David Moyes, Sir Alex Ferguson and 5 other successions from football’s past

Who will replace Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United? - video

With the dawn of a new era breaking over Old Trafford, Greg Johnson looks back to some of football’s most famous (and infamous) hand overs of power between dynasties, empires and icons…

On July 1, David Moyes will enter the manager’s office at Manchester United’s Carrington training complex for first time, not as a visitor but as its reigning incumbent following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.

The club’s selection of successor to follow in the footsteps of their outgoing leader has been widely discussed online and off. Is Moyes capable of lifting the team to the precarious heights many argue Jose Moruinho would have been certain to deliver? Why was the capture of Jurgen Klopp, with his exciting, direct football and evangelism of youth talent, not priotitsed? How important will Moyes’ domestic experience and strict management of Everton be in ensuring transition at the top runs smooth?

Having recommended Moyes for the post himself, Sir Alex clearly believes the Scotsman to be capable of building on his work, but are such handovers of power, with their ceremonial baton passes, effective at protecting a footballing empire?

Below are five examples of successions from football’s past for United fans to mull over.

stephen shakeshaft golden shots

The boot room

Ferguson will hope that his greatest legacy, beyond sabotaging the perch of his fiercest rivals, will be long-term success for Manchester United, secured on the foundations he has built and secured over the last 26 years.

With Ryan Giggs, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer and other former players and staff, such as Laurent Blanc, suggested as future Old Trafford management or backroom material, there is a sense of dynasty about the set-up he leaves behind, to some extent echoing the self-sufficient production line of coaches developed from Liverpool FC’s legendary Boot Room.

Beginning with Bill Shankly – who founded the informal meeting place for tactical discussion and football talk – through to Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Roy Evans, the Anfield Boot Room was the hub of Liverpool’s domination throughout the 70’s and 80’s, helping to mastermind four European Cups, 13 First Division titles, two UEFA Cups, four FA Cups and four League Cups.

Part debating forum, part collaborative coaching seminar and part drinking club, with a healthy flow of whiskey loosening up the mental joints the Boot Room allowed senior players and interested staff the ability to feedback and share ideas with the manager and coaching top brass.

This openness and honesty allowed Liverpool to build a successful football culture able to be used as a base to be passed on and developed under each new boss and generation of players.

Similarly, Bayern Munich’s recent ascension to the top of world football has been as reliant on the input of returning, former stars to the club’s pool of coaching expertise as their incredible financial clout. The Bavarians have long been one of the richest clubs in the world, yet have struggled to make the most of their wealth due to mismanagement and poor decision making. It’s no coincidence that Bayern’s performance on the pitch has begun to match their strength off it with Matthias Sammer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeneß now key members of the club’s staff.

Those who have championed Moyes’ appointment have cited the need for clear continuity and long-term vision in continuing Manchester United’s winning ways, and the benefits of such an approach are self-evident in the lineage of Liverpool’s Boot Room. With Sir Alex Ferguson retiring to a director role upstairs, and a wealth of former United players ready to offer their services to the club’s new manager, Moyes will have plenty of assistance and experience to call upon as he seeks to write a new chapter of success in Old Trafford’s long and storied history.

However, while the first four managers of the Boot Room era achieved greatness, Souness and Evans were perhaps a step too far, dragging Liverpool down from their towering position atop English football into the doldrums of the Premier League’s mid-table. United fans will be hoping that David Moyes is the Paisley or Fagan to Ferguson’s Shankly, rather than a Graeme Souness figure, sweeping in a disastrous period of mediocrity.

Busby best


While retaining knowledge and know-how is vital for protecting old empires through a transition of power, Ferguson’s move upstairs brings its own dangers.

The end of Sir Matt Busby’s reign at Old Trafford remains an uncomfortable read for anyone worried over the prospect of Sir Alex’s shadow looming large over Moyes’ attempt to follow him. Sir Matt’s inability to let go of control from behind the scenes is a cautionary tale that Sir Alex will hopefully have heeded when making his decision to stay at Old Trafford in some capacity.

Having retired the season after United’s 1968 European Cup success, Busby became General Manager at the club, yet kept his old managerial office. Wilf McGuinness, the man who succeeded him, was forced to find another desk.

Undermined by Busby’s continued presence – players would regularly go over McGuinness’ head and straight to their former boss to air any grievances over team selections or other complaints – and unable to build his own team or make decisions of his own, United’s football and title winning prospects suffered. McGuinness was sacked a year later, with Sir Matt resuming control on a temporary basis.

An ill-fitting 18-month stint followed under the softly spoken Frank O’Farrell followed by Tommy Docherty who, battling against the club’s decline, presided over a relegation to the Second Division in 1974. Winning the second tier league and promotion a year later, Docherty denied Liverpool a treble in 1977 by winning the FA Cup, but was replaced by Dave Sexton in 1977 due to an extramarital affair, who in-turn was supplanted by Ron Atkinson in 1981 after failing to satisfy United’s demands for trophies and attacking football.

Reduced to becoming a cup team, it took 26 years to win another top-flight title under Sir Alex in 1993 following the fall out from the club’s mangled attempts at succession post-Busby. Hopefully Ferguson will be asset to Moyes rather than a loadstone around his neck, otherwise history may yet repeat itself at Old Trafford in the most disappointing manner possible.



Having trashed Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate on their way to this year’s Champions League final, pundits and fans alike have lauded Bayern Munich as the new lords of superlative football, like a boxer claiming a world title belt in victory.

This year’s Barcelona are no where near the vintage of Pep Guardiola’s team at its peak however: a team so deadly, innovative and exciting to watch that they retain a genuine claim to being one of the greatest club sides to have ever played the game, both in terms of trophy haul and style.

Yet for many, one team not only stands in their way, but damages the authenticity of their uniqueness and sense of originality.

Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan were a perfect storm of great players (Baresi, Maldini, Rikjaard, Van Basten, Guillet and co), athleticism, cutting-edge tactical ideas and reinvented, classical themes. The pressing of Lobanovskyi’s Kyiv, the universality of the Dutch, the position-swapping of the likes of Ajax and Celtic at their historic best; they played a loose 4-4-2, subverting it’s reputation as the dead-end formation of world football. Rather than featuring Messi deployed as a false nine, Milan had Guillet playing as a false position – rampaging from the front-to-back and forwards again as a true total footballer.

Having won the 1988 Scudetto and back-to-back European Cups in 1989 and 1990 with a style of football so utterly ruthless, rampant and beautiful that it would confirm him as a genius in the history books of the game (a list which these days includes Wilson’s Inverting The Pyramid), Sacchi left Milan to manage Italy in 1991 with former Milan midfielder and managerial novice Fabio Capello appointed to replace him by Silvio Burlusconi.

Initially, Capello was seen as Burlusconi’s “yes man” in comparison to his highly-strung predecessor, who at times had been as demanding of the club’s owner as he had his playing staff, and the novice manager was indeed a stable, steady hand rather than a radical. He retained Sacchi’s tactics and methods, replacing the aging members of the squad with fresh recruits, leading Milan to the Serie A title in his first season.

Naturally conservative and defensive in his approach, Capello placed more creative responsibility on his attackers while solidifying the spine of the team. His Milan would come to depend more on individual player quality and contributions than the more system based focus of Sacchi before him, and over the following seasons Capello brought a plethora of star names to the San Siro, including Papin, Savićević, Boban, Marcus Desailly, Di Canio, George Weah and Roberto Baggio.

Capello won another European title for Milan in 1994, securing the club’s first Champions League, before leaving for Real Madrid in 1996. His reign as Sacchi’s successor was a qualified success in terms of silverware, collecting in total five Serie A wins to add to his continental glory.

The appointment of David Moyes has been criticised by some for it’s lack of excitement or new ideas, but as Capello’s first spell at AC Milan demonstrates, with the right foundations, a safe bet can sometimes pay off.



Michels’ Total Football unleashed under Kovacs

While Milan may have found new trophy-winning focus under the stern guidance of Fabio Capello, Ajax’s domination of the early 1970’s was kicked into overdrive by a far less disciplined man than its architect Rinus Michels.

Stefan Kovacs won back-to-back European Cups with the Amsterdam club in 1972 and 1973, completing a historic hat-trick of wins for the club begun by Michels’ European triumph in 1971. Although the Romanian took-over the running of Michels’ design following his move to manage Barcelona, Kovacs expanded and oversaw the peak of the Totaalvoetbal system at club level.

Compared to the hard discipline of Michels, Ajax under Kovacs were unleashed both on the pitch and off it. Though it would eventually destroy the team over time, the new coach gave more control to the players in how the team was run, with decisions made through group voting and discussion.

Freed of their restraints, Cryuff, Neeskens, Suurbier and co became more daring and flamboyant. However, while Kovacs’ influence removed the team’s limitations, allowing his players to run amok with the ideals of total football, their peak was short-lived and soon, with internal divisions and player fatigue growing, and more lucrative offers abroad stealing away Ajax’s talents, the club’s era of European glory was over.

In his book, Brilliant Oranje, David Winner argues that Rinus Michel’s more restrictive approach, while denying his Ajax team the freedom to burn at its brightest, was perhaps more sustainable compared to Kovacs’ exhilarating crescendo.

Jose Mourinho may well have brought major titles to Manchester United had he been selected ahead of Moyes, but at what cost? Though prolific, the “special one” has the record of a specialist adept at creating short-term successes without establishing a long-term legacy. For fans impatient for more Champions League titles and domestic domination, would a flurry of titles be worth the potential hangover that a super-charged Mourinho reign tends to inflict?


The Damned United

For a manager to be worthy of standing alongside Ferguson, Paisley, Shankly, Busby and Stein in the list of Britain’s greatest ever managers requires an outstanding record of achievement.

Winning consecutive European Cups with Nottingham Forest, a First Division title at first attempt following promotion, and executing similar feats with Derby County, Brian Clough is a manager able to boast such an honours list worthy of inclusion in such an elite group.

However, “Old Big Head” came unstuck in 1974 when he took-over at his hated rivals Leeds United following the departure of Don Revie who left to manage England.

An outspoken critic of Don Revie and his methods, Clough swept into Elland Road seeking to discredit the club’s achievements under their outgoing boss, who he saw as a purveyor of thuggish football and cheating gamesmanship.

Much like Ferguson, Revie had developed Leeds United into an institution when it came to winning trophies, and had established a family ethos within the club. He left recommending the team’s governance be handed over to the brilliant yet brutal Johnny Giles. Clough’s arrival was not only a shock to the fans but also to the players who saw his appointment as a smear on their adopted footballing father’s life work.

During his first training session with his new squad Clough declared “you can all throw your medals in the bin because they were not won fairly.” Having previously demanded that Leeds be relegated to the second division as punishment for their disciplinary record, it wasn’t so much a case of burning bridges as trying to set fire to the river beneath. And Chelsea fans think they got the wrong man in Rafa Benitez…

Having alienated his title-winning players, Clough exacerbated the situation by benching established players in favour of his signings and abandoning Revie’s meticulous match preparation.

Clough lasted 44 days and left having won only one match in six games, which remains the worst record of a permanent manager at Leeds United. He left Elland Road with a £98,000 pay-off with the club languishing in 19th place, with only 4 points from a possible 12.

Sir Alex Ferguson hasn’t just established an infrastructure for success at Manchester United but a whole culture of football, from youth level and now up to the board. By bringing in David Moyes, he has selected a successor he believes best fits the needs of his creation and complements its workings. Only Benitez would be equal in appropriateness to Clough in terms of an unsuited manager to Manchester United, but did he fear Mourinho or the other candidates for the Old Trafford throne, may have tried to dismantle or tamper rather than hone and develop the base he constructed?

Time will only tell which of the above successions David Moyes’ appointment will resemble.

What path do you think Moyes’ reign at United will take?

@GregIanJohnson; @The_False_Nine

3 thoughts on “David Moyes, Sir Alex Ferguson and 5 other successions from football’s past

  1. Graeme Souness wasn’t a product of the ‘Boot Room’. He went away for a few years, came back and ripped it all apart – he actually DID remove the boot room itself from Anfield. Though not Paisley/Fagan/Dalgish level of successful, it would be fair to say that Roy Evans was steering the club back in the right direction, though our directors were not as patient as Man U’s.
    Of all the managers in Europe right now, I think David Moyes is as close to the perfect replacement for SAF as you can get – as long as he doesn’t make sweeping changes. The danger of bringing a new manager in from outside the club is that they want to inflict their style/personality on the club. Time will tell, but it may actually have made more sense to give Mike Phelan the job. Think about it. No one had heard of Bob Paisley and he had zero management experience, but he didn’t do too shabbily, did he?

    • Thanks for your comment!

      You’re right about Souness going away and coming back, but considering the Liverpool teams he captained and the managers he played under, I don’t think it’s inaccurate to say he took part in the Boot Room culture as player during that era. To that extent he was a managerial product, regardless of whether he dismantled it or won trophies. Roy Evans is well known to have come through the Boot Room too.

      Interesting point about Phelan, although if United were going to promote anyone from within it should have been Rene Meulensteen. Beyond Ferguson, he’s been the key man at Old Trafford recently, brining the Coerver coaching method to the club, which has helped Cleverley, Welbeck and the other youth players become far more skilful and tactically aware.

      Him and Moyes could be an interesting double act in the dug out!

  2. Pingback: For The False Nine: David Moyes, Sir Alex Ferguson and 5 other successions from football’s past | Greg Johnson

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