David Moyes sacked: Manchester United cannot afford to get it wrong again as Louis van Gaal and Jurgen Klopp are linked with Old Trafford hot seat

This could be the end of the cherished Old Trafford tradition of ‘continuity’

Manchester United have not sacked a manager since 1986. There have been eight England managers appointed since then, 15 permanent occupants of the same role at Manchester City and five Prime Ministers since the day that Martin Edwards told Ron Atkinson his time was up after a League Cup defeat to Southampton. Other than a bumpy ride around the late 1980s, this is a club that had convinced itself that sacking managers was something other people did, while they tutted and nodded sagely in the direction of their much-vaunted, seldom-replicated “continuity”.

As of the recent decision not to stand by David Moyes through a series of results that have gone from the bad to the disastrous, it turns out that, contrary to what you might have been told, United are just like all the others. There is no magical quality that insulates them against the possibility of managerial failure, and when push comes to shove they have no solution other than the one everyone else resorts to in the end.

So where do they go now? Eleven months ago they had already made the move for the man who would succeed Sir Alex Ferguson. As of now they once again find themselves in the market for a manager. They are offering a job that is a little less attractive than it was one year ago, but still one of the biggest in world football, and a prize that many great coaches would take in a heartbeat.

Read more: How this season turned so sour
Could Moyes end up at Tottenham?
United do sack managers - it was Ferguson that bucked a trend

This time, United cannot afford to get it wrong. And this time they cannot treat the opinion of Ferguson as the first and last word on the appointment.

In terms of the big hitters, the field is as limited as it was even last season and it felt limited then. Pep Guardiola had already committed to Bayern Munich by the time Ferguson quit. Jose Mourinho – whether United wanted him or not – was already a long way down the road with Chelsea. Carlo Ancelotti may be available – he usually is – but that would be very much the conservative option.

You could make an argument for saying Jurgen Klopp is the stand-out high-achiever among the younger generation of foreign contenders – and United have never had a non-British or Irish manager – although his rise has been stalled somewhat after the heights of last season with Borussia Dortmund. Frank De Boer is top of the Dutch league with Ajax, although he contrived to lose a cup final this weekend in spectacular fashion, 5-1 to PEC Zwolle. Diego Simeone has been deeply impressive at Atletico Madrid. But, still, what a risk.

Louis Van Gaal, the man most strongly connected to the job, with reports of a meeting with United representatives, was not even a consideration this time last year. He last managed a club side in 2011. The Champions League victory with Ajax, which was the making of his reputation, was in 1995, four years before Ferguson won his first. In what has become ever more a younger man’s world, Van Gaal, at 62, looks a strange choice.

Giving the job to Ryan Giggs has its attractions. Taking it off him, as Liverpool found with Kenny Dalglish second time around, could be painful.

The consideration for United is that there is no outstanding, obvious candidate, and consequently they will have to reassess what it is they want from their manager. Another man to build long-term, as was clearly the plan with Moyes and his six-year contract last year? Or the acceptance of a more regular turnover of coaches working under a director of football might be more applicable in the new era?

United tried to replicate what they had with Ferguson once and failed. Mistakes like that happen - in sport, as in business. But it is inconceivable that the venture capitalists at the helm of the club will permit the same mistake to be made twice.

The notion of a manager with less power than that which Moyes temporarily inherited from Ferguson, was unthinkable a year ago. Now it seems inevitable. United have been wounded this season, deeply so. All the old certainties that they had come to take as part of the landscape at Old Trafford have been challenged, in some cases shattered.

It is not that that they cannot be a success again, of course they can. It is more that, post-Moyes, they are having to re-learn what it is to be a football club in the 21st century, one that sacks managers rather than enjoying the comfort of being led by a man who, ultimately, proved a bulwark against failure. What assurances can they give their new manager? Nothing like those they gave Moyes. Nothing beyond his first season in charge, perhaps even less than that.

It reminds me of a conversation with the hierarchy at Chelsea, the club who have become a byword for hiring and firing while maintaining their success. The lesson they learned from Andre Villas-Boas’ short-lived reign was not that it was best to give a failing manager more time but rather to act quickly. They did so the following season when doubts arose over Roberto Di Matteo, replacing him in time for Rafa Benitez to ensure Champions League qualification and snare a trophy into the bargain.

It may be the case that the next United manager is the man who reigns for a decade, who gives the club back its confidence in the principle of continuity. It may be that they go through another ten until anyone stays in charge for as long as that. But with the sacking of Moyes, 28 years on from Atkinson, United have demonstrated that they as a club have no secret formula for making a manager successful.

As they recognised with Ferguson, the success flowed from the manager, not the other way around. The trick is getting the right man which, as they now know, is harder than it looks.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering