When coming up for a title for this feature one stood out; “Football taught by…”, because of course it is such an easily identifiable phrase which belongs to Manchester United. The rest of that phrase refers, obviously, to Sir Matt Busby, with the inference clear and fair : that the Scot was responsible for the style of football most commonly associated with being most true to United’s identity.

Other pieces in this series will follow a certain formula, in terms of formations and pivotal moments. But how do you do that to a period which not only lasted more than two decades, but also shaped the entire identity of the very club? To place it into categories such as ‘best game’ and ‘usual formation’ and ‘first and last eleven’ as may be the case in other entries of this series, seems reductive rather than informative.

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First let us go back to the hiring of Matt Busby, a decision taken collectively by James Gibson, Louis Rocca and Walter Crickmer. It was, after all, their vision that Manchester United should be a team comprised mainly of local players.

It is not clear in absolute terms whether or not this was a decision inspired by their purist views of football, or, whether it was a financial decision driven by United’s woes that had been exacerbated by the decimation of Old Trafford during the war. According to Busby biographer Paddy Barclay : “Probably both. Gibson was a businessman but he was also a patriot. He’d lived in the Old Trafford area since the time United moved there, so he believed in localism. It’s an old-fashioned idea but a noble one, I think. It was really to do with creating the bond between spectators and the team. And also, a bond within the team… It is the ideal in football, it always is. Most people can’t do it. Gibson was a visionary in that way, Rocca was a visionary in the sense that he believed in the youth policy just as much… Gibson, Rocca and Crickmer very much shared the dream of a Manchester team made up of Manchester players.”

Barclay believes Busby may have been influenced by the ideas of his former manager at Liverpool, George Kay, who believed in bringing through young players.

Once Busby had been hired, and demanded complete control as manager of the club, he subsequently hired Jimmy Murphy, who was given the responsibility of looking after the youth team and the reserve team. Busby would only occasionally look over youth team training, and generally at the point where one or two had been suggested to him as close to first-team ready. It was enough of an incentive to get that extra ounce of effort from the players.

On the training pitch, these young stars were moulded by Jimmy Murphy, encouraged to give their all for their team-mates, and implored to give everything of themselves. Stories of Murphy’s individual coaching are legendary, but are for another day; their relevance here is simply to provide a little background into the demanding school of perfection United’s players were put through. More will follow later, again by way of fleshing out the background, but let us now indulge in the words of Busby and Murphy, who explained in great detail the qualities every member of their ideal Manchester United team should possess.

“What is this pattern of playing I keep going on about?” Busby asked in his book Soccer At The Top. “Only the naive would imagine that it is a drill to be followed by every Manchester United player. It is a pattern formed by the players and the staff, formed by individuals who are all different, and therefore the pattern over the years will gradually change. But only gradually.”

Goalkeeper

“What are the basic needs?” Busby asked. “They are the needs of every club. From the back the need is for a goalkeeper who is in charge of the penalty area, who has an understanding with his colleagues by thought reading as well as shouting, as well as having an appreciation of angles and using the ball at the right time.”

Jimmy Murphy’s answer was a little more elaborate and in-depth. “First impressions of a goalkeeper are all important,” he said. “The best of them exude confidence even at the kick-in. I like them to be 6ft or over. This doesn’t entirely rule out the smaller fellows, but the first essential of a ‘keeper’ is that he must have the size and presence to dominate his area. If he is tall he can come out fearlessly and collect the dangerous high balls. And if he is powerful as well he is not likely to be knocked over. He must also have what we call ‘good hands’. If there is the slightest sign he drops the ball or has the jitters under pressure then he must be checked, and checked again to discover whether this is a temporary lapse or a fatal fault.

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“Then he needs anticipation, quick reflexes to deal with the unexpected shot or header; and allied to this he must know how to angle himself when the ball is on the wings. I suppose that goalkeeping is the one position that has not changed much over the last thirty years, apart from the way they now use the ball in their own penalty area to initiate attacks. In the old days they just used to punt it upfield. Presence is the almost indefinable ‘something’ which stamps the great keeper and has done all the time I have been in the game. Even when teams are kicking in he looks unbeatable… It is true one often sees small agile keepers diving and leaping to make seemingly impossible saves. But week in week out, year on year, give me the tall, powerful boys who are not afraid to come off the line, for the hardest part of a goalkeepers art is the way he deals with those high and dangerous balls that flash across his goal.”

It is worth noting that when Harry Gregg was signed, his distinctive quality was his control over the 18-yard box. Gregg was infamous in his derisory view of ‘liners’, those being goalkeepers who remained on their goal-line. In his approach, United’s furthest line back would usually be around fifteen yards so Gregg was not so far away from the first line of his defence. It may not seem like much, but was fairly revolutionary at the time, and potentially helped United push a not-insignificant 10% up the pitch.

When Alex Stepney signed almost ten years later as his replacement, he was identified as a goalkeeper who was good with his feet and so a valuable outlet for defenders who may be pressured into releasing the ball backwards. Stepney would join in attacking routines with his colleagues, helping to devise a pattern of play whereby he would play the ball to Crerand who would then spread the ball out wide.

How interesting that the combination of qualities sought after by Busby and Murphy in their vision of the perfect goalkeeper could all be found in Peter Schmeichel, arguably the greatest ever in that position.

Defence

Throughout the almost thirty-year period that transpired from Sir Matt Busby’s first day as Manchester United manager to the publication of the book from which his quotes for this feature were taken, no area of a team had changed as much as defence. In midfield and attack, one can find a modern comparison for most positions. It can be done for defenders, too, although the emphasis of the game had always been on trying to score more goals than the opposition.

Arguably the first great revolution for defending was led by the legendary Italian manager Nereo Rocca, whose ‘catenaccio’ style earned great success at provisional Italian clubs Triestina and Padova — the most successful spells in both clubs’ respective histories. As this style became more popular, it therefore became a necessity for other teams to modify their own tactics and become more responsible, even if responsible was a byword for conservative.

Three-men defences with two wing-halfs in front of them (effectively, defensive midfielders) became four man defences with one of those holding midfielders becoming something of a ‘sweeper’.

Busby and Murphy’s observations revealed just how much the roles of defenders had changed, while the qualities needed remained fairly familiar, and still do today.

“Full-backs require strength, pace, and need to be quick on the turn for recovery purposes — needs that are not new to football but are perhaps even more vital now than they were twenty years ago,” Busby explained. “All the back men, say four of them, need to have command in the air, have to be able to read situations before they arise, all along the line.”

Murphy discussed the full-backs. “Of all positions the full back has changed the most dramatically over the past ten years,” he said. “When I played managers looked for big burly backs who could strike fear into wingers by their crunching tackles. They also had to be able to punt the ball 40 or 50 yards with ease. Roger Byrne, in my opinion, was the forerunner of the modern back and set the present trend.

“Today one looks first of all for a fast and perfectly balanced player who can keep pace with the fastest wing man. Indeed this is the most vital aspect of his game, for modern defences are so tight that an overlapping full back is a key factor in a quick counter-attack. They play at times like an additional winger for their own side. Therefore speed is essential and coupled with that is the speed of recovery if the first tackle fails.

“Tackling is still important of course, but there are not so many sliding tackles as there were. These days a back must be able to read a move so instead of going for the first tackle he can hold off and try to force the opposing wing man to go down the touchline. If he stays out there and the back stays with him the rest of the defence has a chance to re-group. Roger Byrne, who started this style, was a winger or inside forward before we converted him in a full back. Those who saw him will recall the masterly way he played against the great wingers Finney and Matthews by retreating with them, keeping inside them and forcing them to go wide if they wanted to get past him.

“The back who goes sliding in first time in the modern football is quickly put out of the game. I look for the boy who has speed, can turn quickly, can read the game and is a good striker of the ball – preferably with either foot. For this accuracy of passing is a ‘must’ to start attacking moves for his own side.”

Murphy’s description evokes memories of Patrice Evra, though it is almost certain that he would have admired the way Gary Neville converted himself from a centre-half to play the role to equally consistent effect.

Speaking about the centre of the defence, the Welshman discussed how the game had evolved and what that meant for Manchester United.

“Instead of one ‘stopper centre half’ we now have two centre backs policing the direct approach to goal in the centre of the field,” he said. Ideally one, if not both, should be tall, able to climb high and be mobile. Therefore, I ask myself: Has he plenty of spring like a gymnast? Is he safe when heading the ball from all angles? This the No 1 on the list of skills. Then I note whether he has the courage to go up and challenge, there is no point having a player who can go up like a man in a lift to head the ball away when no-one is near him and yet when challenged by an opponent he opts out. That’s no good in such a key position. The centre half, like the goalkeeper behind him, must be dominant particularly in the air. He cannot afford to miss anything otherwise a goal is on.

“Now we come to the important aspect of his feet, and balance. Neil Franklin had this skill to a marked degree. So had John Charles for such a big man. Both were quite dainty players. Quite clearly a centre half must be an ‘expert’ reader of the game and it’s moves. If he watches the ball all the time he will be in trouble for it is only by smart interceptions that many attacks can be cut out before danger develops.

“I also look for a centre half who can give length to his clearances – length plus accuracy, for in this way a quick counter attack can be launched. But the major skill is his work in the air. With the present trend of having small and fleet footed full backs who don’t cover the middle as they used to, it is imperative that goalkeeper and centre half between them have the height, confidence and dominance to deal with those high balls into a packed penalty area.”

For his part, Matt Busby tended to agree, though he felt that it was imperative to have a player capable of being comfortable in position playing as close to the defence as possible.

“What is now termed a sweeper as to be a seller of danger to come, and this was never better done than by Nobby Stiles, who was taking up positions to counter situations when the ball was at the other end of the park,” Busby said. “All these defenders, too, must use the ball accurately. The one thing to be avoided is giving the ball away. I know it is impossible not to give it away occasionally, but the team that does it least is the one that wins the prizes.”

Midfielders

Both Murphy and Busby were seemingly in agreement that this was the most important area of the pitch; it’s a theme that is firmly represented by the most fondly remembered United teams, who all seemed to have a physically strong and creative midfield unit.

“For real success the middle men, the creators, are the ones who really shape the game, the ones from whom most blessings flow,” Busby observed. “Deep-lying inside-forwards and wing-halves used to do the job, so there is nothing actually new about middle men, the only difference now being whether the method is to use two mainly or three. Four is a policy of fear.

“Whatever the method these are the men predominantly who start things. They have to have vision, imagination to hold the ball or pass it if passing it is ‘on’, and ability to beat a man, which is the hard way, used if a pass that will do the same work for him more swiftly and economically is not on. But the middle man has also to be able to win the ball, so he has to be able to tackle, read, or smell when an interception is going to present itself.”

In modern terms, asking for a midfielder who has all of those qualities might seem like a pipe dream, but you don’t even have to be someone of the age to have seen Busby’s side play to know the type of player he is describing.

Murphy — as was his reputation — got into the nuts and bolts of the specific qualities players in the middle of the park should possess. “Even ten years ago a manager tried to build his side on the classic traditions of a powerful defensive type wing half and a ball playing, attacking wing half,” he said in 1968. “As a general rule the attacking winger had better ball control and greater mobility and he would move up behind the forward line to keep an attack going. True, the defensive wing half would often go on an attacking sortie, in which case the normal attacking wing half would drop back and cover for him. This was the broad principle, but today tactics are vastly different. The more defensive wing half is used almost exclusively on defensive work as a ‘sweeper’ up or secondary centre half. If he has height all the better but it is not absolutely essential, for this player’s chief asset must be his reading of the game.

“To me, Nobby Stiles is the ideal ‘sweeper up’ both in temperament and practical ability. He is so neat and tidy in his work, spots when danger is coming and immediately nips in to stop it. He is of course a powerful tackler, as England’s World Cup opponents discovered, but on the rare occasion he misses his tackle he is so quick to recover that he is back in position to challenge again before an opponent can profit by his first lapse. Thus when I see a boy who is a sharp tackler, positions himself cleverly by watching the run of play and spotting where the danger is likely to come, and allies to this snappy interceptions and neat work tidying up and plugging gaps at the back, then I know I am looking at a future Nobby Stiles.

“So much for the back four, which is the modern defensive set-up; now we must have two men working in midfield to link defence with attack. The old style attacking wing half will be one of these men, only now he is used in a much more roving role. The first essential here is accuracy in passing. He may be absolutely brilliant on the ball, with a whole repertoire of tricks which will thrill the crowd, but he is no use to his team if the final pass is a bad one. The ratio must be 5or 6 to 1. That is to say, if he passes thirty times in a match I can excuse five bad balls….but no more! This class of player should never be in a hurry. No matter how much the crowd scream for him to “get rid” he must hold the ball and have the confidence to put his foot on it to stop play until his own men are in position to set up an attack.

“This is the man who sets the machine in motion, therefore he cannot afford to have his eyes glued on the ball all the time. He should have an instinctive touch for the ball so he can stride forward confidently, getting a picture of the field of play so he knows which of his colleagues is in the best possible position to receive the ball. This is much harder than it seems, for the natural reaction is to keep your eye on the ball and dribble it through a forest of legs.

“That’s no good for a link man. He must have an ice cold football brain and when I see a man of this calibre I don’t necessarily blame him if a pass goes astray. So many football fans, keyed up with excitement, hoot with derision at what appears to them a bad pass. Never forget it is not the man with the ball that makes a pass possible, it is the man off the ball who should get into an unmarked position so he is easy to find. You can always tell immediately when a team is playing well, because there are a number of players in open spaces ready to receive the ball. That shows they want the ball, are eager to get it and are full of confidence. Bad teams with bad players ‘hide’ themselves.

“Men like Cliff Britton, Matt Busby, Eddie Colman would have been greater even than they were in their own playing days in the modern set up. They would have had more opportunities to show their skill, for there is no finer sight in football than a constructive wing half in command of himself and the ball moving smoothly forward to set their team attacking. If you consider the great players in this position, almost all had a leisurely gait. If they are hurried in their moves it affects the whole team.”

Forwards

For this catch-all description, you can include wingers and, as Jimmy Murphy described them, ‘link men’ like Bobby Charlton. Of this type of player, Murphy stated : “This man must have pace and shot allied to his ball control. Alfred Di Stefano did this job magnificently for Real Madrid and so too did Tom Finney at the latter end of his career with Preston and England. Di Stefano was an absolute master. He very rarely tackled, but once Real Madrid lost possession of the ball you would see him flitting back like a ghost to his own penalty area, jockeying opponents, trying to force them into a faulty pass. Then he would be in open space himself, ready to set up another attack, moving forward in close support of the other four forwards.

“Such a player must have a natural attacking flair, smooth movement on the ball, good control, and the ability to put his foot on the accelerator to quicken up or slow down the tempo. This man is doubly dangerous if he is fast, has a body swerve and a powerful shot so he can come from behind to have a crack at goal when the rest of the line is bogged down and unable to get a shot in. This is why Bobby Charlton was switched to play the Di Stefano role, because he had the talent for the job, with a terrific shot and the ability to hit long or short balls with devastating accuracy. This is the major difference between the attacking wing half and his partner, the deep lying inside forward or centre forward. There is a subtle difference between the play of link men. The man who starts the move is usually a one pace player with a very keen football brain and wonderful ball control. His partner, who is generally a deep lying centre forward or scheming inside forward, is a faster player; makes a more direct attack on goal and has the forward’s natural flair for snatching half chances.”

Busby concurred, explaining that it would usually be the players in attack who were the most skilful. “Forwards must obviously have great skill because they are facing the wrong way half the time when the ball comes to them,” he said. “They have to be able to take a bump and bounce back. They, too, have to anticipate situations and exploit them. They have to ‘lose’ opponents by taking up positions that allow it, which is on e reason why really great players seem to have more time than lesser men, thus having escaped by anticipating the tight-marking, especially the ultra-tight marking of today.

“A forward, particularly, has constantly to give himself a view of the pitch before the ball reaches him, thus allowing him a preconceived notion of what he intends to do when he gets it. Compared with twenty years ago, wingers are a rarity, but still most goals come from crosses from the flanks, high, low or knee-high, so all forwards have to have some of a winger’s qualities and so do middle men and even full-backs for that matter. Then, of course, to provide the finish to the whole operation, the need is for two or three of those priceless characters who have the knack of putting the ball into the net, and of whom Manchester United have had more than their share…”

Another area where United had more of their fair share was on the wing. There is a tremendous affection for the likes of Coppell and Hill, Olsen and Whiteside, and Kanchelskis and Giggs, all of whom came after the Busby and Murphy era and all of whom played with the sort of style and flair was associated with the role way back when.

“Wingers — these are the matchwinners in football today,” Murphy said in the summer after United won the European Cup. “There was a time when a team could have a frail player on the wing, not now. I look for a strong, direct type of player with the speed and ability to go storming past the back. As a general rule the winger is next to the last man to receive the ball- the last man to get the ball should be the one who has a crack at goal- and therefore it is obvious the winger must be able to cross a ball at speed and above all he must be accurate. There is no point having a modern Matthews out there on the touchline practicing his soccer sorcery if, when he crosses the ball, he miscues and either hits it too far, or not far enough, or straight to an opponent. If he does, all the careful build up is completely and utterly wasted. There must be an end product: either a goal, or at least an attempt on goal.

“In modern football I think the wingers need courage more than ever before. If he loses possession he cannot stand still and put himself out of the game. He must double back and challenge, or at least place himself in a position where he is facing the ball again and marking his opponent. Not long ago a winger wasn’t in the game until the ball was rolled to his feet, these days he must mark the opposing full back as much as the backs mark him. Therefore when I check on a wingman, I look for speed, courage, accuracy when centreing, and the guts, speed and stamina to chase back and do a job in defence when his own team has lost possession.”

Murphy felt that strikers, as well as being skilful, must be amongst the bravest players on the pitch. “I cannot state this too often: only the brave venture into the penalty area these days,” he opined. “And this brings me to the last two all-important positions, loosely termed the ‘twin’ strikers. Their job is to put the ball in the back of the net, and getting goals has never been harder than it is today. It is quite true that midget centre forwards like Hughie Gallacher would score goals in any era because of their fantastic skill. As with centre halves and goalkeepers, size is very important for a centre forward. Without a big fellow in the middle a team is forced to keep the ball on the ground, in muddy conditions in a packed penalty area with so many legs ready to stick out to block the ball these tactics can be nullified. Therefore I would say at least one of the strikers should be a six footer.”

Murphy felt that the list of qualities demanded in a top flight striker was so particular that those players would inevitably be the most sought-after commodities. “A world class player who can score goals is a £100,000 player simply because world class strikers are so rare,” said the former Welsh national team coach. “He has the most difficult and unenviable position of all because very often the strikers not only have their backs to their opponent’s goal but also to their opponent too. They cannot see the man coming from behind and it is the striker who gets all the sly nudges, pushes in the back, hacks on the ankle and calves, indeed some centre forwards these days wear shin pads on their calves….. this shows how drastically the game has changed.

“When subjected to this buffering it helps if the player is not only tall, but tough. He has to snap up the half chances greedily for he won’t get many free and unmolested shots on goal. Therefore point one is physique, for even if he not a pretty ball player himself a team can use a tall man to play the ball off. He must have perfect physical fitness and stamina so he can chase, and chase even when he is given a bad pass.”

If a team has all the right attributes, there were still those rare kind of players who might make an extra difference. Players who transcended the above columnising of attributes by specialising in a role that may be unpredictable, or having such a strong physique that they can play anywhere and revolutionise the position by virtue of who they are, or, maybe having something completely different altogether. The sort of different which is unquantifiable and becomes known only by reference to the surname of a player who embodied it.

“A bonus, if a team contains all those assets, is the genius in the ranks,” Busby said. “United have had a few of those. These fellows are by nature noncomformists, inasmuch as they do things that the others cannot do. I have always believe that the brilliant individualist myst be given scope for his nonconformism as long as it is not at the expense of the end product — the scoring of goals. Because the constant surprises inflicted on the opposition by these gifted players become confidence-sapping for them, making them disbelieve in themselves.”

Telepathy

“The great Real Madrid had all these qualities plus the vital and often missing link, complete understanding, and it was this I was aiming for when first I began managing Manchester United,” Busby said. “It is the understanding that makes the pattern from the individuals in it.

“To create it the first job is making a player aware of what his own positions demands, whether it is destructive, creative, or both, what he is required to do in any situation. All players do things differently, even if only slightly differently. But basic requirements are the same, and knowing the requirements laid down for offensive or defensive situations, they are given constant practice in then.

“Since the reserve and other young players also often take part in the practice, the pattern is constantly being formed throughout the club, varied, as I said, only slightly and gradually as the odd player finishes or moves on whose individual style has affected the pattern and has been affected by it. Thus also not has a player learned the requirements and practiced them, he has learned from sheer practice the requirements of his colleagues, and the idiosyncrasies of his colleagues (and they all have them) until they become a team of thought-readers.

“I was sometimes accused, or Manchester United were accused of ‘playing it off the cuff’ when some other teams with lesser talents regiments themselves into becoming boring, defensive, mechanical morons. But if the care with which we of Manchester United created our pattern, which was adapted to change with changes of individuals, and which was torn to shreds at Munich, and then created again, if all this is playing it off the cliff my critics know more about the game than I do.”

One needs only a contemporary reference to understand the point. Observe the likes of Iniesta and Xavi, the two standout midfielders from a Barcelona school of excellence which has included a staggeringly gifted roll call of names with the trophy cabinet to boost. A little further back and people will remember the class of 92, and how United benefited from the natural chemistry and spacial awareness of the likes of Beckham, Scholes, Butt, Giggs and the Nevilles. Imagine that, but with eight or nine players, and you have the Busby Babes’ first team; imagine that, but with nine or ten players in the reserve side and another nine or ten in the youth team and you had the set up of Manchester United just before the tragedy of the Munich Air Disaster.

In the 1954-55 season, United’s reserve team regularly included the following players — Geoff Bent, Jeff Whitefoot, Ronnie Cope, Mark Jones, Wilf McGuinness, John Doherty, Billy Whelan, David Pegg, with Eddie Colman and Bobby Charlton only making a couple of appearances as they fought their way in. There was so much talent in the club that it could have made two sides, and the conveyor belt approach to their development had been so finely tuned through the six or seven years of hard work behind the scenes from Jimmy Murphy and Bert Whalley that United could easily foresee a level of success that may never be replicated.

Certainly, considering that no other club has ever been able to replicate such success on such a large scale (and it seems staggering that no club has ever considered the long term benefits of dedicating five or six years to this approach, though United’s prolific blooding of youngsters under Sir Alex Ferguson was easily the closest anyone has ever got), we can observe both the benefit and the difficulty in putting it together. Simply put, after all of the ingredients were carefully put together, it was the ingenuity of having that kind of groove for four or five years before they were put into the first team individually and collectively which put United as far ahead as they were, giving them much of their identity and much of the reason why they were so loved.

As explained by Jimmy Murphy, “I cannot make the point too strongly, that it is no accident when Bill Nicholson produces a great team at Spurs; or Bill Shankly at Liverpool; or Matt Busby at Manchester United. A great football team is the product of many people, directed by the manager. To find the right players to blend into a team pattern is a long and laborious process, extending over many years. The real professionals in this game are rightly proud of their calling for they never see a game in the same way as the average fan does.”

All great things come to an end. Munich was partly responsible, though of course, Jimmy Murphy’s resolve to ‘keep the flag flying’ gave the club an extra thread of its identity which hadn’t existed before the grief.

Yet Busby and Murphy astounded the world when they won the European Cup ten years later, featuring two players developed through their system who would be European Players of the Year.

The day the club really changed was when Sir Matt Busby retired in January 1969. Jimmy Murphy was marginalised, with George Best describing the day Murphy was officially moved into a scouting role in 1971 as the time the club felt different.

Busby had retired with the headline “I’ve lost my grip!” Murphy was not much younger, and it was indeed on account of his age that he was primarily not considered as successor (though it’s fair to say Murphy might well have refused anyway, as he preferred to be a coach).

Busby biography Paddy Barclay believes the two were as closely linked as Brian Clough and Peter Taylor. “Jimmy was the technique and Matt was the inspiration,” Barclay said. “I don’t think Matt couldn’t have done it without Jimmy, and Jimmy would have exploded without Matt’s restraining influence.”

However, there was every reason to believe that Murphy would have been a valuable coach for years to come, for Busby’s successors. The man whose coaching methods were shaped by the Hungarian national team led by Jimmy Hogan was also a man who embraced the changes of the game. He once said, when eulogising about Joe Armstrong : “Joe has never played football professionally, but I would back his opinion on a schoolboy footballer above hundreds of men who because they played the game in the highest company, fondly imagine that they know all there is to know about the game, and judging of a players ability. This just isn’t true, I could write a book about the great players who have failed as managers and coaches. In looking at schoolboy players you need a sympathy, understanding and a mind free of pre-conceived ideas.

“Too many ex-footballers judge the generations who succeed them, on their own impression of how they thought they themselves played the game. This has been one of the foundations of my partnership with Matt Busby, we never dwelt on the past; or how the game was played in our time. Those who have power and authority should cherish the sound principles of the past while moving with the times and accepting that changed tactics alter the pattern of the game. Nothing irritates a player more than: “This is how we did it in our day” :  by all means pass on experience, but don’t bore the boys playing the game with a digest of what stars did 20 years ago. They will listen to those stories when it is necessary.

“I feel I must make this point in all honesty. Although many ex-footballers do a magnificent job in maintaining the continuity of the game, passing on tips based on their own experience, the blunt truth is a distinguished career as a player does not necessarily qualify a man to be a first team manager or a coach. I can think of many great players who could not explain how they were able to beat a man! Their skill was purely instinctive, they had not the means to express themselves with words or deeds in coaching lessons. The best managers and coaches usually have had first class experience, but this is not absolutely necessary when talent spotting in schoolboy and junior football.”

Murphy’s modern and evolving approach to football meant that his wisdom was surely and sorely lost by United in the forthcoming lean years. Perhaps that would have been greedy for a club who had already benefitted so much from the experience of Murphy and, of course, Sir Matt Busby.

For without doubt, regardless of your preferences or your date of birth, the identity of the modern Manchester United was all shaped from the moment Busby was hired to be manager.

Recommended reading :

Sir Matt Busby – The Man Who Made A Football Club by Paddy Barclay

Soccer At The Top by Sir Matt Busby

Jimmy Murphy : The Man Who Kept The Red Flag Flying

Recommended listening :

Podcast with Paddy Barclay on Sir Matt Busby and Jimmy Murphy

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