David Moyes looks the safest option but he has some act to follow
Everton boss is firm favourite to succeed Alex Ferguson but he still remains a risky gamble
Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson and Everton boss David Moyes share a laugh on the touchline as opponents. The latter is now in line to succeed the fomrer at Old Trafford. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
David Moyes’ stint as manager of Everton began with a detour from a scouting mission to meet Bill Kenwright in London in March 2002 and if the increasingly confident reports streaming out of Manchester and Merseyside yesterday were anything to go by then it was set to end in identical fashion last night, with the 50-year-old Scot firmly on course to be unveiled as Alex Ferguson’s successor at Manchester United, perhaps as early as today.
The timing of Ferguson’s departure may have come as a surprise but once it became clear that United’s hierarchy were going to take on board their departing manager’s advice on a successor, the swift emergence of his fellow Scot as the frontrunner for the job was a little more predictable.
The pair have a good deal in common and have been friendly ever since Moyes was passed over for the job of assistant manager at Old Trafford in 1999 when he was in charge of Preston North End.
“When I went to speak to him about becoming his assistant years ago,” Moyes subsequently reflected good naturedly, “he thought me a little too intense. But I remember sitting on the bench at Celtic and watching him at Aberdeen with his veins bulging out of his neck!”
Ferguson has watched the younger man in action too. He is familiar with his methods, many of which are closely in tune with his own, and aware that Moyes has as good an appreciation as any outsider could of how United has functioned under him.
While many of the other contenders for the job, however notional or real their candidacies might have been, had strong cases to be made for them, there were no completely safe bets; there simply can’t be in this business. The Everton boss, however, seems to have been seen as the safest pair of hands.
With Jürgen Klopp apparently reluctant to leave Dortmund just now, Pep Guardiola off the market and Jupp Heynckes no younger really than the man to be replaced, the top level field could be pretty quickly thinned out.
Jose Mourinho, meanwhile, looks to be Chelsea bound although the Portuguese became a long shot indeed from the moment Bobby Charlton was publicly critical of his management style a few months ago.
United, in any case, clearly want Ferguson to have a role in any transition and few really top level managers would accept the idea of having someone like the Scot stick around in a semi-supervisory role.
Their personal relationship makes the situation with Moyes a little different, although in truth the former Celtic player would have little option but to accept such a condition if he really wants to make the step up to a club like United.
He has done well at Everton during the past decade or so, that much is beyond dispute, but not so well he has made an unanswerable case for himself when one of the game’s very biggest clubs goes looking for a new manager.
Moyes’ achievement at Goodison has been to consistently overachieve, given the budget which he has had to work with. Everton are on course for a seventh successive top-eight finish after he guided them to fourth back in 2005 and fifth since.
It is not all good news, though. Over the course of a decade during which the likes of Portsmouth, Birmingham City, Middlesbrough and, most recently Swansea, have lifted a trophy of one type or another, the Everton cabinet has remained empty.
His experience of the Champions League, meanwhile, is restricted to the couple of qualifying games Everton played against Villareal in 2005 when they lost 2-1 both home and away.
In short, for all his undoubted qualities, he remains a significant risk for a club like United. He is available now because he has grown increasingly frustrated with Everton’s inability to back his judgement financially.
Moyes is neither as funny nor as fiery as the man who has won 13 titles and two Champions Leagues during his 27 years in charge but he certainly shares both Ferguson’s hunger to control every aspect of his dressing room.
But the players he may be about to inherit will already reckon they are better than he has worked with before and so, if the appointment is confirmed, Ferguson is likely to have a role to play in impressing upon them the need to respect his successor.
If it is to work, Ferguson will need to learn not to cast nearly such a long shadow but Moyes, more than anything, will have to show he is not prepared to live in one.