London – By sacking David Moyes as manager after less than a season in charge, Manchester United contravened the principles explicitly laid out by his illustrious predecessor Alex Ferguson.
Ferguson was granted a three-and-a-half-year grace period before winning the first of his 38 trophies as United manager, in 1990, and he expected his successor, who he hand-picked himself, to be shown the same patience.
His instruction to United fans to “get behind our new manager” on a rain-lashed day at Old Trafford last May was intended as a rallying cry, but instead it became a millstone around the club’s neck.
As Moyes lurched from disaster to disaster, seemingly incapable of preventing the club from sinking into crisis, the one constant in his favour was the consensus that sacking managers was “not the United way”.
After initially showing support, however, the board decided that it could no longer stand by and watch Ferguson’s empire crumble, regardless of the instructions he had left behind.
Had Moyes seen out his six-year contract, he would have become United’s third longest-serving post-war manager, behind only Ferguson and United’s other great Scottish figurehead, Matt Busby.
Instead, he became the club’s third shortest-serving manager, after Walter Crickmer (1931-32) and Lal Hilditch (1926-27), overseeing only 51 matches, of which he won just 27.
The club’s decision to dismiss him reflected the huge differences between the football landscape that provided the backdrop for Ferguson’s appointment and the terrain that greeted Moyes on his arrival in 2013.
Whereas United had not lifted the English title for 18 years when Ferguson was appointed in November 1986, Moyes’s job was to take command of the juggernaut that his predecessor had built.
Ferguson hoped the structures he had put in place would allow Moyes – who failed to win a trophy in his 11 years at Everton – to slot seamlessly into place, thereby enabling United to maintain a tradition of appointing promising, hungry, British managers.
It was for these reasons that United opted for Moyes, rather than a brash upstart such as Jose Mourinho, but the former Everton manager’s subsequent failure laid bare the shortcomings in their recruitment process.
As one journalist observed on Twitter: “No club brings more/better data to financial/commercial business. Yet appoints manager on handshake and a nod.”
The emphasis now will be on finding a manager with a proven track-record at the highest level of the European game capable of undoing the damage that Moyes has inflicted.
While Ryan Giggs will take charge of the first team in the interim, the names being linked with the job on a permanent basis – Louis van Gaal, Diego Simeone, Jurgen Klopp – make it likely that United will appoint a manager hailing from outside the British Isles for the very first time.
The fear, for United’s fans, is that by not showing Moyes the patience that Ferguson had called for, the club risks falling into a pattern of hiring and firing more typically associated with hated rivals Chelsea.
Gary Neville, the former United captain turned media pundit, alluded to those specific concerns when he lamented United's decision to part ways with Moyes.
“I think there is a way of decency with dealing with people,” he said.
“Football managers now just get tossed around, chucked about, disregarded, rubbished. Decent men, good men, just get thrown away. And that’s not just David Moyes, that’s all the way through football.”
The move also met with disapproval from some United fans, with phrases such as “disgraceful decision” and “knee-jerk reaction” dotting the BBC’s online message boards.
But whether United have betrayed their traditions or not, the Moyes experiment at least means that the club’s next manager will not have to step directly into Ferguson's shoes.
As former England striker Gary Lineker remarked on Twitter: “Always thought the manager’s job to have at Manchester United was the one after the one after Sir Alex.” — Sapa-AFP