Dion Fanning: Master's blessing only adds to burden
David Moyes will need to be himself as he takes control at Old Trafford, says
David Moyes could probably have done nothing on Friday to combat the feeling of slight disappointment that he is not Alex Ferguson – or José Mourinho – so instead he emphasised the anti-climax.
He was here, he pointed out, because Alex Ferguson had wanted him to be manager. The story of his appointment, of the meeting in Alex Ferguson's house – "You're the next Manchester United manager" – suggested he had as little to do with it as anybody else, apart from Alex Ferguson. Later on he would refer to the moment when "I got the job from Sir Alex".
The word humbling is usually used by people when they are feeling the exact opposite. On Friday, Moyes was humble, open and willing. He sounded like a man who could admit to his mistakes. He sounded unlike everything we have come to expect from a Manchester United manager. Moyes stressed that his appointment ensured continuity. He deferred to Ferguson – who was absent only in person – whenever he was brought up, but on his nervous opening he sounded nothing like the man he is happy to have as a mentor.
Perhaps the menace will appear given time and will be drawn out through the stresses of failure or, as they were for Ferguson, through the stresses of victory. On Friday, he was entirely reasonable, apologising when he made too much noise as Nemanja Vidic answered a question. He had the bearing of a man trying to slip quietly into a theatre after the curtain had gone up.
Later he would expand on the story of his appointment but the central theme remained the same. Alex Ferguson had the power. This, Moyes felt, buttressed his CV. There were other managers out there who had won more trophies but he was the one Ferguson wanted and that, more than anything else, gave him the confidence he could do the job. "I hope it won't change me because the reason I got here was because of the way I was."
There was no swagger and no performance as there was with José Mourinho at Chelsea. The detailed story of his appointment sounded like a study in suburban mores. He had been in Altrincham with his wife, getting a link removed from a watch she had bought him for his 50th birthday, when the call from Ferguson came.
Ferguson asked if Moyes could drop over to see him but he was wearing jeans and he didn't want to call to Ferguson's house in jeans. But there wasn't enough time to get home and change so he dropped his wife at a shopping centre in Cheadle and headed over to Ferguson's house to hear the news that he'd been appointed manager of Manchester United.
"I would never, ever go to a meeting with Sir Alex with a pair of jeans on," he said with a smile. "I thought, 'I can't do this' so that shows you I knew nothing."
Moyes' story reveals Ferguson's power. When he got the call, he wondered what it was about. "I said to the wife, 'Ah no, what is it he wants? He either wants me to take someone on loan or he's coming to buy one of my players'." In fact, Moyes himself was the target of Ferguson's recruitment policy and he was a willing target.
Sir Alex made a cup of tea and told Moyes he would be the next manager of Manchester United. Moyes left and collected his wife from Cheadle shopping centre. "She must have thought, 'There's something up with him'. And I told her, 'I'm the Manchester United manager'. I can't repeat what she said."
Moyes then had to keep a secret. "Sir Alex had said to me I could only tell my wife, so I couldn't even tell my children."
He kept the secret from the Thursday to the following Tuesday when the rumours started. His family were as proud and excited as he was.
In a world of the weary and the arrogant, Moyes' joy was something different. He spoke of his excitement for others as well, but it remains to be seen if Wayne Rooney is as thrilled to remain at Manchester United as Moyes is to be there.
Moyes said it would be "impossible" to match Ferguson's achievements but he dismissed the idea that the job as successor was impossible.
"I heard so many people saying you don't want to follow Sir Alex, you don't do that, who's going to take on that job. But I think everybody would take on that job because of what it is. As I said, he's left me a really good team, I'm really fortunate. We've got good players, it gives me a great chance, he's been really supportive. The most important person in this has been Sir Alex when he said, 'You are the candidate we wanted and we want you to take the job'. That was the biggest thing for me. But it is a daunting job."
On Friday, Moyes didn't try to be something he is not. He embraced the aspects of life at Manchester United that would be different. Keeping a large squad happy was "new," he said, wondering about rotation, something Ferguson did better than anybody, evidenced by the fact that rotation was talked about less at Manchester United than at other clubs.
Ferguson had the authority and now Moyes will need it. "I've tended not to have such big squads but I think the amount of games they have to play is the thing we keep going back to. The hardest part of being a manager is telling players they're not in the team. But if you've got a good squad, then you can say, 'Hey, get the jersey and if you're playing well and we're winning, it's easy enough for me to say stay in it'."
Moyes was chosen to provide continuity, yet he is new to everything at Manchester United. He met the Glazers and their message was to keep the club moving along before telling him "there are no great expectations" which may have been a comforting if misplaced assertion.
The players may think differently and they could judge him on how he handles the problem of Wayne Rooney. Rooney certainly will.
Moyes insisted Rooney was not for sale and issued the kind of denials that, in football, often come before a transfer. But he couldn't speak for Rooney so when he was asked if the player wanted "categorically" to stay at United, he talked about how well he was training.
There are plenty of United supporters who would be happy for Rooney to go but Moyes' understandable fear is what a revitalised Rooney could do at another English club and it is hard to imagine Rooney anywhere other than at an English club.
Moyes must now re-imagine Manchester United without Alex Ferguson. Last week, he began by stressing that Manchester United wouldn't really be without him at all. "Who wouldn't want Sir Alex as a mentor? He'll have opinions and there may be times which I'll do things which maybe he wouldn't do."
If he is to survive – despite the six-year contract – he will have to be himself, even if some fear he doesn't have the personality for the job. "I'm not going to change everything he's done but in time it has to become David Moyes' team."
A different type of manager might have acted like none of this was new to him but Moyes spoke in awe of the size of the club and how he had spent last week trying to meet everyone at the training ground – "It's so big". Ferguson often spoke excitedly about the enormity of Manchester United when he first arrived but he was never awestruck in the dressing room.
Ferguson had quickly concluded that he needed to go to war which, despite all the obstacles, at least made the job straightforward. Moyes has a better squad but he needs to persuade the league champions that he is the man to lead them.
Ferguson was given time. Moyes doesn't expect it. "I don't think you can ever ask for time now. I think all you can ask is to be judged on how it goes. I don't think time is something managers tend to get."