So here we go again. It looks as though yet another Scottish manager will be appointed to one of English football's top positions, with David Moyes apparently poised to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. Though Moyes will certainly have his work cut out, he can draw comfort from the fact that those from his region have been cut from winning cloth. Moyes's region, to be specific, is Glasgow, where several managerial greats grew up: Manchester United's Sir Matt Busby in Belshill, and Ferguson by the shipyards of Govan; Celtic's Jock Stein was born in nearby Burnbank; and a few miles down the road in Ayrshire, the now-abandoned village of Glenbuck saw the early years of Liverpool's Bill Shankly.
It's tempting to ask whether there's something in the water in this area of Scotland that produces men of a particular resolve. Moyes cannot and may never claim the same sort of trophy haul as his compatriots, but he shares similar sensibilities. Chief among these are the working-class work ethic, and the closely related desire of the underdog to prove himself.
A few years ago, while working on a book about what it took to make a great football manager, I took a trip to Glasgow and Ayrshire to see the childhood haunts of Busby, Shankly and Stein. It was an unusually poignant visit. In Burnbank I could barely find a trace of Stein. In Belshill, I found the Sir Matt Busby Sports Complex, where inside the only sign of the great man was a photo of him near the reception desk. It was only when I ventured out to Muirkirk, the town adjacent to Shankly's Glenbuck, that the scattered facts of their backgrounds began to cohere into a narrative.
Before its demise Glenbuck was a place that suffered great tragedy, with dozens of miners having died in a collapse in the early 20th century. Yet despite having a steady population of only about a thousand people, the place produced some 50 professional footballers, several of whom became full internationals. As Shankly himself once said: "There were only two things in Scotland in those days: the pit and football." That stark juxtaposition – of the very hardest labour on one hand, and the purest form of escapism on the other – was something that would inform Shankly's philosophy throughout his managerial career. Year after year, he and his Scottish peers sent their teams out with a grim determination to succeed, and – for the most part – with a responsibility to entertain.
In Moyes, too, Manchester United would have a manager unafraid to challenge orthodoxy, to usurp complacently held status. Football, like many areas of the commercial world, is an industry with an ample supply of yes men, and there is a directness – even a bluntness – in his manner that Ferguson would presumably find attractive. It is therefore logical that, despite the ever changing world of football, Manchester United are looking to appoint a manager who represents these reassuringly old-fashioned values.
When in Glenbuck, I spent the afternoon with Kirti Mandir, a local sculptor who had been commissioned to produce a statue to remember the village's fallen miners. Mandir spoke of the area's special character, and of the way that Shankly was revered there even today. Liverpool fans, he said, would travel hundreds of miles to visit the great Scot's memorial plaque, and there was a man who would come to polish it every few days. All these people came to pay tribute to a man who saw glory as a civic duty.
If Moyes sees that as his objective, then he will do just fine. Time will tell. In the meantime, it seems that once again it is all about Glasgow. It is intriguing – and perhaps heartwarming – that in so globalised a game the Old Trafford club seems to have decided that there is truly no place like Ferguson's home.