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Is managerial short-termism the key to success?

David Moyes

Moyes lasted ten months at Old Trafford

David Moyes’ tenure as manager of Manchester United has lasted only ten months. Succeeding one of the most successful managers in the history of the game was always a daunting task, yet Moyes has admittedly found it more difficult than he, himself thought. The worst Premier League points of total in the club’s history is guaranteed and it is genuinely difficult to pick out more than two or three good performances from the 2013 champions.

The former Everton manager was hand picked by Sir Alex Ferguson himself  to take the reigns at Old Trafford in a move that clearly pointed towards a continuation of the long-term strategy employed at the club. Moyes had enjoyed a successful period at Goodison Park, where despite a failure to win any trophies, he regularly challenged for European places on a budget that was dwarfed by his competitors; he even managed to reassert the Toffees as Merseyside’s dominant force, with consecutive league placings above Liverpool.

When news broke that United had made the decision to move on from Moyes, many bemoaned the club’s actions as too hasty and not in tune with United’s philosophy. Ferguson has been given time and look where that lead. Surely Moyes deserved another season, to shape this squad using his vision, and create a new United in the post-Ferguson era.

There also appears to be a consensus that patience and stability breeds success. That having faith in a manager to build his own team is more likely to result in trophies than changing the man in charge on a regular basis. Is this true though? Does the evidence stack up? Would United be more likely to succeed if they had kept Moyes, rather than turn to a new face?

United’s competitors should be the biggest and best that world football has to offer. Considering the club’s history and it’s culture of winning, they compete with the likes of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich for the sport’s biggest prizes. Yet despite United’s commitment to continuity and stability, they lag behind these clubs and others on the European front; club’s who have indulged in the ‘dark arts’ of short-term management.

To play devil’s advocate…

In the post-war era, United have had seven managerial spells, up to and including that of David Moyes. In that period, they have won three European Cups, one Cup Winners’ Cup and set a new English record of twenty league championships. Impressive.

In the same period, their European rivals have registered the following…

Liverpool – fifteen managerial spells, five European Cups, three UEFA Cups and are currently two league titles behind United

Juventus – thirty-seven managerial spells, two European Cups, one Cup Winners’ Cup and three UEFA Cups

Ajax Amsterdam – forty managerial spells, four European Cups, one Cup Winners’ Cup and one UEFA Cup

Bayern Munich – forty-one managerial spells, five European Cups, one Cup Winners’ Cup and one UEFA Cup

AC Milan – forty-seven managerial spells, seven European Cups and two Cup Winners’ Cups

FC Barcelona – forty-seven managerial spells, four European Cups, four Cup Winners’ Cups and three Fairs Cups

Real Madrid – forty-nine managerial spells, nine European Cups and two UEFA Cups

Internazionale – fifty-eight managerial spells, three European Cups and three UEFA Cups


Bayern Munich

United are still playing catch up

So despite having far fewer managers than any of their rivals from across Europe, United have actually won the least European trophies of this group. Now this isn’t to suggest that adopting a very lax employment policy regarding managers guarantees success and with some of these clubs, trophies have come in concentrated spells, but it does lend a great deal of weight to the argument that ‘stick over twist’ is not a fool-proof solution.

Of course, there are other factors to consider; the financial strength of each club, the quality of players at their disposal and when they arrived at the club and the varying level of competition throughout the post-war years. However, to simply suggest that stability and long-term planning is the best way forward would not appear to be true. Rea Madrid won the Champions League in 1998 and promptly sacked Head Coach Jupp Heynckes. A crazy decision it would seem, but Los Blancos would go on to win the trophy again in 2000 and 2002 under Vicente del Bosque; would they have done the same if Heynckes had been retained? Impossible to say.

Ajax won the European Cup in 1971 under the stewardship of Rinus Michels. He was replaced by Stefan Kovacs, who went on to win back-to-back European Cups, completing a famous treble for the Dutch club. Was that achievement the work of Michels and Kovacs, or the fact that Ajax were blessed with talent such as Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens and Piet Keizer all in the same team?

Is a manager really that important at all? The excellent Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski argues that factors such as money spent on wages and player transfers have a much bigger impact on a team’s success than the man in the dugout. Would it be wise for United to break from British footballing tradition and employ a more prominent ‘Director of Football’ with a Head Coach to oversee training and match days, whilst player procurement is left to others?

Moyes never truly seemed to settle into his position at United. We will never know if that would have changed had the board and the Glazers kept their faith in him. However, let’s not bemoan another quick-fire sacking, but accept that sometimes decisions have to be made and that history would tell us that short-termism at the biggest clubs produces success. Even after twenty-six years, Ferguson couldn’t make United Europe’s most successful club. He didn’t even come close.






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