Moyes position was arguably untenable, but his individual failings should not overshadow a broader problem of succession planning at the club.
Most fans and owners are willing to tolerate underperformance in the short term if real improvements in playing style can be viewed over the horizon. United are 27 points down on the previous season, they’ve slipped from first to seventh in the league and their star summer purchase – Marouane Fellaini – has not performed well. All of this might be tolerated if there was a sense of transition and improvement, but a stilted and uninspiring football style meant it was always going to be difficult to envisage what an improved Moyes team might look like – and on that basis he arguably had to go.
Those individual failings aside, it does raise broader questions about how this all came to pass, and here Moyes leadership is but one part of the story.
The absence of succession planning at club level is arguably the more pertinent lesson to come out of this.
At one level it must shine a light back onto the owners. This day had been coming for some time and they had plenty of time to plan. When they took over at the club they were very quick to espouse the virtues of their entrepreneurial vision and experience of running businesses like this. But I can think of few examples where – if all of the reports are true (and they may not be) – an existing manager would play such a key role in selecting the person who is to replace him. Perhaps if the Glazers had focused less on whiz-bang financial engineering of the balance sheet and looked instead at governance and operations, then the transition may have been smoother.
But at another level, Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure was always likely to be disruptive. If you devolve so much responsibility and power to a figure like Sir Alex, then the boundaries between club and manager become hazy – the club begins to embody the manager. Remove the manager and the structure begins to fall apart and that’s what we’ve seen. The situation is almost a paradox: the thing that made the club so strong in his presence, makes it now weak in his absence. That is not an attempt to eulogise Sir Alex Ferguson, it is a comment on how organisations are built to manage change and disruption. The owners and board had a responsibility to ensure that it never came to this.