“Lesson One. Never, ever, agree to take over from a legend. Someone is bound to end up disappointed.”

So Manchester United let go their decent man manager David Moyes after just ten months in the job. And with him goes the myth that somehow United where above the petty desperation that has infected other Premiership clubs (he’s the tenth to lose his job this season).

Like the idea that the club was founded on a base of home grown players, the generous time of grace Alex Ferguson had was rooted in the past and a completely different league system where taking the lion’s share of the prize money was not the only key to success.

The contrast with Moyes hasty defenestration is remarkable, especially when some people are giving him stick about not developing the youth side of the team.

This appointment by anointment failed because Ferguson failed to take account for the fact the climate change that he exploited so well requires not another young him, but the multidirectional skills of a modern CEO.

Simon Kuper pretty much nails the reasons (£) for the success of the UK’s most high profile PLC success which may also now constitute some of its biggest problems:

…United’s golden age may be over. From 2008 through to 2011, the club enjoyed statistically its best period: three English titles and three Champions League finals, one of which was won. Those days aren’t coming back, not even if the Glazers meet expectations by spending close to £200m on new players this summer.

Given the inflation at the top end of the transfer market, and United’s need for several world-class players, even £200m might not be enough to match Chelsea or Manchester City. Ferguson could compete with them despite United’s lower spending, but then Ferguson was an almost unmatched overachiever.

Money buys success in football and several clubs now have more money than United. From 1997 through 2004, United topped the consultancy Deloitte’s “rich list” of European football clubs ranked by revenues. In 2012-13, United dropped out of the top three for the first time since Deloitte began compiling the list. Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich now have higher revenues.

Moreover, Chelsea, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain have oil-rich owners who pump money in rather than sucking it out. By the logic of the market that means there are six clubs in Europe more likely to win the Champions League than United.

In the domestic league, by the same logic, the club’s natural position is now third behind Chelsea and Manchester City. (Less wealthy Liverpool will probably win this season’s Premier League, but their overachievement is probably unique in recent English history.)

United’s biggest problem isn’t David Moyes. It’s money.

Andrew Hill follows up with a few bullet point lessons from ‘Assistant Professor Moyes’:

Lesson One. Never, ever, agree to take over from a legend. Someone is bound to end up disappointed. (Just ask Jeff Immelt at General Electric – and he’s had nearly a decade and a half to convince shareholders it doesn’t matter that he’s not Jack Welch.)

Lesson Two. If you must take over from a legend, do try to make sure that said legend is either dead, distant or otherwise unable to turn up every week to watch how you’re doing your job. (Chief executives whose predecessor was recently elevated to the chairmanship may sympathise.)

The road back to the European cash cow is now at least 18 months away. Unprecedented in the recent history of the club. Yet they can ride the loss of earnings easily enough. The trouble is the whole business model is based on cleaning debt and allaying the anxiety of shareholders.

That’s a lot of expectation for any new manager to take on.

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  • megatron

    I think this “never take over from a legend” stuff is a load of nonsense. A classic case of confirmation bias resulting from old fashioned regression towards the mean.

    In most cases you do actually want to take over from a legend. Ask Michael Martin.

    Reminds me of the “you dont want to be the favourites” crap. Tell that to the Faroe Islands.

  • Mick Fealty

    Bob Paisley might be a better reference meg?

  • Nordie Northsider

    Reminds me of the “you dont want to be the favourites” crap. Tell that to the Faroe Islands.

    A close relative of ‘Sometimes, it’s easier playing with ten men’. As for Moyes I don’t think it’s the failure to win anything that led to his downfall. I think most people were resigned to a fallow period. It was the utterly witless, clod-hopping surrender that marked games with City, Liverpool and, for God’s sake Olympiakos.

  • Mick Fealty

    The correlation between money spent and success in the premiership is almost exact. So you can stick loss of a long term structural advantage over its rivals on top of everything else.

  • derrydave

    Hmmmm Mick, so Utd this season lost their long term structural advantage over Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs, and Everton did they ??

    Unfortunately for David Moyes the move to a club of Utds size simply proved to be too much for him – he was completely out of his depth. It’s pretty amazing really that he even lasted this long given the horribly listless performances from his team, followed inevitably by Moyes claiming they’d actually played well and either were unlucky or else gave away poor goals at the wrong time yadda, yadda, yadda.

    Utd should have gone for Mourinho whilst he was still at Madrid.

  • I declare an interest.
    All bit the first five years of my life spent as a Manchester United fan.
    Taking over from a legend….the record is a bit mixed.
    Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan did ok in succeeding Bill Shankley.
    They were of course all football men.
    On the other hand Wilf McGuinness succeeded Matt Busby.
    Wilf was a Busby Babe….a contemporary of legends like Charlton, Brennan, Foulkes and Stiles.
    When his senior career ended around 1960 (bad injuries) he played in Uniteds reserve team for years and was coach.
    And was Busbys annointed successor in 1969.
    A grave error, he was only around 30 and actually younger than some of his mates….now his players.
    He lost friends, lost his job and even lost his hair.
    It set in chain a series of events…O’Farrell, Docherty (dont start me) and even relegation which did not cost Docherty his job. He lost his job under tackier cirumstances.
    So I see Moyes as Wilf McGuinness…he just wasnt up to it.
    Even if HE was….the Everton staff who followed him were not.

    Ferguson….was a pretty ruthless manager.
    When you felt that hairdryer, then Moyes was always going to come across as softer.
    With a lot of deadwood at the club, it was pretty obvious that Fergie was worth twelve points a season. Most United fans assumed that a Top Four place was going to be as good as it got.
    For thats really the name of the game. United have done exceptionally well to always finish in the Top Three of the Premiership.
    For there IS a Big Seven…who supply the Top Four.
    Generally United, Chelsea, City and Arsenal in recent years.
    But at least two of the Big Seven (Liverpool and Everton) have improved and Spurs are still there.
    But United are now the worst team in this Mini League.
    Deservedly so.
    Deadwood. Too many coasters.
    Too many players that look good in a mid table team and cant hack it at the top level….Young, Smalling, Cleverlley, Jones, Evans.
    Giggs and Fletcher no longer in their prime.
    Valencia has gone backwards since injury.
    Fellaini….sheesh. Bring back Djemba Djemba and Kleberson.
    Nani….dont start me on that fella.

    Hopefully the title will go to Liverpool….if its about Football. At least they owe most of their success to honourable tradition, a fan base and action on the field rather than a “money men”
    Yes of course we would have to listen to them all over the summer
    John Bishop, Michael Howard, Mel C and the rest.
    But they can come back when its 21.

  • DC

    Good point Derrydave

    Mick doesn’t Man U’s downfall this season contradict your own previous analysis that Man U got in and won the EPL early on pocketing more money over others and all that that club had to do to stay ahead of others was a simple trimming of the sails to stay on course, stay on top?

  • Mick Fealty


    This is what I actually said (when trying to explain how Fergie keep his job as unfeasibly long as he did) (http://goo.gl/5U2HK)…

    “What’s actually shocking about the English Premiership is just how far the two Manchester clubs are ahead of everyone else. As Brennan points out the damage was done with the establishment of the Premiership. The gap between the top and even the residents of mid table mediocrity is impossible to bridge without a sugar daddy of epic proportions.

    The uncompetitiveness of the Premiership is a cumulative function of its original structure; with rewards for clubs being graded from top to bottom. The further influence of European money has created an all but invisible cliff edge between those top clubs who regularly make Europe and those who don’t.”

    Which fits with this from Kuper…

    “From 1997 through 2004, United topped the consultancy Deloitte’s “rich list” of European football clubs ranked by revenues. In 2012-13, United dropped out of the top three for the first time since Deloitte began compiling the list.”

    The invisible cliff is visible to everyone below it and is ignored by those above it… There is a time pressure on Utd now that means they have to regain success in order for the model of excellence to stay in place…

  • Harry Flashman

    I’m always amazed at the double standards when it comes to dealing with different types of multinational corporations.

    If the corporation actually does something productive like extract vital energy sources that provide heat and transportation for billions of people around the world, or it spends billions of dollars of its own money to develop vitally needed medicines, it is universally reviled and its well-paid executives are derided as fat-cats and parasites on society and despoilers of the earth.

    If on the other hand the multinational corporation simply organizes 11 over-paid, otherwise unemployable, young men to run up and down a field for 90 minutes kicking a football, people actually treat it like a part of their family and pay small fortunes to wear the company’s corporate logo as unpaid advertising.

    It’s truly bizarre. Can you imagine anyone saying they’ve been a lifelong supporter of Exxon or Glaxo? They’d be treated as lunatics.

  • David Crookes

    Mick, that’s the best article on the subject that I have read. Thanks. Plenty of lessons for politicians here. People can do very well in their own time for as long as their own time lasts.

  • cynic2

    Is this a lesson for Pete The Prod? All he can do is fail!

  • zep

    Couldn’t agree more Harry. I am a lifelong football fanatic however I try to remind myself that it is purely entertainment. The money in the game nowadays is obscene, as is the credence we give to the utterances of footballers who seem to occupy some bizarre coveted place in our society. As a sport I think it is unmatched but as an industry…

    BTW anyone who wants a real riches-to-rags story should check out our own (Irish) Premier League – a thoroughly mediocre Glentoran defeating bitter rivals (and relative high-rollers) Linfield on their own turf to hand a second successive title to Cliftonville, who came from way back to win it. That’s real football!

  • Floreat Ultonia

    “It’s truly bizarre. Can you imagine anyone saying they’ve been a lifelong supporter of Exxon or Glaxo? They’d be treated as lunatics”

    Aren’t we all lifelong supporters of Proctor/Gamble and Unilever? Given that they produce about 90% of the supposed choice in the cleaning product aisles.

  • Niall Noigiallach

    I don’t think his sacking had anything to do with the fact that he was following a legend. Moyes ensured that from the outset, he would make it as difficult as possible for himself to succeed. The insistence on bringing in his own coaching staff who were not as experienced or decorated as the United staff already in place (Jimmy Lumsden turned up on day one in a pair of shorts looking like he won the lottery). The awful pre-season in the far east, the complaining of facing City, Chelsea and Liverpool in the opening fixtures and his assertion after the 2-2 draw at White Hart Lane that the top 4 would “look after itself”.

    Had Moyes been any other nationality but Scottish he would never have stood a chance of getting the job in the first place. His close relationship with Fergie on the League Managers Association combined with his Glaswegian background ensured he did. A romantic appointment devoid of all reality, Gary Neville called it “sanity in football”. It was meant to salvage the game back from the clutches of corporatism, Bosman, free agent contracts and mega TV deals. To stem the tide against the onslaught on the 3:00pm Saturday kick-off. But only the most optimistic thought that Moyes would succeed.

    His fate was sealed when he alluded to the squad he inherited from Fergusaon as being incapable of mounting a proper challenge for the top 4. It is rumoured Ferguson himself took major offence at this and has been in agreement since February that Moyes should go. His lack of tactical awareness or trust in any of United’s creative attacking players only served as evidence that actual credentials i.e trophies and success should be sought after when looking to fill a position at one of Europe’s elite clubs. He fined Cleverly, Welbeck and Young a few weeks ago for going on a night out when they had four days off and no actuall game for a further 10 days after, dispite the fact that a week earlier a senior player arrived an hour late for training looking worse for wear and was merely “spoken to”.

    Dithering Dave has only himself to blame. Zero qualifications and zero trophies only meant one thing, total and absolute failure. Interesting to see that he had counsel yesterday from an LMA representative when he shunned the counsel of the senior players under his command during his time at OT.

  • Floreat Ultonia

    PS Cliftonville are actually seeded in next term’s European Cup. They’ll play a team from either Gibraltar, San Marino or Andorra.

  • Mick Fealty


    “Lesson Three. If your success depends on the quality of your team, and the quality of your team depends on how much the shareholders will pay to maintain it, don’t take a job where the owners are bent only on squeezing costs and assets. (Chief executives of investment banks, please note.)

    Lesson Four. It’s going to take time to convince the team that you’re the right person to take charge. At least make sure that you gain enough of their confidence to achieve one of your key performance indicators – whether that’s a place in the Champions’ League or a quarterly sales target.”

  • Kensei


    The summer events that sealed Moyes fate was the utter disaster in the transfer market – and I’m not sure how much of that was his fault.

    Ferguson massively overachieved in his last few seasons, and last season in particular they’d have been in serious risk of failure without Van Persie’s goals. Who has been out injured for most of this season…

  • Mick Fealty

    Not getting him in at the start didn’t help. I don’t think they are going to make that mistake again.

  • They replace the most successful football manager in their history who won five out of the last seven EPL titles (and managed second in the other two) with a guy who won nothing in ten years at Everton. They got the Everton result – no trophies and seventh. The amazing thing is that anyone is surprised that he was a failure. It is a bit like replacing the CEO of Tesco with the Spar manager on the Springfield Road.

    I don’t buy into the “impossible job” scenario. Guardiola’s Bayern won everything last year including Champions League and has already improved them.

  • Niall Noigiallach


    The Dithering One only had himself to blame for the transfer market fiasco last summer. The pondered and pondered over Thiago Alcantara, sought personality checks on the lad and proved indecisive. Then Pep swept in and took him to Bayern and the rest as they say is history. He then began to publicy court Leighton Baines and focus his concentration there as other targets took a back seat. Never mind being a slap in the face for Patrice Evra in public, Moyes contradicted his own words as Everton boss when he said Everton’s talent wouldn’t come cheap or wouldn’t be available at all. He then got into a bidding war with himself over Fellaini. The only thing missing was the Benny Hill music!

    I agree that Fergie overachieved the past few years but 1st to 7th in no time is the mark of a charlatan and not a top class manager.


    I agree 100%, not getting him in right away baffled me at the time but then you look at Martinez when he stepped into Moyes’ role at Goodison on the same day. I think it’ll be the same again this time round but for the reason that United will take their time with the next appointment. Strong rumours today that the fans shouldn’t expect anyone until the end of May. Still earlier than Moyes starting on July 1st last year but with the World Cup in June you would think that something would need to happen ASAP.

  • abucs

    I have felt that the quality of the ‘Red Devils’ playing roster has progressively been getting worse year on year for a very long time.

    In addition the money being splashed around at other clubs has made it much harder to dominate the league.

    For me, hats off to Ferguson and/or staff who have managed to get such good results for such a long time.

    If only they’d have gone to Spurs!!