David Moyes sacked: Manchester United do sack managers – it was Sir Alex Ferguson who bucked a trend

United have not always allowed managers time to rebuild teams

The idea that Manchester United don’t sack managers might make the victims of reapers past shuffle uncomfortably in this world and the next.

Wilf McGuinness, Frank O’Farrell, Tommy Docherty, Dave Sexton and Ron Atkinson all went in the 17 years that separated the reigns of Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson.

The post-war circumstances and a rebuilding ethos allowed Busby time to develop his teams. Ferguson survived an unpromising start for two reasons: he had a track record, smashing the Scottish duopoly of Rangers and Celtic and winning in Europe with Aberdeen, and the landscape was radically different in English football when he took over in 1986.

Liverpool’s hegemony was unchallenged for so long that United were seen to be doing no worse than clubs of similar stature, Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton. And the option of doing well in Europe was closed off by the ban on English clubs after the Heysel disaster. In the Champions League era United are not only taking on their domestic rivals, but European competition has become a staple. The contest, both footballing and commercial, is rooted in Munich, Milan, Madrid and Barcelona as well as Liverpool and London.

McGuinness was in the David Moyes slot, invited to follow not only the most successful manager in the club’s history but one who had created and nurtured a tradition. It was hoped in 1969 that his immersion in club culture as a former Busby Babe and later as a member of the backroom staff might prepare him for the task. The challenge turned his hair white – it eventually fell out – and within 18 months he was gone.


After a six-month return in a caretaker role Busby gave way to O’Farrell, who lasted no longer than McGuinness. Gaining promotion with Leicester City proved no grounding for the job of managing decline at Old Trafford.

Docherty at least imposed himself, despite being in charge when United were relegated in 1974. He met the demand for vibrant, attacking football with a young side that immediately bounced back. His affair with Mary Brown, wife of physio Laurie, cost him his job just after a memorable FA Cup triumph against Liverpool in 1977.

Sexton came with a reputation for embracing new ideas. But his team was more functional than vivid. Atkinson was the solution to flat Saturdays.

Big Ron brought with him from West Bromwich Albion the great Bryan Robson, who might be regarded as the anti-Fellaini, and added flair with Gordon Strachan, Jesper Olsen and Arnold Muhren. His misfortune was to run into the second decade of Liverpool domination. Atkinson took United to two FA Cups when the competition meant far more than it does today and began the 1985-86 season with 10 straight First Division wins, but it was Liverpool who finished like trains to claim a 16th championship.

A poor start to the next campaign led to the appointment in November of the man who would reshape the football landscape. At least the new man will not have to follow that.