The irony is that Ferguson knew how to adapt. He’d seen off rivals, internal dissent, ownership struggles, oligarchs and the rise of a new media age. But Ferguson got his final, biggest, decision wrong. Not that it was a decision made rashly or for the wrong reasons, but for the wrong era. And doomed to fail for a reason even Ferguson, *especially* Ferguson, must’ve feared: there is only one Alex Ferguson.
A vote for Moyes was Sir Alex’s last great statement of principle. A vote for a real football man: a man of discipline, honesty and application; a man who’d learned his trade and knew his roots. Ferguson’s appointment of Moyes was at once unexpected, yet entirely typical: one final attempt to bend history and the march of time to his iron will. In short, it was a vote for patience in an accelerated culture that the youthful Ferguson would no longer recognize.
Ferguson’s expectation of patience – or rather, patience for someone so unproven from fans and players who’d only ever known a sure thing – in a dizzying, transactional twitter culture of #emotions and knee-jerk opinions, was an act of hubris too far. Ferguson thought he could give the world a gift of values and impart some of the anachronistic principles that were so intertwined with his 27 years of success. But as Moyes’ season deteriorated leaving United drifting haplessly outside the top four, fans were forced to look into the mirror for the first time and make an ugly realization. Values are desirable, but success is non-negotiable.
There’s a caveat, sure. If United hadn’t been quite so vaporous in defeat, like an AI sub-routine of a football team hoofing crosses listlessly into the percentile zones, then that patience might have been extended. But thrilling losses are still losses and at some stage, there’s an expectation of tangible reward. All Moyes managed to do was twist a chocolate teapot into barbwire slippers, with the defining defeat at Everton becoming the passing equivalent of the crossing performance against Fulham.
Ferguson might’ve survived longer, but he possessed the dog food of dual attributes: pedigree and charm. Moyes had neither: a softly spoken, honorable chap with the charisma of a household plug, and less valuable silverware than Gerald Ratner. Ferguson arrived at United as a serial SPL league champion and UEFA Cup winner, while Moyes had a solitary Division Two medal – an achievement that doesn’t even merit an ‘Honours’ section on his Wikipedia entry.
Irrespective, Ferguson could charm a bee into stinging itself, a masterful politician and actor; unafraid to kick a boot into the face of England’s most feted young star, or act like he’d taken one when informed of Rooney’s desire to leave for City in a press conference that remains his finest nuanced performance. Even after 24 years of success, Fergie knew when humility, however bitter, was the right pill to swallow.
Shorn of these twin gifts, and in a caffeine culture demanding of sound-bytes and success, Moyes was forced to live out his own Shakespearean tragedy, like the true Scottish play. Ferguson took an almost unthinkable six years to win his first league title at United, but this was a world without rolling news wires, mobile phones or Sunday trading. It’s not inconceivable that Moyes has been filmed, scrutinized and opined about in several million more flashbulbs, keystrokes and memes in 11 months than Ferguson faced in his first 11 years. A modern manager endures a lifetime of crowd-sourced scrutiny every single day, as affections oscillate from match to match, churned by twitter’s cruel omni-tide – as witnessed by the hypnotizing pendulum of #Moyesin and #Moyesout.
The madness is that the appointment of Mourinho was, allegedly, considered too short-term. Less than a year on, the volatile manager who comes with a freakish, nigh-on guarantee of success is still incumbent, while the only ‘long-term’ aspect of Moyes’ reality is his summer holiday. Ferguson’s appeal to patience and principles was admirable, but a betrayal of his uncanny ability to gauge and adapt to reality that had allowed him to reign supreme for 27 years.
As The Independent’s Sam Wallace notes of nouveau riche, serial hirers and firers Chelsea: “The lesson they learned from Andre Villas-Boas’ short-lived reign was not that it was best to give a failing manager more time but rather to act quickly”. The greatest gift Sir Alex could have given David Moyes wasn’t an appeal for patience, but the toolkit of success.