Six years on, David Moyes’ contract at Manchester United finally nears its end

Paul Wilson on 26 June 2019

In the parallel universe of where Manchester United imagined they would be six years ago David Moyes is planning a little party this weekend, inviting a few close friends around to mark the successful completion of his first Old Trafford contract. The manager has long known he would be staying at United for many years more than that – he basically gave himself the right to draw up his own terms in his annus mirabilis season of 2015-16, when he signed Jamie Vardy, won the league and the FA Cup and succeeded in persuading David Gill to return in place of floundering chief executive Ed Woodward. But with last season’s European success against Manchester City still fresh in the memory he thinks it would be appropriate to remind everyone that he was initially offered only a six-year deal.

Nothing in football, or any other sphere of human activity for that matter, is as difficult as trying to foresee the future. Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United acted from the best of intentions back in 2013, and you could not have told either party at the time that Moyes’s hitherto impressive managerial career would hit the buffers so quickly, taking in relegation at Sunderland and that unfortunate remark to the BBC’s Vicki Sparks, or that four managers later the club would be a bigger joke than it ever was in the decade or so before Ferguson arrived from Scotland.

That may seem an unnecessarily cruel conclusion, though one only has to stand outside the present Old Trafford to understand that the club is massively bigger than it was 30 years ago, easily dwarfing anything else in English football. The hapless Woodward takes a lot of flak for sweating United’s various noodle and mattress partners, yet this ignominious but necessary stream of income is precisely what enables the club to put a brave face on financial absurdities such as Alexis Sánchez’s wages or Paul Pogba’s loyalty bonus.

When people say “Ole’s at the wheel” in the sniggering way they currently do, the joke is partly based on recognition of the fact that the vehicle the boyish novice is driving is actually a juggernaut theoretically capable of flattening anything in its path. No one wishes Ole Gunnar Solskjær any harm – he is a likable character who initially at least worked like a charm in a tricky situation – though no one expects United to be bothering the top four next season either.

Even Woodward must have noticed that Liverpool and City have profited through importing title-winning managers from Germany and Spain, and perhaps more importantly putting recruitment structures in place to facilitate the swift signing of transfer targets. Tottenham have the highly regarded Mauricio Pochettino (highly regarded at Old Trafford as recently as six months ago) and the formidable Daniel Levy. United have the former manager of Molde of the Eliteserien and an alleged vacancy for a director of football, that alleged vacancy for a director of football that the club does not appear to be in any hurry to fill.

Can Ole Gunnar Solskjær buck the trend of Manchester United managerial appointments since Sir Alex Ferguson left?
Can Ole Gunnar Solskjær buck the trend of Manchester United managerial appointments since Sir Alex Ferguson left? Photograph: Lee Smith/Action Images via Reuters

Ferguson is thought to favour Steve Walsh for the job, despite the soaking the former Leicester scout took in his short stay at Everton, but it remains unclear whether the United hierarchy want anyone else spending their money. Mention of Leicester at least recalls the memory of 2016 and the notion that just about anyone can spring from the most unpromising circumstances, though while the Foxes’ achievement will never be anything less than sensational it was accomplished at a time when the usual top six contenders were in transition or asleep on the job. That will not be happening this season – City, Liverpool and Spurs have arguably never been more alert – and with some key playing departures still possible this summer one imagines Solskjær’s first full season as United manager might be quite painful.

Probably not as painful as Moyes’s first full season as United manager though. The former Everton manager never fully won over the players and did not have a hope of commanding the sort of instant respect Ferguson had come to enjoy. Perhaps the biggest mistake United made was simply not realising how much the club had grown in stature in the 27 years of Ferguson’s tenure, and that seeking a 1986 solution to a 2013 problem was always going to be risky, though in fairness none of the more obvious appointments of the past five years have worked out either, with Solskjær unlikely to buck the trend.

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One hopes Moyes enjoys a drink or two this weekend anyway, perhaps with a wry smile at the way things turned out in a manner that was beyond his control. He could even invite Rafa Benítez to join him, for the two former rivals on Merseyside still have plenty in common despite some stark differences in recent experience. Benítez is reaching the end of his three-year contract at Newcastle and is leaving the club, presumably fed up of not seeing eye to eye with Mike Ashley, if such an expression is appropriate for two people who hardly ever met.

Newcastle were in a mess when Benítez took over, and though the club’s future is probably always going to be uncertain under present ownership, the former Liverpool and Real Madrid manager did an admirable job of restoring viability with limited resources. To a man the players appreciated his input, crowds of 52,000 sang his name and all the love that eluded Moyes in Manchester was present on Tyneside for Benítez, yet Newcastle have still contrived to lose their most popular and effective manager since Sir Bobby Robson.

Managers mostly move around though; with a few notable exceptions that is the nature of their game and they are paid very well for the occasional inconvenience. It is the owners who stay put, quite often to the despair of a club’s supporters. In an ideal world, or indeed a parallel universe, the introduction of finite contracts at boardroom level would be a welcome development.

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