It takes a special kind of man to believe that the best person to replace themselves is them-self. But this appears to be exactly Sir Alex Ferguson’s thinking when it came to choosing his successor. In appointing David Moyes, Ferguson believed he had found the man who was most like himself, and therefore the obvious choice to continue his good work at Old Trafford. Tragically, it seems that in this great narcissistic act, Ferguson managed to overlook vanity.
One of the oft-quoted mantras from Ferguson’s time at Manchester United was ‘no one is bigger than the club’. However, it’s quite clear that he did not include himself in these rankings. He had established himself a position of unrivalled power within the Premier League club that is rarely seen in world football. Such was the extent of his influence that even in the corporate-driven world of modern football, no one questioned who would be in charge of picking his replacement once the venerable Scot decided to retire.
In his final speech at Old Trafford, the Scot laid heavy emphasis on the fan’s duty to support the next manager. Not the club, or the team, or the players, but the manager. For Ferguson, it seems that this was what football had come to be about: management. The sport itself was just a secondary aspect. It only mattered to the extent that it provided an arena in which he could have complete control of all aspects within it; the players, the media, the transfer dealings, the image of the club.
Anyone who didn’t like it was quickly discarded, regardless of value or talent. What mattered was that you subjugated to the control. Players became divided into two strict groups: ‘Manchester United players’ and ‘not Manchester United players’. It was possible to move from the first group to the second, but once you entered the second, there was no turning back.
Ferguson obviously felt that the most likely way to continue the success of Manchester United was to keep this structure in place. But in order to do so, he needed to find a man capable of handling the demands of such power. In looking for the criteria, Ferguson looked at himself. And then who better than David Moyes? A hard-working Scotsman, from a similarly humble background, with a fierce temperament and the requisite loyalty to create a second dynasty.
However, in choosing the man that most resembled himself, it seems Ferguson overlooked the one quality that he was indulging: vanity. Moyes is clearly not an egomaniac. He lacks the supreme confidence and infallibility necessary to fill the grand puppet master role that Ferguson created at Old Trafford. How can you be the main decision maker on all facets of a club as big as Manchester United if you do not have absolute conviction in your decisions?
That David Moyes is lacking in this complete belief is evident. His reaction to his side’s lame defeat at Olympiakos was that he ‘hoped’ for another big night at Old Trafford in the return leg. Hope? Ferguson never hoped. His teams could only lose when the world had conspired against him. Some may argue that Moyes’ confidence is just low given the rough start that he has endured at Man United. However, it’s hard not to feel that Moyes was doomed for failure from the moment he revealed that Ferguson summoned him to his house to tell him he was the next Manchester United.
Anyone with the requisite ego for the Manchester United job does not get ‘told’ anything. In the vanity of trying to pick the man who was most like himself, Ferguson failed to realise that this man was different in one very important aspect: vanity itself.