There is a paradox in the employment market, something anybody who has ever applied for a first job, or tried to step up to the next level in their chosen career will have experienced, and that is the issue of experience. It's understandable that employers want employees who have experience, but if you haven't got it, how are you supposed to get it if nobody will give you a job without it?
For British managers, this has long been a major problem. There have been countless bright young things who have won promotion only to find themselves dismissed as long-ball merchants, or to damned with the faint praise of being good at working to a tight budget, or to find their star waning as the average players they had inspired to promotion proved not good enough in the top-flight. Even those who go up and stay up find themselves questioned.
"If you're in charge of a multi-national, you don't employ a bloke who runs a corner-shop," as one club director put it.
There's logic to that, but it does mean the top clubs limiting themselves to foreign managers who have Champions League experience. (British managers could, of course, start taking jobs in continental Europe, but there is a sense that out of sight is out of mind unless they achieve extraordinary success -- and, of course, Premier League clubs by and large have the resources to hire whoever happens to be flavor of the month when they have a vacancy). Which is why United's apparent choice of David Moyes, who is leaving Everton after this season, is so striking.
"If you look at what's happened in our two most successful eras, with Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex, we had managers there who got involved in the whole aspects of the club, whether it be from the youth team aspect, up to the first-team, all those aspects," said United's chief executive, David Gill, when pressed on how the club would select a successor. "So that degree of loyalty, understanding the football club is not just what happens on the first-team pitches, is crucial to the success of Manchester United. So those are the things we're looking at. Clearly he's got to have the requisite football experience, both in terms of domestic and European experience. It's a small pool, but we'll move forward."
Moyes has loyalty. This is his 11th season at Everton, despite a comparative lack of investment that might have frustrated many others. He has developed youth-team players, as shown by the examples of Wayne Rooney, Jack Rodwell, Seamus Coleman and, most recently, Ross Barkley. At 50, he has experience. He took his first coaching badges at 22, took charge of Preston North End in 1998 and led them to promotion from League One and then into the Championship playoffs.
The doubts concern the fact that he has never won a trophy as a manager and that his European experience is limited. Everton has generally overperformed when compared to investment, but other clubs that have spent just as little have won silverware in the past decade. To an extent that's a matter of luck, but where there is more cause for concern is that lack of European experience.
Moyes has overseen just one Champions League tie -- a qualifying round defeat to Villarreal in 2005-06. He has had four UEFA Cup campaigns, winning 14, drawing three and losing seven of his 24 games in that competition. That sounds reasonable, but he has never been beyond the last 16, losing on penalties to Fiorentina at that stage in 2007-08. He may not exactly have been running a corner shop, but managing Everton presents hugely different challenges to managing United.
Yet what is a manager like Moyes to do? There were reports he was considering a position at Schalke 04 when his contract at Everton ran out at the end of this season, presumably because that would have given him Champions League experience and might have opened the door to a bigger job back home. United, perhaps, has reasoned that Moyes is the safe choice, the conservative choice, a naturally cautious manager whose ego will not prevent him taking advice -- if offered -- from Ferguson.
Like Ferguson, Moyes is a Glaswegian. Like Ferguson, he is a workaholic. He is a great analyst of statistics and videos, Like Ferguson, he is a perfectionist, always looking for small advantages, always ready to stand his ground on the touchline, never prepared to cede an inch. Like Ferguson, he oversaw his club's move from a dilapidated and outdated training ground to a new custom-built one. Like Ferguson, he is essentially a pragmatist.
Moyes ticks almost every box. The only concern is that lack of experience -- although he does at least understand the Premier League and would not be learning that from scratch as, say, Andre Villas-Boas, Carlo Ancelotti and Luiz Felipe Scolari have had to do at Chelsea. That is an issue in itself, of course, but it is a particular concern in football, where so much emphasis is placed not just on how things are but on how they appear.
Suppose United start next season poorly. Immediately there would be questions about whether he could handle a club of United's stature, and as soon as those doubts are raised, they begin to swell. A coach, the great Hungarian manager Bela Guttmann once said, is like a lion-tamer: as soon as he shows fear he is lost. A player who believes in his coach will obey an instruction instinctively; one who doubts will question it and may ignore it.
So while he may be the conservative option, Moyes also represents a risk. But then any manager would. There are no perfect solutions, and Moyes, for all his lack of experience, probably deserves his chance.