Everton manager is dependable and trustworthy but José Mourinho would be a better bet to provide European success
To put it in perspective, it is only seven weeks since the idea that David Moyes was a credible replacement for Sir Alex Ferguson was put to one of Manchester United's executives and he tipped back his head and laughed. Not a chance, he replied. Why, he wanted to know, would a football club of United's stature and ambition bring in someone who had never managed in the Champions League, let alone won a trophy or proven that he could work with a significant budget?
It was not intended as a slight on the Everton manager but, equally, it did not feel like an absurd response. Moyes has proven himself as a manager of distinction but it feels strange, to say the least, that Old Trafford's decision-makers would consider him their favoured choice when José Mourinho's time at Real Madrid is coming to an end and his attempts to come to United's attention have gone beyond normal fluttering of eyelashes.
Mourinho has pretty much wandered across the dancefloor, written his number on a piece of paper and suggested they hook up at some point. United have put it in the nearest bin and found someone considerably less glamorous but maybe more dependable and trustworthy. And that's clearly important when they are looking for a long-term relationship rather than a brief fling.
Moyes, to give him his due, certainly ticks a lot of boxes if United's recruitment process has prioritised someone who understands what it is like to be at a club for a considerable amount of time and the importance of building a team, a youth policy and a firm structure rather than going for the quick fix and then passing through.
Gary Neville, with his acute understanding of the way United operate, described it as an appointment that would put the sanity back into football and it was clear what he meant when so many football-club owners are guilty of making knee-jerk decisions without any kind of established thought processes.
Even so, it is possible to admire Moyes's work at Goodison while simultaneously having misgivings about whether he is the best candidate for the job. The two can go together and it is not difficult to understand why so many of the club's supporters are feeling slightly underwhelmed. Whatever you think of the way Mourinho works, the politics that accompany the man and his habit of falling out with the people he works for, if the question is about who is more likely to guide United to a European Cup it would be exceedingly hard to make a case for Moyes. And that surely has to count.
Instead, United appear to have been won over by Moyes's tenure at Everton, now into his 12th year, and the way he routinely pulls off top-eight finishes despite the financial restrictions that mean his average net transfer spend barely touches £800,000 a season.
Perhaps the thinking also goes that Moyes would fit more snugly into Old Trafford bearing in mind Ferguson has decided not to make a clean break, with all the complications that potentially brings for his successor. Or maybe it boils down to what Sir Bobby Charlton says about the way Mourinho attracts confrontation and there is a shared feeling behind the scenes that he is not the right kind of person to represent the club.
The truth is neither explanation fully stacks up. If it is all about Mourinho's capacity for fuelling controversy it is pretty rich, bordering on faintly absurd, when Ferguson has taken on just about every rival, referee and journalist in the business, not to mention the rows with the Football Association, television companies, various directors and even, intermittently, the club's own supporters. And if it is because United want someone who will work closely with Ferguson then it suggests they might not fully comprehend the independence that a new manager needs, and surely deserves, to stand any chance of making it a relatively seamless changeover.
That, perhaps, will be the most difficult part of the job even before we get to the fact that the new man has to walk into that dressing room and win over a group of players who are not accustomed to change. Every time there is a bad result, the new manager will know there will be people in the crowd grumbling that it was much better with the last man in charge. Whatever trophies are won, he will be aware that they will be held up against his predecessor's.
It is clear why United wanted Ferguson to remain at the club but there is also a very credible argument that it would have been better for his replacement if there was a complete break. It will not be easy, to say the least, for a new manager to create his own identity when there are cameramen habitually training their lenses on Ferguson as he watches from the directors' box.
It was always going to be an immense job, standing in a dugout opposite the stand the club named after Ferguson, but it is not going to be made easier when the man in question is sitting over your left shoulder.
There is, after all, an element of having been here before if United take into account the difficulties that Wilf McGuinness and then Frank O'Farrell experienced when Sir Matt Busby moved aside but wanted to continue having a say on team matters. That, more than anything, has to be something Ferguson avoids, however strong the old urges.
At least we know enough about Moyes to realise that, if necessary, he will make the point himself.