David Moyes has always worn the look of a dead man walking, whether at Preston North End in his first job or at Old Trafford in his most high profile. The hollow eyes, thousand-yard stare and pinched mouth are expressions of someone who has accepted his profession is volatile. It is possible these days he looks a little more extreme. For the first time, perhaps, the reality is starker.
There can be no doubt that Moyes is unfortunate insofar that he unites the football community like few before him: almost to man they agree that he is on a hiding to nothing. Replacing the most successful manager of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson, is The Impossible Job. Particularly with the old master, God-like, watching from up high.
So there is nothing instructive about suggesting Moyes is on borrowed time. But what about his style of management, his breed? Is Moyes one of the few lasting relics to a bygone age where the manager was king? It could just be that with his passing at Manchester United we will also see the death throes of the traditional British ‘boss’ that all football fans are familiar.
Slowly but surely in the top flight the manager who was the ultimate decision maker and who stalked the corridors with unrivalled power has been disappearing. A look at the Premier League table suggests the European-style system of a head coach working under a director of football is the future.
Apart from perhaps Arsenal, where Arsene Wenger’s oui or non carries the greatest weight, the top five is dominated by clubs who have dispensed with the notion that the manager is all-powerful. Manchester City, Chelsea, and Tottenham each have a ‘sporting director’ (or some such). At Liverpool, managing director Ian Ayre is influential but not to the degree of others. Newcastle, Southampton, West Brom, Crystal Palace and Fulham all boast a man who takes decisions away from the manager.
In this regard, no longer is it the manager who decides on style of play, transfers, contracts, coaching staff and youth development exist. At its optimum the system demands that the ‘head coach’ accedes on pretty much everything apart from the application of the playing strategy to this new director class and those above him. The coach is told how the team should play and given the players to do the job.
It is a far cry from the days when Brian Clough drove the Hartlepool team bus or George Graham decided how much a player was paid. Well, apart from at United. Unsurprisingly for a club so successful under the dictatorial style of Ferguson, United have refused to appoint a director of football. This despite being the first ever British club to do so, back in 1963 when Sir Matt Busby told 'head coach' Wilf McGuinness what to do, as per the Daily Mail. The irony.
Moyes, hand-picked by Ferguson, is a manager in his mould. But possibly more controlling in terms of how he absolutely must have his say on everything. Insiders who worked with Moyes at Everton said he was a micro-manager, as per BBC Sport. He found it impossible to delegate, something which it was feared would only lead to problems at a club the size of United.
The League Managers’ Association (LMA) are understandably prickly about suggesting that the old school manager is on borrowed time. Despite growing evidence to the contrary—WBA said they had no interest in a manager and wanted a coach to replace Steve Clarke, one significant example—Richard Bevan, the chief executive, is adamant. "No we are not in the early stages of the death of the old fashioned manager," he said. "There are different models operating throughout Europe and this will continue to be the case."
Indeed there are, but the LMA are forever wary about the volatile nature of their members’ profession. And it would be one-eyed not to recognise that the rise of the implementation of the European structure is having an impact, particularly when only 55 percent of managers in the Premier League are British.
That is something that appears to concern Bevan. "There are examples of new owners dismantling the entire senior management structure in the club and replacing existing staff with new people who have limited experience of the game in this country or understanding of what it takes to make a successful English football club," he said.
The LMA will be launching a new diploma in football management this year to help managers and coaches stay in their jobs. Undoubtedly, it is a programme which will help but it still sounds as if it is catering for the old days.
"There are many complexities in the role which include operational, strategic, organisational, communications and commercial expertise to name but a few,” Bevan said. "There is also the on-pitch performance required, with strong 'off-field' business practice. There is the need for managing up—board, chairman etc.—managing down to support staff, players, as well as having the ability to lead and motivate through the man management of a multi-cultural squad. This shows how the role is so multi-faceted and complex in setting the culture of a club in such a short timeframe."
It is important to note that it is not just Premier League clubs who have adopted the European model. Lower down the pyramid it could become vital as it seen as an infinitely superior to ensure financial sustainability.
League Two club Oxford United are a good example. They have just parted company with their manager of five years, Chris Wilder, and recognise that they have a decision to make about whether they retain the status quo in terms of appointment style or be more 'modern' in their approach.
A contributing factor is the new academy system, determined by the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP). Clubs the size of Oxford, who are eyeing Category 3 status which costs £125,000 a year to run, recognise their best hope of survival is to produce their own players, some of which they may sell on to pay the bills.
"There do seem to be two ways of going about it for sure," director Simon Lenagan said. "The old school route or the director of football route. I actually loathe that term because it has connotations of failure in the English game. I much prefer the titles Performance Director or Sporting Director.
"The perception of the old school manager is that they’re more of a sergeant major type and that is the way it has pretty much always been, particularly in the lower league. They get the best out of players. But whether that is the best fit for a club which is looking at the EPPP as crucial to its future I’m not sure.
"A sporting director would have an overview of the whole project while the 'coach' or manager would be able to concentrate on the first team. It would not surprise me if more and more clubs tried to follow the model of, say, a Southampton who have been extremely successful with the European system."
United, of course, do not have the money worries of a League Two club. But they do have shareholders to appease as highlighted by the recent price slump. So for sake of their vintage manager and hopes of a redux, the last word goes to United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, as per Eurosport.
"We don't have a director of football because we back the manager. He is the expert. He can decide."