How could they have possibly forgotten one of football’s most enduring and most universally-endorsed stories that has underpinned United’s success for decades? It is the story of how a goal from Mark Robins in an FA Cup tie against Nottingham Forest saved Alex Ferguson from the sack in January, 1990 — and in the process safeguarded what was to become an unprecedented era of glory.
Bobby Charlton, still the king-maker at Old Trafford, has long since spoilt the tale by insisting he would never have endorsed a plan to remove Ferguson from his post anyway — but nevertheless the legend has been repeated ad nauseum.
For decades United has been held up as an example of how stability and loyalty breeds success — and used as a battering ram to attack less patient clubs and owners who have been far more inclined to make knee-jerk decisions during difficult times.
What if Ferguson had been dismissed and replaced with Howard Kendall, as was the plan all those years ago? What if the United board had felt it impossible to ignore a banner unfurled on the Stretford End that read ‘3 Years of Excuses and It’s Still Crap. Ta Ra Fergie!’?
These are the questions that have for so long been the primary weapons of those who value managerial stability; and yet suddenly a movement to call for Moyes to be axed is building momentum.
Bowing to those views now would undermine everything United have come to stand for, everything that is good about the club and the way it is run.
Both United and Alex Ferguson had plenty of time to choose a successor and they did so after careful consideration; opting for a man whose character fitted the club’s stature and history, a manager who had the ability to continue Ferguson’s legacy.
It would not be unfair to say those qualities are currently in doubt given the disastrous way United’s season has collapsed, and it would not be unfair to say Moyes is under pressure; any manager of United who doesn’t win games can expect nothing less.
But to sack him this summer so soon into a long contract and without having given him the chance to build his own team in his own image?
Moyes won’t say it out loud, but it’s clear he was shamefully let down by the club in the transfer market last summer when key targets were allowed to slip through the net; and maybe, too, he was not briefed sufficiently on the state of some of the club’s senior players who are clearly not just over the hill but tumbling down the other side.
Moyes’ task was a complicated one, and United know it. He had to replace a legend, change the training culture of a club and introduce new ideas to players who had played the same way all their lives — it was never going to be easy.
Some of that work is done, some of it has gone badly wrong and some it has fallen by the wayside as United head into panic mode with the prospect of missing out on European football next season.
But now is not the time to change course and hand someone else the same problem. Now is the time to give Moyes money to buy his own team and build a new future.
Remember, Ferguson was once asked if he really could have been sacked if things had ended differently at the City Ground in January 1990 and replied: “You never know in football. Who’s to say how the club would have reacted if we’d lost and if crowds had tumbled?
“One thing’s for sure, though. Bobby Charlton would not have let it happen. He knows better than anyone the heartbeat of this football club.”
Nothing has changed there, and nothing should. If United are to retain their integrity and their principles then Moyes has to stay.