’s departure, it was a tawdry affair.
The Scot himself has since kept his dignity and on Monday night made a first public appearance since his departure from Old Trafford to present Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson with his Championship Manager of the Year award at a League Managers Association dinner in London. These count as his first tentative steps back into the football world, with reports now linking Moyes to the vacant manager’s position at Spurs following Tim Sherwood’s sacking yesterday.
“I have known David since he was manager of Preston and I have followed his career with interest,” said Buchan. “I thought he was a good appointment, a proper football man, somebody who would be there for the long haul. One or two were bigger names [who were in the frame] but they maybe just wanted Manchester United on their CV and be there for a couple of seasons and then, off. I thought it was a good appointment and I am very disappointed for David. He is a decent man.”
Buchan described this season as a “transitional one” for United, following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement last year. “I think David Moyes was unfortunate when he took over that the experienced chief executive [David Gill] left. I do not think his appointment gave him the time to get the players he would have liked. I think it underlines what a magnificent job Fergie did with that squad to win the league by 11 points.”
Even Buchan’s recollections of signing for United from Aberdeen hint at a club desperate to go about things the right way. Frank O’Farrell, who had a similarly unenviable job to Moyes in that he was one of those tasked with succeeding Matt Busby, was in charge, although Busby was a member of the delegation who met with Buchan. “Jimmy Bonthrone, the Aberdeen manager, took me down to Bellshill to meet a United deputation of Frank O’Farrell, the manager, Sir Matt – I think his mum was still alive and he had come up to visit her – and then they took me back to Middlesbrough where they were playing a midweek cup replay in the afternoon because they could not use floodlights because of the miners’ strike.”
Buchan made his debut on the following Saturday against Spurs. “I played against some guy called Gilzean…” the centre-half recalled. “I played 13 league games that season and in the next four seasons I played 42, 42, 41, 42. I got off to a good start and that is vital when you join a club like United. Some players do not make a good start.
“I got 40 quid a week at Aberdeen and went straight on to 1,010 quid at Man United,” he recalled, an offer he then quickly related to his mentor Eddie Turnbull, who had left Aberdeen to manage Hibs.
“I phoned Eddie at Hibs after I met the United delegation and rang Eddie – it was 2p in the phone – and he said ‘go for it’. Jimmy Bonthrone was very fair with me. There had been interest for me from Leeds and Liverpool but I knew I would get a first-team chance at United because David Sadler had knee injuries.
“Liverpoool had Tommy Smith – hard but unfair – and Emlyn Hughes and Leeds had a lad called Norman Hunter. I could have gone to Liverpool or Leeds and been stuck in the reserves for a couple of years. It turned out to be the right choice for me.”
Buchan was speaking to promote Richard Gordon’s new book, Scotland ’74: a World Cup story. He was a member of a talented squad and played in two of Scotland’s three games in this tournament, including the 0-0 draw with Brazil after which Scotland exited the tournament despite being unbeaten in their three group matches.
“The killer was the Zaire game when we only scored two goals,” Buchan said, of a match Scotland won 2-0, but were later forced to rue after Yugoslavia topped up their goal-difference against the same opponents.
“Zaire played their socks off against us because it was their first appearance in a World Cup. I do not think they had too much left when they came to play Yugoslavia, and lost 9-0.”