Embattled Manchester United boss David Moyes goes into tomorrow’s crunch clash with Olympiakos as the club’s most successful rookie manager in Europe.
United have a mountain to climb in the season-defining Old Trafford meeting with the Greek champions after losing 2-0 in last month’s first leg.
But even if his side exit the Champions League, Moyes has the distinction of making the most progress on the continent in his first season at the club.
However, of all the Red Devils’ chiefs, only Dave Sexton has had the chance of European glory in his first season after he made the second round of the old European Cup in 1977.
Moyes’ men had initially impressed in the Champions League as they swept all before them in the group stage.
In the Scot’s first-ever Champions League campaign for any club, United made a mockery of claims that Moyes’ inexperience would cost them.
Crushing 5-0 and 4-2 wins over Bayer Leverkusen have been the highlights as the Reds topped their group with 14 points, dropping only four.
But goals from Alejandro Dominguez and Arsenal loanee Joel Campbell mean that the reigning Premier League champions must overturn a two-goal deficit to progress to the last eight.
Moyes’ task tomorrow is nothing compared to what Sexton faced 37 years ago after a 4-0 away defeat to Portuguese giants Porto put United on the verge of elimination.
The European adventure was cut short when Sexton’s men could only manage a spirited 5-2 win at the Theatre of Dreams, inspired by a brace from Steve Coppell.
The result was not enough to see them through and they fell to a high-scoring 6-5 aggregate defeat.
Sexton, who replaced Tommy Docherty at the helm, had earlier seen his side ease past France’s Saint Etienne 3-1 on aggregate in the knockout format that was used before group stages were adopted when the tournament was rebranded the Champions League in 1992.
On the domestic front, Moyes does not fair quite as well.
If Manchester United finish in seventh (where they currently lie in the Premier League table), Moyes will only have been bettered by John Bentley (1912-13), Ron Atkinson (1981-82) and the legendary Sir Matt Busby (1946-47, the first post-World War Two season), who led their sides to fourth, third and second respectively in their first league campaigns.
Sir Alex Ferguson led his side to a solid mid-table 11th-placed finish in 1987-88 as he famously struggled to turn around the club’s fortunes in his early days at the helm.
While Moyes matched Wilf McGuinness’ League Cup semi-final exit in 1969-70, the Scot’s third-round FA Cup exit against Swansea cannot compare to McGuinness’ men also reaching the semis.
McGuinness also faced an unenviable task when he replaced Sir Matt Busby, which could be considered to be on a par with Moyes’ attempts at filling Ferguson’s shoes.
Even Ferguson only managed the fifth round in the League Cup in his first season, while Frank O’Farrell’s side failed in the fourth round in 1971-72.
Thanks to Gary James for his input for this article. Gary is a contributor to James Ward Publishing’s (www.manchesterfootball.org) Big Book of United and author of Manchester: A Football History.
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Main image courtesy of Jason Cairnduff/Action Images, with thanks.