Sir Alex Ferguson seems bent on haunting David Moyes, like the ghost of Banquo hovering over a particularly gloomy Scottish feast, which is probably the last thing the struggling Manchester United manager needs right now.

Each time something disastrous happens to the team on the pitch – ie. frequently – the cameras have acquired the habit of doing a quick one-two: cutting instantly to Moyes' horrified face and then away to his overcoated predecessor staring impassively down from the stand.

Sunderland in the Capital One Cup defeat on Tuesday was a case in point, except the man who comes frae Govan arrived mob-handed, flanked on one side by Sir Bobby Charlton and on the other by Bryan Robson, to add even more sombreness to a sorry occasion for Moyes.

Ferguson is, of course, entitled to be there in his new role as a Manchester United director, but every time he shows up it is a reminder to United's fans of just what they have lost. Moyes, floundering away on the touchline below, is bound to suffer in comparison.

He may also wonder just what Ferguson is actually doing there, particularly as there had been a checklist of ambitions he had promised to tick off on retirement.

First of all he had said that he was stepping down to spend more time with his wife, Cathy. He also wanted to tour the Hebrides, an ambition he did at least fulfil when he hired a boat last summer.

Along with that he wanted to "go to the Kentucky Derby and the US Masters, the Melbourne Cup". He added: "I want to visit vineyards in Tuscany and France."

Instead he is to be found louring at the Stadium of Light on a cold and windy night in January.

Moyes should not give up hope just yet: there may be respite ahead. If Ferguson sticks to at least some of those promises, he stands to miss a modest chunk at the end of United's season.

Should he fly out to the Masters in April, that would rule him out of Hull City at home and – unlikely on current form, admittedly – the Champions League quarter-final second leg.

If he then flies out to the Kentucky Derby he will be away on Saturday, 3 May, as United play their latest tormentors Sunderland at home, when they can no doubt watch their league title similarly disappear over the horizon.

The Melbourne Cup, however, is not until November, by which time Moyes' fate may have been sealed one way or another.

If Moyes can take any encouragement, it would be from Ferguson's promise never to return to the day job. "You would be throwing your money down the drain if you put any money on me coming back as a manager. I made my decision. The timing was perfect. There is no way back for me now. I've got a new life," he said.

The only question is, what happened to it?