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Moyes, United pairing makes sense

Manchester United names David Moyes as their new manager.
Manchester United names David Moyes as their new manager.
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Patrick Barclay

Patrick Barclay is one of England's most experienced soccer writers. He has covered the game for every broadsheet newspaper and attended eight World Cups. Barclay is the author of biographies of Jose Mourinho (Further Anatomy of a Winner) and Sir Alex Ferguson (Football - Bloody Hell!) You can follow him on Twitter @paddybarclay.

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LONDON, ENGLAND

Anyone wondering why Manchester United, one of the biggest soccer clubs in the world, should hire a coach who’s been in the Premier League for more than a decade without winning a trophy needs to know only this: David Moyes was chosen by Sir Alex Ferguson.

It’s enough. It’s been the rule of law for most of Ferguson’s 26 years in charge at Old Trafford and not everything is going to change when finally, after depositing countless pieces of silverware in the stadium’s glass case, he hands the squad over to Moyes at the end of the season. Ferguson will remain at United as a director and, such is his force of personality, dominate the boardroom just as he has dominated the locker room since arriving from Aberdeen in November 1986.

It’s the best solution not only for Ferguson, who was never going to be the kind of 71-year-old who settled for tending his garden in retirement, but for United as well. I even suggested it as long ago as the spring of 2009, writing that the club needed a happier and more constructive ending to Ferguson’s career than that of his great predecessor Sir Matt Busby, whose lingering presence was said to have overshadowed several who followed him.

My idea was that Moyes should be brought from Everton to work alongside Ferguson initially but then take over. I now believe that, although giving Moyes the job plain and simple will pay due deference to his 10 years on Merseyside, there is a chance of the envisaged seamless transition. Moyes and Ferguson are similar types from gritty Glasgow. Moyes’s dad even coached at Drumchapel Amateurs, the club for all ages where Ferguson honed the skills necessary for his playing career with Rangers and various other Scottish sides.

These men can make the relationship work. And it’s in both of their interests that it does. Legacy matters to Ferguson. It always has. I remember being in his office at The Cliff, the suburban training ground that United sold when moving to their isolated and up-to-date complex at Carrington, way back in 1992, when it looked like he was to win his first Premier League title with United.

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In the end Leeds beat them to it – Ferguson had to wait one more year – but more important was his vow not to settle for one success but to build a winning institution that would last like the Liverpool built by Bill Shankly and carried on by Bob Paisley. ‘’I want United to carry on winning long after I have gone,’’ he said. And his resignation statement exuded satisfaction that the aim could be achieved; he mentioned the youth factor with special pride.

So the circumstances are very different this time from when Busby retired. Believe it or not, younger readers, United were relegated several years after the original great Scot handed over. Ferguson, far from passing on a team past its best, has assembled a squad sprinkled with potent youth: David de Gea, Rafael, Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck and midfielder Nick Powell, the least known but of whom much more will be heard.

There are several more in their primes, including Michael Carrick and Robin van Persie, and, while the future of Wayne Rooney is clouded by further speculation that he wants to leave this summer as Chelsea seems to be the favored destination. The possibility of Cristiano Ronaldo returning from Real Madrid is enough to reassure United’s fans that the star count will not fall.

Naturally, there is talk that the step from a medium-size to big club will test Moyes’s caliber. But that tends to undervalue both his consistent improvement of players at Everton and his unfinished business with the Champions League.

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He got Everton on the brink of the group stages in 2005-06, remember, when they lost a qualifying playoff only to the outstanding Villarreal of Juan Roman Riquelme. But the memories of that aren’t Moyes’s Champions League favorites. He and Europe’s top competition go back much further, as he explained one afternoon in his office at Everton’s Bellefield headquarters.

It was in 1981, when he was an 18-year-old defender on the fringes of Celtic’s squad, that he made his debut in the old Champions’ Cup. A baptism of fire it was too, for the Scots were up against a Juventus team featuring a host of stars destined to win the World Cup with Italy the following year.

‘’There was Dino Zoff in goal, a defense including Claudio Gentile, Antonio Cabrini and Gaetano Scirea, Marco Tardelli and Liam Brady in midfield, while I had to deal with the likes of Roberto Bettega,’’ Moyes recalled. ‘’We did well to get away with a narrow defeat.’’

The next season saw Celtic meet Ajax and an ageing Johan Cruyff. ‘’We drew 2-2 at home and I played from the start. I was just a substitute in the second leg but George McCluskey and I were thrown on together and he scored the winning goal. Afterwards we were in the dressing room celebrating and wanting to swap shirts. It happened afterwards in those days.

‘’Suddenly the Ajax shorts were dumped on the floor in a big pile. There were no names on the backs but I pulled out No. 14 and, although everyone knew that was Cruyff’s favorite number, it was 1 to 11 in Europe. So I’d got a sub’s shirt. I was a bit disappointed, I suppose, but for many years afterwards I still treasure that Ajax No. 14 shirt.

‘’Then, out of the blue, someone who was going through their memorabilia came across the match program, noticed my name, and kindly sent it to me. There, listed in the teams at 14, was Marco van Basten. He was just a kid too and he’d come on like me.’’

So Moyes and the superstars go back a long way and there’s a sense that he’s going to enjoy his unfinished business with the Champions League. After all, when you’ve come out a winner against Marco van Basten, you’ve got the taste for it.

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