Handing Moyes keys to the bus a huge gamble
It was one of Alex Ferguson's favourite management allegories. Every season he would trot it out, telling his players that Manchester United were like a bus, engaged in a perpetual journey, always moving on to the next destination.
There was no time to dwell on previous stops, the forward momentum was all that mattered. If the players stayed on board, Ferguson counselled, and did not deviate from the route, the rewards would be immense. But always remember this: the bus was much bigger than the passengers.
He will be relieved then that, in the matter of his own retirement, the bus appears to be in full working order. There has barely been time to stand and admire his astonishing achievements over the past quarter of a century, no more than a day or two to consider the scale of his contribution before the bus has moved on. Now the interest is no longer in the man who used to be at the wheel. Now it is centred on who will be its next driver. That is how he would have liked it.
The anointed one is David Moyes. For the personable, intelligent, driven Scotsman it will represent the opportunity he has been striving for all his coaching career, the chance to work without the claustrophobic financial restrictions that circumscribed his decade-long tenure at Everton, the chance to compete at the very pinnacle of the game. For United, however, it represents a sizeable gamble.
When Ferguson was appointed in 1986, he arrived in Manchester already a serial winner. He had lifted trophies in Scotland, he had won a European title with Aberdeen, he had shifted the country's centre of footballing gravity some 150 miles to the north-east. Moyes has won nothing.
Not a single piece of silverware has been deposited in the Goodison Park vaults since his arrival from Preston in 2002. Moreover, for all his skill at developing young players and fostering a cohesive team spirit, there are those who point out that at Everton he frequently failed to seize opportunity when it came his way. Not least this season, when his team capitulated to Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Sure, there would be risk involved in whoever the club chose to succeed Ferguson. Ferguson transcended his sport, turning what was an underachieving husk of a place living on its memories into a byword for the ruthless accumulation of success.
His boots are so sizeable it is impossible anyone could fill them without, at some point, failing in the comparison. If they plumped for a multiple achiever like Jose Mourinho, a man of such substantial self-esteem he would not be remotely worried about working in anyone's shadow, his employment history suggests he would not stick around long enough to nurture those parts of the operation Ferguson has expended so much energy developing. As for the proposition that United might make a romantic appointment and promote from within, seamlessly switching Ryan Giggs from the pitch to the dugout, well not this time.
Thanks to Ferguson, United are now an institution on a financial scale which could not countenance an experiment of that order.
So it is to be Moyes. And in his appointment we can see Ferguson's hand at work. He has done enough in his time at United to be afforded a privilege rare in football of choosing his successor. He has long admired his fellow Glaswegian, recognising in him many of the traits he values about those who hail from his home city, characteristics that once made him try to recruit Moyes as his assistant.
He sees the younger Scot as a mirror image of himself, a man hewn from the same piece of west-of-Scotland granite, a sort of tartan mini-me. Someone who will run the club he built as he wishes them to be run. And that in itself is a risk: going for the same type when the original model hovers in the background, offering a constant point of comparison.
Ferguson will be aware, too, of the gamble inherent in his selection of a manager with sparse Champions League experience to a club who define themselves on their European prowess.
But Ferguson has always been a speculator, making big calls has characterised his career. From selling David Beckham to dropping Wayne Rooney, he has never shirked from jeopardy, always backing himself to make the right call.
Moyes, he no doubt hopes, will be his last selection gamble. What remains to be seen is whether, this time next year, if United are no higher than third in the Premier League and have been dumped early from Champions League and FA Cup, Ferguson will be required once more to step in and decide who should next take control of the bus. (© Daily Telegraph, London)