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Spiers on Sport: Sir Alex Ferguson got much right... and David Moyes wrong

There is plenty defending to be done of David Moyes, the man. But anyone trying to build a case for defending Moyes, the manager, following his removal from Manchester United, will find the going very tough.

The danger now is that everyone - pundits and football fans alike - will be spewing with easy hindsight, a kind of "I knew all along" type of wisdom in regard to Moyes's failure. That being acknowledged, though, his tenure at Old Trafford has been poor, bordering on the disastrous.

Moyes was a very good manager at Preston North End and then at Everton - no-one can dispute it. At Everton, for all his consistent (if relative) success, some fans called him 'Dithering Dave' for his occasional inability to make a strong, hard call in the transfer market.

That said, Moyes appeared only a minor risk, no more, when Sir Alex Ferguson bullied the Manchester United board into appointing him as his successor. At the time, last summer, a few grumbled and some minor doubts were heard. But in the main, the consensus was one of, fair enough, let's see how he fares.

Well, Moyes has fared badly. His Manchester United teams have been leaden and erratic and, for quite a few opponents, there for the taking. Teams such as West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle, Everton and Swansea have all won at Old Trafford this season, in nearly all cases ending decades-long quests to pull off the feat.

When Swansea knocked Moyes and United out of the FA Cup in the third-round at home in January, it was only the second time in 30 years that the club had fallen at such a stage in the competition. The heat grew on Moyes.

Last month, never mind having already lost 4-1 to them earlier in the season, Manchester City beat United again, ensuring that Moyes's club would have its lowest-ever points tally since the inception of the English Premier League in 1992.

In this acute age of amateur football historians everywhere, the ignominious records arrived like tickertape as Moyes and United stumbled from one setback to the next. Almost with every defeat came news it was the worst since there, the worst since then. Moyes was becoming submerged.

In truth, United's Champions League campaign could have been worse. Moyes, somehow, guided United to the last eight, where aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich was no disgrace.

But there will be no Champions League football for Manchester United next season - indeed, there may be no European football at all, given their nine months of mediocrity. This is a sacrilege at Old Trafford.

Two aspects in this minor tragedy have stood out. First, there is the conduct, the demeanour, of Moyes himself. Second, sitting uneasily beside the Manchester United board, there is the brooding, anxious presence of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Moyes, to me, has stood up well to the heat and indignity thrusted upon him. In various TV interviews and press conferences he has held his own. Whatever else Moyes is - and he has revealed various failings - he has been no shrinking violet.

Ferguson, however, is another case. His was the energy which made Moyes his successor in the first place. And Ferguson would have no truck with those who said…but hang on, Davie Moyes has actually won nothing in 20 years as a manager up to 2013.

Even in the original meeting between the two men last spring, to consider the succession, Moyes says that Ferguson marched into his house and told him: "You're going to be the next manager of Manchester United."

There was to be no debate about it. Ferguson adopted an almost Papal authority in choosing his man. Ferguson also has subsequently rebuked anyone who dared to suggest that Moyes might not get the time to bed in, insisting that Manchester United had made the right choice - his choice.

Ferguson has been proved wrong on many levels. There are stories today in England hinting that he is simmering over events at his club. As well he might be, because Ferguson is culpable in it all.

No-one doubts the dreaded task that faced Moyes last summer - in following Ferguson he was following, arguably, the greatest sports coach in the world. The challenge would have kept anyone awake at night.

Yet success or failure defines a man, and it is wrong to say that no-one could have walked where Ferguson walked. A new United manager, while taking time to adjust, could certainly have done far better than Moyes this season.

Ironically, Moyes's work at Everton had been lauded, yet his own successor, Roberto Martinez, has at least equalled, if not excelled, him in his opening season in charge. It is a reminder that club legends can be replaced.

The Moyes story at Manchester United is a painful tale of failure. It cannot be sugar-coated in any way. He just wasn't up to it.

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