This week, David Moyes finally broke the silence of his controversial sacking as Manchester United boss via a column in the Sunday Times.
Although the majority of the piece consisted of the customary testimonies of gratitude that tend to accompany any departing manager, it also came with a stark warning to the Red Devils supporters; “They now appreciate, I am sure, that things are changing at their club and it could well be that gone are the days of long-term planning. They were fully aware of the task I had. It was unfortunate I wasn’t given more time to succeed”
Sour grapes perhaps, considering Moyes was issued a six year contract at Old Trafford last summer but was eventually parted with without seeing out a full term. Two transfer windows is clearly not enough time to build a club and squad in one’s own vision, and the former Everton boss must feel that numerous promises from the United board were broken.
But the nature of the Scot’s sacking, an impatient yet perhaps inevitable decision, begs the question – will we ever see another long-term manager at Manchester United?
On the face of it, that seems a mildly absurd declaration. After all, this is a club who have made just 23 management appointments throughout their entire history, including Ryan Giggs and Louis van Gaal. And having enjoyed their most dominant spells under Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Matt Busby, two managers who together oversaw 2,620 game at Old Trafford, if there’s one club in England who understand the benefits of longevity, it’s surely Manchester United.
But we already know that Louis van Gaal is not seen as the Red Devils’ ultimate appointment – rather a qualified custodian to guide the club back towards its former glories. The Netherlands manager is 62 years of age and has already publicly discussed the notion of his retirement, suggesting an extension on his three-year deal, regardless of his potential successes at Carrington, isn’t currently in the thinking of the Old Trafford hierarchy. The working assumption is that No.2 Ryan Giggs will then take over – but three seasons is a long, long time.
I’m not suggesting it’s simply a Manchester United-based phenomena. More that the Carrington club will inevitably sucker into a growing Premier League trend that they’ve seen themselves as somehow above whilst it engulfs the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City. The average tenure of a manager in the top flight is now down to an all-time low of just 1.2 years, whilst the twelve Premier League dismissals this season is also a record-high.
Arsene Wenger, whose generation-spanning Arsenal spell, along with Ferguson at United, was formerly seen a hallmark of the Premier League, now stands alone as a rare beacon of longevity. He’s the longest-serving manager in the top flight at 18 seasons, with second-place Alan Pardew a remarkable distance behind with four seasons at Newcastle. Those two, along with West Ham’s Sam Allardyce, are the only top flight managers to have served more than two seasons at their current clubs.
The simple fact is that it’s become much easier and cheaper to swap a manager, scapegoating him with all the sins and errors made by the players under his leadership, than make wholesale changes to a squad. David Moyes will understand that more than anyone.
Then you have to take into account Manchester United’s rather unique economic model. As is well known, the Glazer family bought the club on a huge debut package back in 2005, and their most common method since of lifting the Red Devils from the financial red has been through selling shares on the New York Stock Exchange.
The share price is essential to the Glazer’s running of the club. The less they are forced to sell for, the longer the debts continue, and resultantly, the more the interest continues to rise. Under Ferguson, share prices remained relatively stable, but the appointment of David Moyes and subsequently United’s results last season wiped almost £300million off the club’s overall value by February, whilst Brand Finance have since downgraded the Red Devils’ brand rating from Triple-A-plus to Triple-A.
Interestingly, Manchester United’s value rose by £100million last month as news of David Moyes’ departure trickled through the business world, setting a disturbing precedent for future Old Trafford managers – essentially, losing the confidence of the market is more intrinsically hazardous than losing the confidence of the dressing room, the board or the fan base.
Perhaps my cynicism will prove a false prophecy. After all, Manchester United have just appointed Ryan Giggs as assistant manager with the view to him eventually taking the Old Trafford helm.
But the age of the managerial monolith is coming to an end, arguably rightly so – Ferguson institutionalised Manchester United in his own image and the debasing effect of his eventual departure was unprecedented in the Premier League. In many ways, it’s become distinctly healthier to stump a manager before he grows too powerful.
That sheer fact, in tandem with the demands of the market now firmly resting on any given Manchester United manager’s shoulders too, suggests that the managers of the Ferguson or Busby mould will now be left in Old Trafford’s past.