The black leather seat is an inordinately big one to fill – so big, in fact, that David Moyes needed to check he was alone before trying it out. The new Manchester United manager’s story of taking over Sir Alex Ferguson’s Carrington office, which he has told ahead of his historic first competitive game at the helm of the Premier League champions at Swansea today, is expressive of the space he finds himself occupying.
“Sitting in the chair for the first time felt odd,” Moyes said. “I did it myself with nobody looking. I thought I would have to see how it feels in case anybody thought I looked stupid.” And it has still not quite struck home that the club is his own now. “I still go into the office and feel... look, Sir Alex is still here and he will be…”
It is hard to feel that Moyes’ talk of seeking Ferguson’s counsel is anything other than genuine, and he revealed that he visited him recently as the 71-year-old recovers at home from a hip operation, the latest of a dozen talks the two men have had.
“I think it is just taking over from someone... It is going to be very hard for anybody to get close,” Moyes said. “I don’t think I have gone there for any advice. I have gone there and said, ‘This is how things are going. What are you thinking?’ He is going to be someone who is around. I want him to be around. On the first day I met him we had discussions about the team within an hour. Within the first 10 minutes of talking, and him telling me I was getting the job, we had already had discussions about the team and what would have to be done and what was expected, like sponsors, media, all the things that come from a big club. There were no airs and graces. He didn’t feather it. He told me straight what it was going to be like. He would expect me to get on and do the job myself.”
Ferguson said in 1992 that it had taken him three or four years to understand the job Moyes has taken. “I knew all about the history of Manchester United and was fascinated by the prospects of taking charge there, but I had no real inkling about the demands. I repeat, no manager is prepared for the job at Old Trafford.” Moyes said he could change things at Old Trafford in 18 months to two years, though defending an English title someone else has won brings rare challenges. Joe Fagan successfully defended Bob Paisley’s Liverpool 1982-83 title, but the last man to try it before that, Brian Clough at Leeds in 1974, lasted 44 days.
“I think the challenges are that quite often you would never take over a job when the team is so good,” Moyes said. “Usually you take over because a manager has been sacked or the team isn’t doing well. This is completely different because I am taking over a team that’s been successful. I have no doubt that there will be a lot of progress and change that I will implement. The previous manager has left things in place that are really important and the most important and impressive thing he has left is the winning mentality. They have won the league and now it’s: ‘Let’s win the next one’. That kind of quality is difficult to put into words. But when you are in there you see it and you feel it. The players and their spirit and attitude have really made me stand up and realise and see the difference. I can see the players and the edge and spirit of competitiveness they have.”
One player Moyes will have at his disposal is Wayne Rooney, who trained with the first team squad yesterday before travelling to South Wales, but is likely to be on the bench for today’s match.
He has not spoken to Wilf McGuinness, whose succession to Sir Matt Busby as United manager in 1969 lasted just 18 months. “I have to take over from someone who... I will not be better than,” Moyes said. “It will not get better than Sir Alex Ferguson. It just won’t. But what has to happen is the club has to keep moving forward and progressing. I do think that I am ready for the job. Because of that I have worked for a long time to get myself in a position where maybe I would be fortunate enough to land one of the big jobs. In my mind I have landed the biggest job. Yes, I am a rookie at Manchester United but I am not a rookie overall. I hope I am able to show that as the seasons progress.”