The last time David Moyes was at Old Trafford he sat in the press box, among the only people in the stands apart from the away support that Sir Alex Ferguson would ordinarily consider the enemy. He watched the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid as a summariser for Radio 5 Live, probably already aware that come next season it would be him in the home dugout.
So often the nearly man, who was beaten in an FA Cup final four years ago, and a semi-final this year, Moyes will have wondered as his star rose at Everton over the past 11 years whether his time would ever come. Since he took the job at Goodison Park he has seen fellow British managers Steve McClaren, Alex McLeish and Harry Redknapp win trophies while, for all his achievements, Everton have won nothing.
Yet, as of now, Moyes has landed a greater prize than all of them. To get the Manchester United job and follow in the footsteps of Ferguson it was always going to require more than just ability and a track record. It required the individual in question to be the right man at the right time, the outstanding candidate when finally Ferguson decided to call it a day.
The man in question would not only have to be trusted to take over from the most successful manager in British football, but also to impress Ferguson significantly that he was the right man. He would have to convince demanding American owners and effectively two chief executives – the departing David Gill and the soon-to-be-promoted Ed Woodward. Moyes has ticked all the boxes.
There is a nice closing of the circle too. Manchester United could have pretty much any manager they wanted in world football but they have selected a man who was born in Glasgow, less than six miles from Ferguson's native Govan.
When he was challenged in February before United's home fixture against Everton about the strength of Moyes' track record, Ferguson's reaction, with hindsight, was telling. "He's had 10 years at Everton – you don't survive 10 years in this game without making progress," he said. "His ability is obvious. Whether he gets in the top four doesn't change my opinion of him, or anyone else's."
By then, Ferguson had lost the opening game of the season at Goodison Park and had, the previous May, seen his team's title charge falter with a 4-4 draw against them at Old Trafford. "They are obviously hard to beat. And that's in the mould of David Moyes," Ferguson said in February. "He's made gradual progress because when he first took over he didn't have any money to spend. Given time you can do these things, which is the great value Everton have got out of David – each year he has progressed to good levels."
Ferguson would never consider, as Moyes did in March, coming into the press lounge at Old Trafford and mixing with the reporters who cover his team. His success means he believes he does not have to – he does not even attend post-match press conferences other than after European games. But he might have done when he was beginning in 1986, with a doubtful press and an impatient United fan base.
For Moyes, the challenges at Old Trafford will be very different to those Ferguson faced more than 27 years ago, but no less daunting. When he drives past the old North Stand, now named in Ferguson's honour, he will see the name of his predecessor and the statue of him, arms folded – imperious.
The old story of Sir Matt Busby's botched departure in 1969 will be much cited in the next few months. How he left and then came back before the team was eventually relegated and then rebuilt by Tommy Docherty. But Moyes is far more experienced and better-qualified to do the job than poor old Wilf McGuinness, then just 31, who lacked the status to manage the team's big names.
However Moyes' reign at United pans out, comparisons with McGuinness, who was only ever afforded the title of head coach, instead of manager – as Busby had been – are far too simplistic. McGuinness was the appointment of a club still, in effect, run by Busby. The modern United owes a great deal to Ferguson but it is too big and too diverse to fall into the same trap.
Like McGuinness, however, Moyes will have to manage the transition of the older generation like Paul Scholes, likely to retire for good at the end of the season, and Ryan Giggs, who has one more year. There are also the futures of the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic, all in their thirties, to consider. Michael Carrick is 31 and even Robin van Persie will be 30 by the start of next season.
And then there is Wayne Rooney. He wants to leave, a decision made before the announcement about Ferguson. Moyes sued Rooney for libel over claims in his 2006 autobiography. The issue was settled out of court and there has been a public making up since. But even a cursory flick through Rooney’s book will tell you how bumpy that relationship once was.
Rooney recounts a story of how Moyes accused him of breaking the CD player in his Mercedes with a Barry White album: "I think he was joking. I wasn't aware of anything having gone wrong with it." There is the time he threw a bucket of water over a toilet cubicle on to Moyes: "He never did find out it was me. Sorry Moyesy!" And the time Moyes reproached him over his diet: "'You've been eating too many McDonald's!' Moyes screamed at me."
Ferguson too had to take on some big characters – Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath, in particular – when he took over in 1986. At least then he could point to the club's lack of recent success.
But really, for now, none of that need matter. Moyes, a British manager who has earned his status in the game, from Preston North End to Goodison Park, has been given the biggest job in British football. That in itself should tell him that he can walk into the Old Trafford dressing room and start doing things his way.
Five issues on top of Moyes' in-tray
1. Wayne Rooney
How to revive a player whom he sued for libel over claims made in Rooney's 2006 autobiography? The two have patched up their differences publicly and privately.
2. Club's culture
The entire make-up of Manchester United, from youth coaching staff to press secretary, are Ferguson's. It may take years to establish a Moyes identity.
3. The midfield
Old problems don't dissolve. Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are entitled to feel their time is nigh. Anderson's is too. Moyes needs a signing.
Moyes has never won a trophy and only has one qualifying tie's experience of the Champions League. He needs early success to establish multi-title-winning players' respect.
5. Sir Alex Ferguson
Ferguson has been the kingmaker. Giving Ferguson the sense that he has not lost control yet firmly exerting his own is Moyes' ultimate challenge.Reuse content