David Moyes was 16 words into his press conference when his predecessor’s name cropped up but it didn’t feel like an old man’s imposition. Moyes instead embarked on an anecdote imbued with the kind of small detail which made it one destined to become another small part of the storied history of this club; of how Ferguson had telephoned to ask him around to his Wilmslow home – ostensibly, as Moyes imagined it, to ask if he could pinch one of his players.
“And I was expecting him to say he was going to take one of my players,” Moyes said. “I wasn’t sure what he was going to say to me. I went in and the first thing he said to me was that he was retiring. And I said “Yes? When?” - because he was never retiring was he? And he says: ‘Next week.’ And his next words were: ‘And you are the next Manchester United manager…’ I didn’t get a chance to say yes or no I was told I was the next Manchester United manager by Sir Alex and for me that was enough. As you can imagine the blood drained from my face.”
The details of the anointment might sound like the words of a man who is in his predecessor’s thrall but Moyes looked his own man: not entirely free of nerves and not entirely word perfect. It was during the immeasurably tricky task of suggesting that all was rosy with Wayne Rooney whilst unable to confirm that the striker wanted to stay that Moyes described the ‘chink’ in Rooney’s eye in training, correcting himself to ‘glint.’ (A Freudian one, that: he chink of money will be the decider where Rooney’s future is concerned.)
All the sponsor references were rehearsed and duly delivered - the Aon Training Complex, which grates a bit, got several airings from the manager – and there was an immediate sense that this man has been drawn into the history. Sir Bobby Charlton’s arrival to see him at Carrington had thrilled him most of all. But this was a man comfortable in his own clothes – his own grey suit, not a jacket emblazoned with the crest across which, as Moyes put it, “success is tattooed.”
An elegant line that one, pre-prepared maybe but not obviously so, by an individual in enough control of his own proceedings to draw a very smart line under the Rooney issue when there had been one last attempt to nail him. “Has he categorically said ‘I don't want to leave’?” Moyes was asked. "I can tell you categorically that Wayne Rooney is training fantastically well. That's all I can categorically tell you,” he replied. Touche.
We were into waters which would never have been entered with Ferguson - a fifth Rooney question at a time when the conference had been discreetly told that the issue had been taken far enough. When Ferguson was pressed on the same subject in a press theatre 100 yards away in October 2010 he fired back with anger and then emotion.
You sensed that Moyes really did not want a fuss. A 4pm Friday press conference is a graveyard time and there were certainly empty seats in the house for what was introduced as United’s “the first new manager press conference Manchester United has held in 26 years.” And he didn’t make pretences about the task in hand. Asked was there a single piece of advice that Ferguson conveyed, Moyes simply related how the 71-year-old how “within half an hour” of that meeting “was talking about the squad and the players and the staff and it was a period for me.. I couldn’t believe it….” Because what advice can a United manager give another about how it will really when the talk has finished and the games start: Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City among the first five, in a four week spell. “I’m not convinced that’s the way the balls have come out of the hat when that was being done. I’ve never seen Man Utd get a tougher start in any Premier League season,” he remarked.
“Yes,” Moyes replied, to the question of whether he was feeling excitement or trepidation. Yes, “I’m inexperienced” he said when his absence from all but the qualifiers of the Champions League was raised. He’d called Ferguson three or four times for advice already. “I hope he is sitting in the directors’ box.”
The presence of the man who has made him king is a mild challenge in the context of the enormous months ahead. “He is always going to be here,” Moyes said of Ferguson. “But hopefully the supporters now realise it was his time to finish and that somebody else has to come in?” It will be “impossible to do what Ferguson has done, Moyes admitted: “To manage at this level for 26 years and have his success. I don't think there will be any other manager that does that. All I can do is do what David Moyes has done before. I have to in my own way put my own stamp on the club.”