Fergie's desire to control everything – even his own legacy – spelled disaster for Moyes
Published 01/05/2014 | 02:30
"Unless you bite the hand that feeds you – you will never escape.''
Over the past few days, the sacked, humiliated and discarded former Manchester United manager, David Moyes, has been soaking up some sun on a Florida beach. But whether or not it can be any kind of a relaxing holiday is a moot point given that – at least for the immediate future – he cannot but be tortured by countless thoughts of what might have been.
He will inevitably replay in his own mind how things could have been so different. But of the many images locked in his subconscious, the glowering and judgmental facial features of his predecessor, Alex Ferguson, will surely cast a long shadow.
Fergie's ever-brooding presence, as he sat taut on his high-profile Old Trafford seat, was captured in far too many television shots. It mirrored the long drawn out agony, which was the David Moyes reign at United, from the beginning to its ignominious end.
The results on the field of play may tell their own tale. But it is also impossible not to feel that Moyes was the victim of some very rough justice indeed.
For here was a man who simply wasn't given enough time – or psychological space – to really do the job he was hired to do. The judge, jury, and executioner, which is ill-informed public opinion really, did for him in the end.
David Moyes looked a haunted figure, from almost the very moment Ferguson spoke godlike from the Old Trafford ground. The message was simple. He might be departing into the uplands of retirement, but his all-powerful legacy, and influence on the club, would remain. Moyes was the "chosen one'' as he saw it. He even felt the need to tell the crowd they should back his self-appointed heir.
This set the tone for what would be the Moyes era in charge.
Yes, he was the top man – but only because he was supposed to be cast in the mould of his predecessor. After all was that not why the great man had selected him? But this certainly wasn't the ideal situation for somebody plunged into a high-stakes job, trying to carve out their own niche and identity.
As the months went by, Moyes became increasingly fearful, isolated, and radiated a palpable sense of defeatism. Inevitably he soon began to suffer from that most debilitating of management weaknesses – hesitancy.
This in turn led to a feeling the club was trapped in a vortex of inaction. All the while the residue of the Ferguson era remained omnipresent.
It was manifest in many ways – not least in the attitude of some of the previous manager's more indulged players.
Time will show that the failure of Moyes to completely cut the cord with the previous era at the club cost him his job.
On the other hand if he had adopted the Edna O'Brien motif – and bit the very hand that had fed him – this truism from the Irish novelist might have saved his career.
But it has to be acknowledged, the towering presence of Ferguson, still pervading the place in one guise or another, made things unnecessarily difficult for him.
Moyes should have also noted that the word "control'' features regularly in the Ferguson biography. The former manager assured us repeatedly that maintaining an aura of total dominance was how he got things done.
However, an inability to fully accept his days of being the boss man were over. Even when he had departed the manager's job, it was reflected in the belief that he could choose a successor in his own mould.
The decision to retain a seat on the Manchester United board, and attend games in such high-profile fashion, was further indication of his unwillingness to completely let go.
But, perversely, the departure of his man Moyes is likely to signal the real end of the Ferguson era, and the "control'' he still enjoyed from afar.
If as seems likely, a manager of proven international stature gets the job, he will not brook any interference from the man who reigned so long as one of the dominant personalities in world football.
Maybe Ferguson finally realises the tide is going out.
This could be why some reports suggest he is backing Ryan Giggs – somebody still in thrall to his presence – for the job.
Giggs may have been a sublime artist on the playing field, but as Roy Keane discovered to his cost, being a great footballer is no guarantee of managerial success.
For his part Alex Ferguson was indeed a football manager of genius – but the curtain has now fallen on that long-running drama.
He has got his fine wine collection, his racehorses, and dollops of money to travel the world.
And he has got countless golden memories to warm his heart.
That should be enough to walk away from the Theatre of Dreams, completely and finally, with no ifs, buts, or maybes.
He must leave the centre stage to someone new – who should given the time and space to act out a different drama – only as they see fit.