clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Why Manchester United is still the biggest job on the planet

Manchester United aren't quite the richest or most prestigious outfit on the planet, but the managerial position is unlike any other elite outfit in football.

Alex Livesey

Almost every club has a myth of exceptionalism, why they are different to all the other ones out there. Real Madrid have their showbiz, Barcelona have their tiki-taka, Celtic have their Catholic roots, and Manchester United's rivals like Manchester City, Chelsea, and Arsenal have their.... well, their.... look, you get the picture.

At United, there are several. An academy player has featured in every single lineup for the club since October 1937, and youth is built into the club's identity through the Busby Babes, 1968 and the 'Class of 92' now apparently calling the shots. Attacking football has also been a near ever-present affair, as has the touch of stardust and glamour that fits all of the dominant clubs in any country.

It's worth asking how much of that still counts, however. Too few academy players have made the grade of late - Danny Welbeck and Jonny Evans the only real successes out of what initially appeared to be a bumper crop. And as for attacking football, the jury's still out. Alex Ferguson's later years suggested that winning is now all that matters, although of course he is Alex Ferguson, and as we keep having to remember, he's something of an exceptional character.

So when United go to compete with the bigger clubs on the continent for players, there's not really anything to set them aside from the rest. They're one of the biggest names on the planet, but so are Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Barcelona have a reputation for youth too, and Madrid not only have a history of attacking football but one would also suspect are, in cold reality, far less tolerant of negativity and a victory-at-all-costs mentality than United would.

When it comes to managers, though, United have something else. They have something very different which no other club of their calibre possesses, something which can potentially make it an irresistible draw to any manager. Something handed down through time, and preserved ruthlessly by Alex Ferguson while the rest of the clubs on the elite list surrendered it, if they ever had it in the first place. Because the managerial seat at Old Trafford is not like any other. United are, in short, the last elite club on the planet that still grants supreme executive power to the boss.

David Moyes discovered the hard way that the corridors of power at United are full of intrigue, whispers, treachery, incompetence, and many other deadly sins. But even he was allowed to pick his own targets, to forge whatever identity he wanted upon the club. The fact his arrival also coincided with young Ed Woodward having to learn on the job was unfortunate, but the promise was still there for him and it will be for the next man too.

There is no director of football, as at Chelsea and Manchester City. There are no legions of ex-players ready to snipe, sneer and backseat-manage at every level within the club as at Bayern Munich. There are no unrealistic demands and arbitrary sackings like at Real Madrid, and there are no presidential elections to cloud the waters as at Barcelona. United are the last of the free. Or, indeed, the opposite - they are the last true dictatorship in the upper echelons of football.

The problem with this is obvious. If the dictator is a benevolent, diligent and respected man who leads with authority, brilliant. If the dictator is disliked, incompetent, or out of touch, he's liable to end up knifed on the steps of the forum by Rio Ferdinand, or whoever else is passing as the Praetorian Guard these days. So while United might be a huge draw, they also have a more pressing need than almost any other club to get the appointment exactly right.

And United are still a huge draw. For the right man - for any vain, egotistical, machiavellian, ruthless, paranoid, visionary tyrant - the job is still the ideal one, where the only tedious interruptions save for the possibility of boardroom incompetence are to do some PR work for the club's official tinned fruit sponsor. And those adjectives are all something that United should be looking for in their next manager. They might apply to Diego Simeone, Louis van Gaal, and José Mourinho. They certainly didn't apply to David Moyes.