26 years of management is an anomaly in modern football. And Sir Alex Ferguson was a special case. Finding one Ferguson is difficult enough, but the odds of getting two in a row are astronomical. If Manchester United are to successfully move forward, they need to stop asking who is the next Alex Ferguson and start asking who is the best man to manage the club right now.
Sir Alex Ferguson tried to find the next Sir Alex Ferguson. And Sir Alex Ferguson failed. In David Moyes, Ferguson saw a man very much in his image: Scottish, hard-working, a fierce loyalty and a fierceness of the eye. 10 months on and those eyes now appear dead. Moyes put everything into emulating his mentor but ended up not even looking like Sir Alex Ferguson lite. The once brightest British manager in football should never have been trying to be someone else, but after being handpicked by Ferguson, Moyes appeared to have little choice but to follow the piper’s tune.
Ryan Giggs is the latest man to receive the nod from the kingmaker. Ferguson, having failed to institutionalize an outsider, is seemingly intent to keep things in the family. At 40, Ryan Giggs is young enough to be an Alex Ferguson mk II, and could conceivably eclipse Ferguson’s 26-year reign. But it remains a lot more likely that Giggs would be prematurely sacked in a similar vein to Moyes if given the job, and focusing on potential longevity of tenure in this manner seriously distracts from the problems of the present.
Stability of management is a good goal for any football club to hold. Stability aids coherency and allows the club to plan for the long run. But stability only makes sense the manager if the manager is right for the job. And even Sir Alex Ferguson, the great proponent of stability and LMA champion, had to eventually accept that David Moyes was not right for Manchester United.
The wisdom of Manchester United putting such a heavy emphasis on potential tenure must be questioned given that football is increasingly moving in the opposite direction. The average job length for a Premier League manager is now less than two years, and Mark Hughes, who is in first season as Stoke manager, finds himself as the eighth longest serving manager in the league.
If football management is increasingly becoming a short-term gig, then clubs should be treating it accordingly. The six-year contract given to David Moyes was clearly intended as a statement, but it’s one that rings hollow given that the club saw fit to break it less than one year into the six.
Rather than looking for a manager to be in charge in 26 years time, or even six years from now, Manchester United should be looking at who is best fitted to manage them in the present. The man chosen should be the one most suited to leading the club back into the Champions League next season. Anything else should be an afterthought.
Jose Mourinho is widely believed to have been disregarded last summer due to not meeting the longevity requirement. And Moyes was one of the few men that did. However, given that Manchester United were forced into sacking their manager after just 10 months, there appears to be little wisdom in the idea of appointing on longevity over quality, and a whole lot of irony.
Stability is always preferable to turmoil, but stability for stability’s sake is just madness. Manchester United went for a lesser manager because they thought he could offer stability, and were forced to sack him and throw themselves into the turmoil.
Manchester United need to stop leaning so heavily on the past when making decisions for the future and accept that Alex Ferguson was a once off. There is no reason to choose Giggs beyond the romantic, and the next Man United should not be chosen based on his capability of leading a second dynasty, but his ability to meet the club’s goals in the short-term.