THE predictable randomness of the Premier League fixture computer has ensured new Manchester United manager David Moyes will be very aware early on of the enormity of the task facing him at Old Trafford.
Moyes is already up against arguably his greatest professional challenge – replacing the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson – and the start of life at Old Trafford without the great man could hardly be a tougher one for his fellow Scot, with mouthwatering clashes against Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City awaiting the Reds in our first five league fixtures.
Moyes will be able to judge the commitment and character of his side, not to mention his own stomach for dealing with the pressure cooker atmosphere that comes with the territory of being United boss, by the end of September.
I don’t doubt his own character or his ability to handle the United job. If anything I think the former no nonsense centre half will relish the tough start.
In contrast to the beginning of our route towards what we hope will be league title glory, things are far easier for Moyes’ fellow new managers Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini.
Chelsea have the more daunting opening five fixtures, ignoring the fact of course that they kick off with their perennial soft home tie against a newly promoted side, Hull City. Just to make sure Mourinho gets a nice game to bed-in, the powers that be have decided to throw Steve Bruce’s Tigers into the lion’s den on the opening day.
The only fly in the ointment in the Stamford Bridge soup may be a potentially tricky visit to Goodison Park to face Roberto Martinez’s Everton, and, of course the United game at Old Trafford.
These two games notwithstanding, their opening five fixtures also look fairly simple. They also welcome Aston Villa and Fulham to the Bridge.
City begin life without Roberto Mancini in such kind, relaxed fashion, that new boss Pellegrini could be forgiven for thinking he hasn’t actually swapped the easy life in sunny Spain for the melting pot of Manchester at all. The Blues’ first five fixtures include two newly promoted clubs, Cardiff City (away) and Hull (home), as well as two teams many have tipped to struggle this season – Mark Hughes’ Stoke (away) and the internally combusting Newcastle (home) who they host on opening day. Their first test will be when they welcome the champions.
It might look daunting but Moyes is a man with broad shoulders and I’m sure he’s keenly aware that life at Old Trafford was never going to be easy – it’s not supposed to be, United fans don’t want it to be.
For me the fixture list reads eerily similar to last season’s 20th title winning campaign – a tough start, but getting many of our big away days out of the way before the New Year and a pretty favourable looking run-in.
I gave up believing in the randomness of the fixture computer many years ago. I mean, just how much of a coincidence is it that several times a season we get a ‘Super Sunday’ line-up involving showdowns between the likes of United, Arsenal, Chelsea, City, Spurs, Liverpool and Everton? Simply put, it isn’t. Football today is generated by the money men, although I mustn’t complain too much as I’m more of a fanatic now than I ever have been.
United fans should allow themselves a little snigger that the only real rival to Moyes for the United vacancy, Mourinho, brings his new/old Chelsea team to Old Trafford for the second game of the season. That is a mouthwatering fixture.
After daunting trips to Anfield (where Moyes has never won) and the Etihad, we face a trip to Spurs before Christmas, as well big homes games against Arsenal and Everton, while we venture out to Stamford Bridge early in the New Year.
After the usually perennial tough away trip to take on Stoke City on February 1, we travel to the Emirates two weeks later and welcome City on March 1 and then Liverpool on March 15.
After Liverpool’s visit Old Trafford, however, the last eight games are very similar to last season.
We travel to West Ham and host Aston Villa before the end of March; have two potentially tricky away days at Newcastle and Moyes’ former team Everton in addition to two home games against Hull City and Norwich City in April; before ending the season with a home game against Sunderland and visiting Southampton on the final day of the Premier League season.
And all we need to do is look to last season to see how this period can be negotiated. Last year we faced Everton, Liverpool and Chelsea away before the end of October, and by mid November we’d played the two north London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal at home. City away followed in December, rounding off a very tricky first half of the season.
Moyes has been written off already by some. A few believe the job is already too big a task for him. I don’t doubt that some journalists already have his sacking copy tucked away in folder on their desktop, waiting to be unearthed in the hope that a run of poor results might result in a knee-jerk reaction from the hierarchy at Old Trafford, perhaps as early as September.
No United fan will argue that replacing Sir Alex is a daunting prospect, the hardest job in football maybe.
But with Sir Alex having had a big say in who his successor was and with Moyes cut from similar cloth – traditional, hard working values; a preacher and nurturer of youth and a core trust and belief in British players – I don’t see Moyes suffering the same fate as Wilf McGuinness, Frank O’Farrell, Tommy Docherty, Dave Sexton or Ron Atkinson.
After the Sir Matt Busby era had defined United as a club, the men that tried to fill his shoes, largely, came up drastically short.
McGuinness, a club trainer when Sir Matt left in the summer of 1969, struggled in his tenure of just over a year in the job, with Busby persuaded to come back for another year.
O’Farrell’s inability to control George Best’s extravagances forced the board to sack him with three years still to run on his contract, after barely a year in charge.
Docherty, Sexton and Atkinson all enjoyed fairly long stays in the Old Trafford hot-seat as well as moderate success.
Docherty’s stay did not get off to the best starts as United were relegated in 1973–74. They bounced straight back up though and reached the FA Cup final in 1975-76, winning it the following year against Liverpool to claim his first and only trophy at United. His reign ended in disgrace, however, when it was revealed he was having an affair with the wife of the club’s physiotherapist and he was immediately fired.
Sexton remained in the job for four years but was unable to produce any silverware, replaced in 1981 by Atkinson. He rekindled the club’s cup success, leading his side to two FA Cups in his five years, as well as overseeing a series of respectable finishes in the league, but after a disastrous start to the 1986–87 season, he was sacked.
While enjoying success in the FA Cup, it was the inability of United managers in between the Busby and Ferguson days to maintain United as a force in the league, that hindered them, and it is no more so apparent than today as to what is the bread and butter of this club.
Moyes will know this. It will be repeating on him. He won’t be able to escape it, especially in the first few weeks of the new campaign.
So while the fixture list and the world seem intent on destroying the Moyes era before it’s really even begun, Reds’ fans should be confident that United have chosen the right man to replace the greatest man our club has ever known.
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