The Special One v The Chosen One - Mourinho still grappling with the ghost of Moyes at Man Utd
He was meant to be the ‘Chosen One’ but within a year had become the modern-day Wilf McGuinness. Every legendary Manchester United manager seemingly needs a follow-up fall guy, and David Moyes is the current generation’s reference point when it comes to the impossible task that is succeeding a great of the game.
By the time Sir Alex Ferguson let everyone in on his retirement plans in May 2013 the decision had already been made to give Moyes a six-year contract as his successor. Just think, in a parallel world somewhere Moyes is in his fourth season as United boss. Who knows where they might be now if he had been allowed to stay on.
It seems impossible to believe that he would be succeeding in such a scenario given what went on in the Scot’s 10 months in charge at Old Trafford, and his return to the Theatre of Dreams on Monday with Sunderland is a reminder of what many still regard as United’s nadir.
With the club having clinched a 13th title in 20 years the previous summer, the bar was always going to be set high but Moyes was to oversee a sharp decline. The inability to even have a say in the Champions League race eventually did for him, with a horrific home record in particular undermining his reign.
When he steps out from the Old Trafford tunnel on Boxing Day, he will do so knowing that his record of 14 wins and seven defeats at home simply wasn’t good enough. Indeed even one of the 14 victories ended in upset as Sunderland, ironically, followed a 2-1 second-leg loss in the League Cup semi-finals with a Vito Mannone-inspired penalty win.
Under Jose Mourinho the results haven’t been entirely different but the football and the feeling has. While the ‘Special One’ hasn’t had to deal with the burden of following Sir Alex, he has had the rather thankless task of converting Louis van Gaal’s squad into a more free-flowing and successful outfit.
Things are slowly starting to come right for Mourinho’s United but such is the precarious nature of the Premier League this season, and the difficulty of having a constant spotlight as has been the case in M16 for decades now, they are never far from a so-called crisis. The Portuguese will get no sympathy from Moyes in that regard though.
Having been a moderate success at Everton, Moyes is now a by-word for failure. That is the Manchester United effect, and the 53-year-old will carry his Old Trafford woes wherever he goes. He was given a shot by Real Sociedad not because of his favourable record at Goodison Park but because he had persuaded United that there was something more to him. Now he is at Sunderland looking to pick up the pieces of successive quick-fire sackings.
Meanwhile United are also in the process of recovering from the Moyes era, and the hope is that Mourinho will pull them back on course over the next few years. After a difficult start, they meet their former boss for the first time at a time when they boast their best form of the season.
But on a wider scale United still have a lot of work to do to recover from the drop-off which happened both physically and mentally between the day Sir Alex waved goodbye and when Moyes walked into Carrington three weeks later.
United may be facing up to Moyes on Monday, but they still have his ghost to overcome before returning to the pedestal they were once welded to. If Van Gaal asked for time, it was because he walked into a club which had lost its way in the previous year.
Now, Mourinho is asking for some leeway in dragging United out of their slumber. It will not be an easy job, with Moyes’ abject failure still one of the primary problems for anyone looking to steer the ship on course. Two-and-a-half decades of structure fell apart in 10 months, and it takes time to build it back up.
The pummelling of opposition into submission is slowly returning, and something approaching the fear factor is once more in evidence in visiting teams’ eyes. But there is still a long way to go before Mourinho is destined to be remembered in the same bracket as Ferguson and Busby rather than Moyes and Van Gaal. And Moyes himself is part of the reason for that.