As he would later describe it, David Moyes had nothing to do with his hiring to the most important coaching position in the world.
Last spring, the then Everton manager got a call from Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson. Moyes was summoned to Ferguson’s home. He left his wife in the midst of a shopping trip to hurry over there.
Once arrived, Ferguson announced he was retiring after 26 years in charge and that Moyes was the new United manager.
“I didn’t get the chance to say yes or no,” Moyes recalled.
It was the beginning of one of history’s great succession disasters – a British specialty.
On Tuesday morning, following a day of widespread rumours, Moyes was fired by United after only 11 months in charge. He will be replaced in the interim by one of the team’s golden generation, Ryan Giggs.
As he retold the story of his arrival, Moyes didn’t seem to understand how poorly it reflected on him – rushing over like a valet to be told he was quitting his job.
This was the running theme in Moyes’s reign – a man who never quite got it.
Moyes showed up in a flurry of self-defeating activity, firing the backroom staff of a championship team and replacing them with his own men. He took a club already under enormous pressure and added much more – a stricter regime, a relentless training regimen.
Lacking political savvy and connections, he made a hash of trying to sign several big players, including ones he’d already coached. The names leaked out – Cesc Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara, Leighton Baines. As each one shied from joining United, another conceptual dart was planted in Moyes’ back.
In the end, the only person who would take his money was Marouane Fellaini. After spending $50-million (Cdn.) on the doltish Belgian, Moyes decided he preferred him on the bench.
Most dangerously, he also had ideas.
Moyes got the job on the basis of his run at Everton – a former powerhouse that no longer had the money or aspiration to push into the top four. Moyes’ sides were never any fun to watch, but they were consistent in a brutalist way.
United was an entirely different beast – a top club with top players and the money to buy more if you don’t like the ones you found under the Christmas tree. Nonetheless, Moyes could not alter his approach.
Gifted a high-performance vehicle, he retrofitted it into a tank.
Where United had once been one of the most nimble and cerebral sides in Europe, it transformed overnight into a sluggish, brainless collective plodding up the field like a zombie parade. No matter what they tried, it always ended the same way – a cross into the box no one was there to receive.
That was Moyes’s signal failure – making Manchester United boring.
Though saying all the right things in public, his players rebelled immediately. It was there to see in their lackluster play.
Moyes lost three of his first six Premiership games. Under Ferguson the previous year, United lost five in total. This was essentially the same group.
Ferguson ostensibly picked Moyes because he saw a great deal of himself in the 50-year-old Scot. One does wonder if there is a more Machiavellian reason – because he knew Moyes would fail, thereby burnishing the memory of his own tenure.
Away from the field, Moyes could muster none of Ferguson’s signature hauteur – nervously prevaricating his way through press conferences as the water level began to hit his chin. He never seemed in charge. The fans eventually hated him for it.
The final blow was a loss on the weekend to his former club, Everton. Their new manager, Roberto Martinez, has imbued Moyes’ sloggers with Spanish flair. Working with the same roster, they are suddenly one of the most exciting clubs in England. And they’re winning.
Everton eased past United 2-0, exposing not only the bigger club’s faults, but also the flimsiness of Moyes’ resume.
It would have been easier to let Moyes stagger on until the end of the season in three weeks’ time, but its clear that the rebuild may take years. The new boss will have, at the outside, one season to do it. Best to start now.
Perversely, what Moyes has proven at United is the worth of an elite manager.
Ferguson famously did very little actual work. He left the training, coaching and tactics to assistants. He spent most of his days on the phone, gossiping and chasing players around the world. He ruled from a remove. The distance gave him stature.
He had an unerring instinct about when to apply pressure – rarely. His value showed in results, rather than in process.
Moyes was all activity, all the time. He lived that bone-headed coaching credo that suggests any man who doesn’t fall asleep at his desk is a shirker. He rode his players. In return, they destroyed him.
United will now target one of the world’s top bosses – someone who (unlike Moyes) has won things. The early favourites on that list – Holland’s Louis van Gaal, Paris St-Germain’s Laurent Blanc, Borussia Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp.
None of those men will go rushing over to England to be told what to do. They’ll wait to be courted. They understand that presuming that luxury is the first, best sign you’re ready to do the job.