James Lawton: Moyes ends up biggest loser in post-Ferguson battleground
David Moyes didn't hear the Old Trafford ghosts rattling as he was given one of football's greatest prizes when Alex Ferguson walked away from his last game as Manchester United manager four years ago to this day with an improbable 5-5 draw against West Brom.
And why would he? United were champions yet again and it was more than 40 years since Frank O'Farrell remarked that it "was a very nice day for an execution" when called to the boardroom just a year after being summoned as successor to Matt Busby. It was just a little longer since Wilf McGuinness, Busby's first replacement, awoke to find his hair had turned white under the pressure of the job.
But then of course Ferguson, after a hazardous start of his own, brought in the years of plenty and he made the task sound like a gift when he urged the United faithful to get behind his compatriot who had worked brilliantly at Everton despite 11 years of frugal budgets. Now as he fights for his professional life at the dismally relegated Sunderland, Moyes knows better than anyone he was in receipt of not a gift but a curse.
United, as Louis van Gaal and now Jose Mourinho, would discover soon enough, needed more than a simple re-fit. They needed strengthening in all areas of the team and, more than anything, they required the touch of a man who could do more than bark and cajole but inspire to new levels of self-belief and performance.
Moyes crumbled under the challenge, Van Gaal had the most serious stumble of a largely distinguished career, and Mourinho finds himself in the middle of a massive fight to reinstate himself as a coach of still remarkable qualities.
But for the moment at least there is no question concerning the identity of the biggest loser.
At 54, Moyes not only has to remake his image as an outstanding motivator of football teams - one three times honoured as the Premier League Football Manager of the Year - but as a man of previously unquestioned values. Certainly, that Moyes was hard to recognise when warning a BBC female reporter that the feisty trend of her questioning had put her in danger of receiving a slap.
We will probably never know quite how many agonies of frustration and disappointment fuelled in Moyes' that moment of self-betrayal but anyone who knows him at all will tell you that few men have ever immersed themselves so totally in the demands and the pressures of the professional football life. One witness with a long and particularly wide perspective is his assistant manager at Sunderland, the former Leeds United, Manchester United, AC Milan and Scotland striker Joe Jordan.
Jordan passed the last of his playing days at Bristol City after returning from his Italian adventure.
For a while he shared digs with the young Moyes, who had moved on after a spell with Celtic. "David was passionate about football, as much if not more than anyone I had ever known in the game, and that's covering a lot of people. We would talk for hours about football and then I would sometimes try to switch the subject, maybe to a film I had seen or some nice wine I had discovered in Italy. But then soon enough we would be back on the football. It is his life and I know he will always give it the best he has."
Plainly, failure at Sunderland has been a torment hard to bear after the career implosion at Old Trafford and the brusque dismissal by La Liga club Real Sociedad despite a sensational early victory over Barcelona. The lady from the BBC hit the rawest of spots and if his reaction was inexcusable the degree of his angst after another shaming Sunderland display was not.
Doggedly, he insists he will return to the Sunderland yoke next season if owner Ellis Short has the nerve to look beyond the disaster of this season and an increasingly hostile set of supporters. Moyes can plead both serious under-investment and a critical shortfall in dressing-room commitment and it says much for the level of his disenchantment that he publicly accepted a withering assessment of their performance by North East icon Alan Shearer.
There was, too, more than a touch of desperation in the defence of his own position. He said: "Everyone has seen it has been a different dressing room this year. I came here knowing exactly what the task was going to be. I didn't know exactly what was going to happen behind the scenes. I have defended myself. I have a good win record wherever I have been and here this has been the only abnormality. I also have to say it hasn't happened here (success) for quite a few managers and it has been that way for quite a while."
Moyes also says that if he is to get a job done he needs the resources to do it. He needs more than an adjustment, he needs a significant injection of new and motivated blood.