Welcome to a new feature on WATBB entitled “Transition”. This series will take an in-depth look at Manchester United’s post-Sir Alex Ferguson years, looking at each of his successors and analysing what went right, what went wrong, and how close or how far the club have kept to, or strayed from, its identity. This second instalment chronicles David Moyes’ introduction to life at Old Trafford.
Despite Moyes not officially starting in the role until early July, transfer speculation continued to rage, with most journalists suggesting similar names — Cesc Fabregas, Thiago and Marouane Fellaini were all mentioned as potential midfielders, with Leighton Baines a possible addition at left-back. Tottenham Hotspur’s Gareth Bale, who was destined to leave White Hart Lane, was the biggest name linked to United, if one is to accept and discount the yearly link of Cristiano Ronaldo. Meanwhile, the future of Wayne Rooney was the one pressing issue Moyes would have to deal with. Sir Alex had dropped a bombshell by revealing that Rooney had asked to leave the club — “He came into my office the day after we won the League and asked away,” Ferguson said in his second autobiography My Autobiography.
Ferguson’s boast that he had left a squad in good shape was somewhat true, but it was a statement that came loaded with a million and one caveats. Moyes was, after all, inheriting the Premier League champions. Cynics had suggested that the most recent League successes in 2011 and 2013 owed more to the manager than the strength of the squad.
There was undoubted quality in within it, but it was clever management which optimised its capabilities. Here was a manager familiar with everything about his players. Most of them were young men he’d known for years — some, six or seven, others, ten or eleven, in the case of the likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, over twenty. He knew the condition of his veteran players, he knew the physical make-up of his squad, he knew the games they would be suitable for — in short, he knew everything you would expect a man who had been in charge for more than a quarter of a century to know.
When he was unveiled at a press conference at Manchester United’s Carrington training ground on 5th July, David Moyes looked just as much of the wide-eyed new boy as Sir Alex Ferguson had looked the relaxed and confident landlord of the joint in his pressers of recent years. The following is the transcript of Moyes’ first press conference.
As you sit here as Manchester United manager, how proud do you feel?
“I am incredibly privileged to be given the opportunity to manage Manchester United and grateful to Sir Alex and the board for making it happen. It was a really strange situation for me. I had no idea whatsoever. I knew nothing until Sir Alex gave me a call and asked me to come to his house. I was expecting him to say “I’m going to take one of your players” or something along those lines. I went in and the first thing he said to me was “I’m retiring”. I said when because he was never retiring and he said next week. And his next words were “you’re the next Manchester United manager”. So I didn’t get the chance to say yes or no. I was told that I was the next Manchester United manager and that was enough. As you can imagine, the blood drained from my face. I was really shocked. More shocked that Sir Alex had chosen to retire. But inside I was incredibly thrilled that I was going to be given the chance to manage Manchester United.”
Did you ever think that you had a chance at replacing Sir Alex as manager?
“For any football manager or coach who wants to manage, this is the place to be. I hoped when Sir Alex’s days were up, I would be a consideration. I also think it’s a plus for English coaches. You might have to work through the lower leagues, which I did at Preston, and if it goes well for you, you get an opportunity. From that point of view, people will think if I can do it, they can do it too.”
How daunting is it to take over from one of the most successful managers the world has seen?
“Whoever was going to take over this job knows what the manager did before. The manager before was incredible. His achievements, well there are no better. All I can do is what David Moyes has done before. I will definitely continue the traditions of Manchester United, but I have to put my own stamp on the club.I’m very fortunate I’m taking over the champions of England, so that gives me a great start, better than most would get. Sir Bobby Charlton came to see me and I was as thrilled about that as anything. He came in and saw me at the training centre and that was amazing for me.”
You have been given a long-term six year contract – how much confidence does that give you?
“I have found the people at the club fantastic. They want continuity and longevity – the Glazers and Ed Woodward see it as a long-term thing. I need to say a big thank you to Bill Kenwright and Everton. I’m sure he understands I had to make this move. The Glazers and Ed Woodward have been excellent. The players have too. You can imagine the size of the job. I need to say a big thank you to the former manager’s old staff – Rene Meulensteen, Mike Phelan and Eric Steele, who have left the club. I asked Rene to stay but he felt it most fair that he moved on and let me stamp my own authority on the team.”
Can you replicate Sir Alex’s success?
“Sir Alex will always be here – his stand and his statue are here – the supporters need to realise that it was Sir Alex Ferguson’s time to go and someone needs to come in. To manage at this level for 25 years, I don’t think another manager will ever do that at a club at this level.”
Have you managed to talk to Wayne Rooney about his future?
“I’ve had opportunities to speak with him, yes. It’s interesting to think that Wayne is only 40 or 50 goals behind Sir Bobby Charlton and I think 40 behind Denis Law. I’ve had a chance to speak to Wayne. I’m sure it’s a question on all of your lips, but the fact of the matter is Wayne is not for sale.He is a Manchester United player and will remain a Manchester United player. I’ve known Wayne since he was 16. I’ve had several meetings with Wayne. He’s training brilliantly well. He’s come back in good shape and I’m really looking forward to working with him. What we’re looking to do is see how we can get Wayne Rooney scoring those goals, which will challenge the likes of Bobby Charlton and Denis Law’s numbers.We are working and trying everything to get Wayne to the level where we think he should be. Not only that, this country will have a World Cup to play in next year, so for everybody’s benefit, we are trying to get him back to the Wayne Rooney we all know.”
Has Rooney said that he wants to remain at the club?
“We have spoken several times. As far as I’ve seen it, whatever happened before is gone. We’re working together now. I see a glint in his eye. He looks happy and he looks like he is going to knuckle down and get himself right.”
But has Rooney made it clear that he would like to stay at the club?
“I am looking forward to working with him and, as the club have reiterated, he won’t be for sale.”
Sir Alex Ferguson said the player has asked to leave. Will the club have to go back on that?
“There was a private meeting between two people and I was not privy to that so whatever happened in that meeting was said. I don’t know what those two gentlemen said. That conversation was private between them both. As far as I’m concerned, I’m really looking forward to having a go with Wayne.”
David, has Wayne Rooney categorically said that he wants to remain a Manchester United player?
“I can tell you categorically that Wayne Rooney is training fantastically well. That’s all I can categorically tell you. I think if I was Wayne, I would look at the legends who have played at this club. You can see their pictures at the training ground — George Best, Bobby Charlton, Roy Keane, I could go on. And I thought to myself, Wayne is not too far away from that. It isn’t too difficult to get the goals to reach the goalscoring record and if he could do that, he would be seen in the same light as those people. Wayne will not be sold by Manchester United.”
Are you intimidated by the presence of Sir Alex Ferguson watching on?
“I hope he is sitting in the directors box because he has been so good. I have already called him two or three times for some advice. He’s not there to pressure me. He said, “You were the name that I’ve told the board should be the next Manchester United manager.” The big thing for me has been the players and they have responded well.”
Can you continue his success?
“I’ve come to a club where success is tattooed across its badge. This club is about winning trophies and I’ve come to continue that. It’s something I’m looking forward to doing. It will not change me; I’m determined to try to get the first ones on the board this season.”
Are you inexperienced compared to other managers linked with the job like Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho?
“I’m inexperienced in a lot of things and there were some brilliant managers who could have quite easily taken this role but the biggest confidence I got was that Sir Alex Ferguson said to me “you’re the next Manchester United manager”.”
Are you planning to strengthen the squad and if so, where?
“They had a great season in the Premier League last year and it is something we will do everything we can to add to the squad. This club has done it, will always go after the best players and will always be interested in them and we will do everything we can to make sure we remain at the top.”
Have you identified particular players, Cristiano Ronaldo maybe?
“I would never speak about players at other football clubs because I think it’s wrong and not my style. When people are in contract at other clubs I think it’s wrong to talk about them. This club has a great season last year. I am taking over the Champions and Manchester United are always interested in the best players available.”
Are you pleased to have Phil Neville and Ryan Giggs on your backroom staff?
“I wanted to make sure I had connections who know what the club is about. I spoke to Paul Scholes as well and he wanted to have some time off with his family. I spoke with Rene Meulensteen but he decided to go, so I thought the obvious person was Ryan and he’s been great. I’ve only worked with him for two days but he’s an incredible footballer and sometimes until you get really close you don’t realise that. He’s been on his Pro Licence course and taking steps forward and with him and Phil Neville I wanted to make sure I had some young members behind me as well.”
What have been your first impressions of the squad?
“I’ve not got all of (the players) back yet as a lot of are coming back from different tournaments. But the biggest thing I’ve been really impressed with is their attitude and the way they have gone about their work. Total professionals.”
What are your thoughts about the start you face to the season?
“It’s a tough start and I’m not convinced that’s the way the balls have come out of the hat when that was being done. But you have to play everybody twice and I look back over the last five years and I’ve never seen Man Utd get a tougher start in any season.”
What style of play do you hope to implement?
“I hope we play the same way, with the same traditions and entertaining, exciting football. I’ve always said the biggest thing in football is to win, the job here is to win. I would always put winning at the top of the list. Sir Alex would as well. If you had a great entertaining team but didn’t win the games, it doesn’t quite get you anywhere. You have to get the balance right and hopefully I can.”
United had a great tradition of late goals under Fergie, the fans will expect that to continue. Can you do that?
“The players who can come on and win them games has been incredible and hopefully that wont change. Hopefully I will have that same magic touch Sir Alex used to have at times when he made remarkable decisions that got him results from nowhere at times. I hope I am able to do that.”
What did you immediately say to the players when you got them together?
“Not everybody’s here and it wasn’t as if I was able to go in there and say this is what we are doing. That will come in time. I had a word with the players the other day and said I was surprised that Sir Alex had chosen to retire. But I explained that when he had he had given me the opportunity to take the job and hope they respect that and we work together and try to be successful together.”
What advice have you had from Sir Alex?
“It was incredible when I met him. Within half an hour he was talking about the squad and the players and the staff and it was a period for me I couldn’t believe it. At that time I was sworn to secrecy because Sir Alex wanted to keep his retirement private until the right moment. I only knew a couple of days before we played Liverpool when I got the call. He said a lot of things to me about the club and how great it was, the people who worked for it and felt I could take it on. He told me things that could be improved on as well so he was very honest.”
It must be strange – one minute you’re targeting players for Everton – now bigger names for United?
“I’ve only been the manager since July 1, but before that there was the month of June where I have had a chance to look at things, and yes it does change because it was a different window we would have been shopping in at Everton. That’s why I said earlier, this club will always go for the best players, but it will always look to buy the best young players. And a big part of my job is to bring through the young players from the academy. I think we tried to do that as well as we possibly could at Everton, introduce young players to the team. And it is sort of in the DNA here, looking to bring through the young players.”
Who do you see as your biggest threat?
“I think there will be improvements from all of the clubs. I am really pleased to see Jose (Mourinho) back, he is someone who everyone will enjoy working in this country. He has been very successful and I think we will enjoy having Jose back in the Premier League again. I have come across Manuel Pellegrini a couple of times at Villareal and Malaga, so it will be new to him as well. Probably for the first time there has been quite a big shake-up in the Premier League and because of that I think there are a lot of things unknown, how things will pan out. I don’t think it’s just at this club, I think there are a few other clubs where it is similar.”
What would be success for you in your first season in charge at Old Trafford?
“I actually think it is doing well in all the competitions, not just the Premier League. When you are at Manchester United, my thinking is that you have to go for everything, you attempt to win everything. Maybe you miss out sometimes, but you have to attempt to win all the trophies. I have done it everywhere else I’ve been, and I will certainly do it here because I have a bigger squad, quality players and a club with the tradition of being use to winning things.”
Will you look to get Paul Scholes involved at a later date?
“He has been fantastic, he wanted to give me so much help and direction on things. We spent over an hour on the phone, but he wants to give his family some time now after retirement. But there will be a place for him, we will look to bring him back in when he is ready.”
Could you have a new signing before United go on tour?
“I will try, but I couldn’t turn round and say yes to that, but I will try if possible. The time is closing in a little bit just now. Always with a new manager, the players want to show they care. The players are working hard. To play for Manchester United, whether you are young or old, there is always a great pressure.”
Will transfers go down to the wire in this window?
“I think things might be done a little bit later this year, partly because there are quite a few new managers in so not everything will be done right away, but if you had the ideal position you would try to get the players in as soon as you could.”
Do you have an agreement with Everton and Bill Kenwright that you will not return to sign former players – Leighton Baines for example?
“I don’t think that is the case. Bill has been fantastic to me, they have got a great staff, a very good team and very good players. I’ve brought some of my staff with me as well, all I could ever say is thanks for what Everton did for me.”
Moyes was sitting alongside Nemanja Vidic, the club captain, who was answered a couple of questions and answered diplomatically. The new boss seemed quite insistent over his Rooney stance but it seemed more in hope than expectation; his attempt at being convincing was never, well, convincing. As far as United supporters, the majority just wanted that issue put to bed. There was talk of renewed interest from Manchester City and even a suggestion that Arsenal had made an inquiry but the major link for Rooney was with Chelsea.