There is no need to put on dark glasses. I’m going to disappoint any readers of the column expecting a tirade of abuse from me about Sir Alex Ferguson.
You’ll know, over far too many years — we haven’t spoken to each other since 1992 — about the antipathy between the two of us but I’m not going over old ground and, in respect for his magnificent achievements as a manager, I absolutely refuse to dance on his footballing grave.
I wasn’t in shock last week. I’d always warned that he’d ‘slip the news’ in when it was least expected. When, more than a decade ago, he announced his pending retirement he very quickly realised the magnitude of his mistake, not least that he was telling us far in advance.
I still remember how some football writers organised a ‘celebration’ dinner at a flash restaurant in Knutsford in Cheshire. I was invited along and they certainly expected me to attend. I declined. I’ve never actually enjoyed NOT getting on with him.
Anyway, in the end, much to their annoyance, they had to cancel the ‘party’. Trust me; these were some of the same people who have hypocritically written in glowing terms of Sir Alex ever since, particularly the sycophantic drivel of the last week.
Me? Of course I won’t miss him but I wish him well in his retirement. Honestly. And I can now look forward to an infinitely better relationship with the NEW manager of Manchester United. I like David Moyes, REALLY like him…and I also respect and rate him. So I’m feeling guilty about the reservations in my mind about him taking over at Old Trafford.
Maybe it’s that I have a very long memory and am wary of the prospects for any manager that succeeds someone of the status of Sir Alex.
Sir Matt was ‘still in residence’ when the man from Govan turned up in 1986 but Busby, by then, was a much older and far less intrusive figure around the place.
I remember going to interview him and being surprised at the humility of the office they’d set aside for the man who’d won the first European Cup for the club.
That wasn’t the case when he retired in 1969 and handed over the reins to Wilf McGuinness. By continuing in the role of ‘General Manager’, Busby’s presence and influence proved overwhelming for his successor, without in any sense wishing it to be so, and within 18 months McGuinness was gone.
That mustn’t happen to Moyes. Sir Alex, yes, will ‘be around’ but his influence should be benign, always ‘available’ but never, ever intrusive.
Ferguson has been continually interested in and supportive of young managers around the country so I’m confident he’ll strike the right balance.
But, because of the incredible success for United under Sir Alex, Moyes will have scarcely any bedding-in time. He has to hit the ground running.
It always required a substantial slump for anyone to question Ferguson’s handling of affairs — that meant hardly ever — but it’ll only need a couple of defeats in succession for Moyes to be held to account.
‘Success’ is essential. It won’t be so long before it’s forgotten just what an achievement it was for him to have Everton constantly punching above their weight. He may never have won a trophy at Goodison but five ‘top six’ finishes in the last nine seasons is a remarkable return given the lack of resources there. It wouldn’t be remotely enough at United.
And there’s his lack of European experience, at least in the Champions League save for an appearance in the qualifiers in 2005: mind you, Moyes has never forgotten nor forgiven referee Pierluigi Collina which certainly has a ‘Fergie feel’ about it.
There are very few at Everton who begrudge him the move to Old Trafford.
No-one sensibly could deny him an opportunity to shop in Waitrose as opposed to Aldi. Recently, he mentioned how “the strength the Manchester clubs have got is overpowering everybody”.
Well, if you can’t beat them, why not join them?
A final thought: if I’m not certain it’s wise to be the man that follows Fergie, the same applies on Merseyside.
David Moyes is also a very, very difficult act to follow.