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May 8, 2013

Meticulous Moyes' chance of a lifetime

Manchester United have denied reports that Wayne Rooney is available after reports claiming the striker had handed in a transfer request

The case for the prosecution is familiar. David Moyes has brought no silverware to Everton, has never reached the quarterfinal of any European competition, lost his only playoff for a place in the Champions League group stages and in 45 league games away at the clubs once known as "the Big Four", he has never won.

• Bennett: Sky-high expectation
• Analysis: Moyes suited to Utd?
• Blog: The Rooney conundrum
• Moyes' journey to Manchester Photo Gallery
• Brewin: Sudden end to legacy
• Ferguson's highs and lows
• Payne: Fergie and Busby
• Jolly: Fergie a relentless winner
• Ferguson's famous quotes

David Moyes is also the new Manchester United manager. A promise of stability is therefore not a guarantee of success as United would define it. Lacking either the CV or the charisma of Jose Mourinho, let alone the unparalleled winning record of Sir Alex Ferguson, he has both the most enviable and the most unenviable job in football. And, some will say, how?

Besides appearing to have been anointed by Ferguson and apart from the reality that no one else has overachieved for so long, the answer may lie in the details. Or the attention to detail, anyway, which helps explain his elevation.

Anniversaries sometimes fall on inconvenient dates, especially for those who are never inclined to celebrate at the best of times. In the week when Moyes brought up 10 years at Goodison Park, Everton faced Tottenham, had a Merseyside derby and finally an FA Cup quarterfinal away at Sunderland. And yet, 24 hours after Spurs were beaten, the television cameras picked out Moyes in the crowd at Swansea's Liberty Stadium.

Although he had every reason not to go, the Scot had made one of the longer journeys in the Premier League on a scouting trip. His reward came a fortnight later when Swansea were comprehensively defeated and clinically dissected in Wales. It is notable precisely because it is so typical. Few managers attend as many matches as Moyes.

For him, there is no substitute for knowledge, no alternative to hard work. Ferguson's total of 49 trophies rather dwarfs Moyes' return of winning England's third tier with Preston North End 13 years ago, but there is a shared background and similar ethos.

Over the past seven decades, the great Scottish managers have been men whose characters were forged in the coal mines and docks. Ferguson was an apprentice toolmaker in the shipyards, Moyes' father, David senior, a draughtsman in the shipbuilding industry. They have taken values from hard labour into high-end sport.

Moyes' management is based on honesty. He delivers straight answers to straight questions, rarely praises his players to the high heavens -- meaning they have earned it if he does -- and is unafraid to criticise them publicly. That footballers' considerable egos permit it is a sign of two things: that they have deserved Moyes' censure and that he recruits responsible people who do not look to escape their fair share of the blame. They know, too, that a training-ground coach will be as hard on himself as anyone else.

There is a sense of mutual respect. Like Ferguson, Moyes' senior professionals have gone on to become part of his coaching staff. It is his way of imbuing an entire club with his principles.

Continuity matters to him, as it does at United. Moyes has shown the ability to work the players he inherited -- indeed Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert arrived at Everton before him -- and United do not envisage many departures this summer. While Moyes should have at least £50 million to spend, a willingness to work uncomplainingly with any budget should endear him to the Glazers.

Unlike many a British manager, he has bought successfully abroad and, over 11 years at Everton, his annual net spend is under £1 million. He has also ensured a ninth top-eight finish even if repetition has dulled the sense of surprise at his achievements. His peers have taken note, however. Moyes has been voted the League Managers Association's Manager of the Year three times during his reign at Goodison Park. Ferguson has received the same accolade only twice in that period.

The unanswered question, however, is whether he is an outstanding manager anywhere or simply the ideal candidate for Everton. He has improved limited players, but they should not feature too often at Old Trafford anyway. A United manager is judged on the major matches in a way his Everton counterpart is not and Moyes' sides have underachieved too often: think of this season's FA Cup quarterfinal with Wigan or last season's semifinal defeat to Liverpool.

He is untried in the Champions League and has an inferior record in Europe to, say, Steve McClaren. Moreover, squad rotation, which became a guiding principle in Ferguson's final few years, is an alien concept to him. He has never had enough high-calibre players to pick and choose. Whereas Ferguson was able to identify particular individuals for certain games, Moyes has had to try to find a way to win with at most 14, and sometimes fewer, that he really trusts. It has brought a collective commitment from them, to attack and defend, to marry craft and graft.

While he found a way to unsettle United with Marouane Fellaini's physicality, he is neither as defensive nor as direct as portrayed; indeed, like the team of 2009, the current side have played some delightful football. Compared to the great United sides, however, they are still a workmanlike outfit.

And that is Moyes' problem: context. The admirable record that helped get him the United job is a double-edged sword. It can be held against him. A deserving candidate starts at a disadvantage because, at every step and particularly until he wins silverware, he will be compared to Ferguson, and there will never be another Ferguson.

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