When Sir Alex Ferguson finally left his mantle at the helm of Manchester United and handed over the reins to his successor, David Moyes, he made him a simple promise.
This was Moyes’s time. Fergie had had his chance at the top and was now going to drift away seamlessly into the background.
This was David’s stage.
As the world’s media descended on London yesterday, eagerly awaiting the release of Ferguson’s much-anticipated autobiography, Moyes may have been wondering if the Scot was truly a man of his word.
It’s been just a matter of months since Fergie guided United to their 13th, and his final Premier League crown, ushering in a degree of success beyond his, the players and the fans wildest dreams.
Whilst every United fan will be chomping at the bit to get an insight into the workings of the great manager and the way he masterminded the post-treble success – David Moyes may not be first in the queue to get his copy signed at Waterstones (or at Stretford’s Tesco on this occasion!).
Surely, this extra limelight on United’s past manager is the last thing the incoming leader needs. Moyes has enjoyed a tumultuous start to managerial career in Manchester so far, guiding the Premier League Champions into an unlikely mid-table scrap.
The former Everton man will have been anxiously hoping to avoid comparisons between himself and Ferguson, especially at this premature stage in his post, but Fergie’s untimely musings will only add fuel to a ferociously burning fire.
Even the biggest optimist in football would be hard-pressed to discover a silver lining for the 50-year-old, but if Moyes digs a little deeper into the book he may just find the holy grail of self help tips.
Many would be forgiven for anticipating an autobiography of one the world’s greatest managers to revel in achievements – of which there were a multitude since his previous ‘Managing My Life’ was released in 1999.
A Champions League, eight Premier League crowns, the ecstasy of knocking Liverpool of their perch and cantering to reclaim their trophy away from the Noisy Neighbours should suggest that the book could have been relatively self-congratulatory.
However, Ferguson spends the majority of his time discussing and analysing the obstacles that muddied his path during the post-treble years.
From Beckham to Keane, Van Nistelrooy to Rooney, Ferguson goes into meticulous detail on the pressures, pitfalls and problems of keeping a winning team winning.
Here lies the silver-lining for Moyes.
This autobiography could be the greatest (and at £25 the most expensive) lesson Ferguson could have bestowed on his successor.
Those unschooled on their history lessons, tricked into thinking the world of Manchester Untied was all success, trophies and open-top bus tours, are surely seeing the world through tartan-coloured specs.
Ferguson and United endured years of sparse success after the 2000-2001 season, which tested the Scot’s ability to control his superstars and questioned his ruthlessness streak.
During a five-year period where fans-favourites and world-icons like Van Nistelrooy, Keane and Beckham were allowed to jump from the Old Trafford ship, Ferguson’s signings didn’t exactly breed confidence around Manchester.
Eric Djemba-Djemba, Liam Miller and David Bellion were not of the calibre Manchester United expected, especially considering the void that had been created by high-profile exits.
However, rather than gloss over or shy away from these unusually unsuccessful years, Fergie devotes the majority of his book to explaining why it was vital he let his top assets depart, thereby inviting everyone to marvel at the working mind of a man who, while maybe not consistently at the peak of the table, was consistently seen in complete control of his squad.
His autobiography highlights not only that no player was bigger than Manchester United but, more importantly, no player was bigger than Sir Alex Ferguson.
Beckham, Keane and Van Nistelrooy were great servants to the club but, as Fergie reveals, they had simply outgrown the club that nurtured their unbridled talents.
Ferguson despised Beckham’s new found celebrity status after he married Victoria and, after publically brandishing his dressing room war-wounds Fergie inflicted to the paparazzi, he was beckoned to the exit door.
Van Nistelrooy was a tried and tested goal-scorer, capable of terrorising the crème-de-la-crème of the European elite.
However, when it became clear he was becoming a bully to players and coaches inside Old Trafford, Fergie sent him on his way.
And Roy Keane. The epitome of Manchester United some believed.
A lion-heart that embodied the determination and grit that has become synonymous with Manchester United; a never-say-die attitude that was the nucleus of the club’s glories.
During a particularly rough period in 2005, the Irishman conducted an interview with MUTV, slating his ‘underachieving’ team-mates in his usual no-holds-barred style.
Fergie acted decisively, pulling the plug on the interview being aired but, rather than merely disciplining his captain and linchpin of the team, identified that he had become a disruptive influence in the dressing room.
United’s captain was allowed to pack his bags and head to Celtic.
Fergie’s autobiography, much like his attitude to football, is not about resting on his laurels or revelling in success.
He does not trouble us with semantics about how he celebrated his achievements.
He pinpoints his lowest ebbs, his tallest hurdles and his greatest challenges. There was never a time when a disruptive influence was allowed to overshadow the main attraction in Manchester. No matter their talent, no matter their prowess, no matter their importance, United was always more important. And Ferguson was always at the top.
He acted ruthlessly, swiftly removing and replacing the broken branch to allow the rest of the tree to function better.
This ruthless streak may have, in the short-term, ushered in what Gary Neville humorously defines in his autobiography as ‘The Djemba-Djemba years’ but these years were essential.
Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez were introduced and flourished, freed from the shackles of a dressing-room dictator.
Despite being vilified in the press for his decisions at the time, 26 years of glory have proven it was this reaction to adversary that made him the great manager he truly is.
Moyes now faces a similar crisis and only he can decide how he’ll play the cards he’s been dealt.
Questions remain over Rooney’s commitment and his solitary summer signing, Marouane Fellaini, has looked out of his depth amongst world-class company.
Ferguson’s autobiography reveals his secret behind near perfect management: control.
His ability to constantly improve upon himself, his team and his players separated him from the rest.
Anyone who stood in his way or couldn’t manage to move forward with him, unfortunately had to fall by the waistline.
This was his team, his project and if you weren’t with him, you were against him.
Moyes could do worse than sitting in and flicking through these secrets himself.
Picture courtesy of Mike Thomson, with thanks.