Manchester United Not a Sacking Club? Don’t you Believe it

Matthew Crist by Matthew Crist / 02 October 2018, 08:55

When Matt Busby retired as Manchester United manager in 1969 the club went through three managers in eight years and following the departure of Alex Ferguson in 2013 they were keen not to make similar mistakes again.

But despite an air of optimism following Jose Mourinho’s arrival at Old Trafford it seems an element of United’s support has now lost patience and become more divided than ever over their current incumbent, a debate which rears its head after each lifeless performance or humbling defeat.

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However, if there’s one thing that most people seem to agree on, it’s that Manchester United have a reputation of not being a club that is quick to make rash decisions when it comes to their manager and have always stood by their man even in times of trouble.

This is something of a fallacy though as, back in the distant days before Alex Ferguson took United to a level of success that few could have believed possible, the club actually got through managers at an alarming rate.

Even Ferguson himself wasn’t far from the axe if you believe what you read. So don’t let this latest chapter in United’s long and muddled history cloud your view on the way the club have gone about things in the past and how they might react in the future.

 

Take Wilf McGuinness. The man who, like David Moyes, was given the unenviable task of taking over from the most successful manager in the club’s history when Matt Busby stood down in 1969 – just 12 months after lifting the European Cup at Wembley.

Despite being a former “Busby Babe” and with the club for almost ten years in one capacity or another, McGuinness was vastly out of his depth when taking over the reins of a struggling team which contained several players who were fading fast.

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He was relieved of his duties as first team manager in December 1970 after just one full season in charge to be replaced by Frank O’Farrell, a softly spoken Irishman who was given the task of steadying a ship that was sinking fast.

Despite a decent start to his first season in charge United once again imploded thanks to a dismal second half of the season, including seven consecutive defeats that eventually saw the Reds finish 8th, which is about as good as it got for O’Farrell.

A poor relationship with club legends George Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law, along with a shocking start the following season, ultimately brought the curtain down on another dismal era for the club as O’Farrell was sacked with three and a half years left on his contract in 1972.

O’Farrell‘s departure would open the door for one of the most flamboyant and popular managers the club have ever had to have a go and Tommy Docherty bounded into Old Trafford, promising a blend of exciting and attacking football – a promise he kept thanks to the signings of Gordon Hill, Steve Coppell, Jimmy Greenhoff, Lou Macari et al, revitalizing the club and giving the fans some of the most memorable days since Busby’s departure.

However, despite some high octane cup runs, including a dramatic win over treble chasing Liverpool in 1977, not to mention an all-conquering promotion season immediately after the heartbreak of relegation in 1974 it was actually an affair with club Physio Laurie Brown’s wife Mary that spelt the end for “The Doc,” who was sacked for breach of contract in 1977.

In the eight years since Sir Matt had left a team who seemed to be in a position of strength, United were now looking for their fourth different manager and it was the quiet, thoughtful tactician Dave Sexton that United turned to next.

In appointing Sexton it was as if the board was adopting a safety-first approach following the turbulent tenure of Docherty, but his time in the Old Trafford hot seat failed to deliver any trophies, with the pressure of the job and growing expectation engulfing him almost immediately.

Sexton was dismissed in April 1981 and in something of an about turn, United’s board once again plumped for a larger-than-life character to try and change the club’s fortunes – and they didn’t come much bigger or livelier than Ron Atkinson.

Atkinson injected some much needed life back into the club, but ultimately success is measured in trophies and despite United never finishing below fourth place in his four-and-a-half seasons in charge, not to mention two FA Cup victories, “Big Ron” was sacked in November 1986.

His successor, Alex Ferguson, arrived at a club which hadn’t won the title in nearly two decades and to be honest hadn’t come close on too many occasions. We can only guess what might have happened if THAT cup victory of 1990 hadn’t happened, paving the way for a quarter of a century of trophies – after all, staying up was the priority back then.

So, even though just talking about a United manager being fired might be a taboo subject for many Reds, whose only experience of such an occurrence has been David Moyes’ messy departure in the spring of 2014 or Luis Van Gaal’s similarly sticky fate; but just because it’s only happened a few times in the lifetime of many United supporters that doesn’t mean the club is afraid to make a change if it needs to, and often sooner rather than later.

History has proved it.

So remember that the next time someone tells you United have never been a sacking club.

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