LONDON (Reuters) - One of the least savoury episodes from Manchester United’s past came back to haunt them on Tuesday when they sacked David Moyes less than a season after he took over from Alex Ferguson as manager at Old Trafford.
His departure after only 10 months bears direct similarities with what happened at the club after Matt Busby, who created the modern United, first retired in 1969.
Busby had been manager for 24 years and felt the time had come to make way for a younger man.
That man turned out to be former “Busby Babe” Wilf McGuinness who lasted in the job for 18 troubled months before he was demoted to reserve team coach and Busby came out of retirement for a second stint as manager.
Ferguson was at United for 26 years before retiring last season, handing over to Moyes who failed to see out a season before his sacking on Tuesday.
The one certainty amid the Old Trafford chaos is that Ferguson will not follow Busby’s example and give up his lucrative new career as an after-dinner speaker and business consultant to sit in the dugout again.
It is also unlikely that United will end up being relegated, a direct consequence of the botched end to the Busby era.
United lurched from one crisis to another in the early 1970s and eventually went down to the Second Division in 1974, seven years after Busby led them to the 1967 league title and just six after winning the European Cup at Wembley.
They did not win the League again until Ferguson led them to victory in 1993 and had to wait until 1999 to become champions of Europe for a second time.
With the huge sums of money, sponsorship deals and corporate backing now involved in top-level football, United cannot afford to be on the sidelines for too long and it is unthinkable they could fall from grace as rapidly as they did four decades ago.
But United have repeated some of the steps they took back then.
Those who took on the challenge of succeeding Busby - McGuinness, Frank O’Farrell and later Tommy Docherty, Dave Sexton and Ron Atkinson - never came close to repeating his era of success.
Managers including Don Revie and Jock Stein were approached to succeed Busby in 1969 but he believed that McGuinness, who had been at United for 17 years, first as a player and then a coach, should take over.
Ferguson also handpicked Moyes, a fellow Scot formerly in charge of Everton, as his successor last year.
The club have now turned to Ryan Giggs, nurtured by Ferguson and a United player through and through, as a temporary solution following Moyes’s departure.
United’s results were poor under McGuinness and halfway through the 1970-71 season they had won only five of their 22 league matches.
He was demoted to reserve team manager three days after Christmas in 1970 and Busby took over again, on a temporary basis, until United found the right man.
McGuinness resigned from the club soon afterwards and eventually lost all his hair, which he later attributed to the trauma he suffered in trying to emulate Busby.
The turmoil continued. George Best began to put on weight, miss training and play poorly when he did appear, and he was fined and suspended by the club. United’s form did not improve.
O’Farrell arrived at the start of the 1971-72 season after Busby stepped down a second time. But the rot had truly taken hold and even though United made a bright start to the campaign, O’Farrell was sacked after 18 months following a 5-0 defeat at Crystal Palace.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph in 2008, O’Farrell criticised Busby’s role, saying: “He was always about somewhere where the players could find him... After one game he told me I should have dropped Bobby Charlton.”
After O’Farrell went the club put their faith in another Scot, Tommy Docherty, who could not stop relegation to the second tier in 1974, but later enjoyed success by bringing the FA Cup to Old Trafford three years later.
Since Ferguson retired he has been seen at United matches both home and away, but Moyes made it clear Ferguson never interfered in team affairs the way that Busby had.
Perhaps, on reflection, it might have helped if he had.
Editing by Robert Woodward