Guest Post: Shadowed Succession – Moyes & O’Farrell

frank o farrell matt busby

Kevin Curran of the excellent looks at the parallels between Alex Ferguson’s successor David Moyes and Frank O’Farrell, the Irishman who followed in the footsteps of the great Matt Busby.

With the Moyes era soon to begin at Manchester Utd, it will be interesting to see how the Scotsman fares in one of the biggest roles in football management. From what we have heard so far, Moyes was a perfect fit, the one for the next two decades or so, etc. He has left behind a club that is undoubtedly in a better a position than when he took over. Champions League qualification during his time at Goodison being the highlight.

moyes fergusonBut maybe that was to be expected given the club’s limited resources, and for the most part people will say that Moyes brought Everton to heights that would not have been possible under most. The reactions of the Everton fans to his departure showed just how much they appreciated him and what he did for the club. Of course what achievements he did have at Everton were made all the more impressive as they coincided with Liverpool’s struggle to bag a top 4 finish in recent seasons. But now he is at Manchester Utd and that is a completely different story. This is a club that demands and more importantly, expects success.

So with all this pressure and expectation weighing heavy on the shoulders of David Moyes already, how will he cope? There have been men before him that have come into the job on the back of impressive managerial displays elsewhere but have succumbed to the huge expectations of the club.We need only have a peek at the club’s history books to see that not all managers were given much time to make their mark at Old Trafford, and a certain Corkonian’s time as manager shows us just how true this is.

Frank O’ Farrell is a name that may not be known to most, but the man who was born and bred in Cork, working on the railway lines from Mallow to the city, once managed one of the biggest football clubs in the world. Before entering the managerial world O’ Farrell showcased his talents on the pitch playing for Cork United before going on to play for both West Ham and Preston North End. It was at West Ham where he learned and progressed the most, and his talents at club level inevitably resulted in O’ Farrell making his International début in 1952 against Austria.

frank o'farrell george bestThe arrival of the summer months in 1957 saw the Corkman end his time at West Ham and move to pastures new at Preston. But it was his move into the managerial hot seat that saw O’ Farrell reach new heights. After hanging up his boots in 1961 and some managerial stints at Weymouth and Torquay, he took over as manager at Leicester City in 1968. Although being relegated from the First Division in his début season he did manage to take the team to an F.A. Cup Final at Wembley, losing by the narrowest of margins to Manchester City. From there he went on to win the Second Division and gain promotion in the 1970/71 season, bringing Leicester back to the top flight.

His time as a manager in just a few short years turned some heads and with contract negotiations at Leicester slow moving, this resulted in a quite interesting offer coming in for the man born in the Glenn area of Cork City. In the summer of 1971 O’ Farrell was made aware that the great Sir Matt Busby had been looking to meet with the Irishman. Busby, who won 5 League titles, 2 F.A. Cups, 5 Charity Shields and 1 European Cup as well as helping the so called ‘Busby Babes’ recover and rebuild from the Munich tragedy in 1958, was one of Manchester Utd’s most successful managers.

When they met, Busby told O’ Farrell that it was time for change at Old Trafford. He felt that the team had been together for too long and needed to be rebuilt, and most importantly he felt that O’ Farrell was the man for the job. The package that was offered to the man from humble beginnings was too good to turn down and the fact that it was at one of the biggest clubs in the world made the decision somewhat of a no brainer. However his time as manager at Old Trafford was to be a difficult and unfortunately, a short one.

C Palace 1 Man Utd 3From the outset it was clear that Busby was going to still weigh in when it came to some of the decisions in the club, a fact that O’ Farrell was not too pleased with. At the years end of the 1971/72 season, O’ Farrell’s first in charge, Utd were 5 points clear at the top of the league with Busby waxing lyrical about the Irishman. “Frank O’ Farrell is probably the best signing I ever made”. However O’ Farrell was managing some of the biggest names in the game, and with big names you will often get big egos. George Best was unpredictable and would regularly miss training, while Denis Law would have no interest in a game unless he was starting.

Dealing with players like this, coupled with the fact that if O’ Farrell was to drop one of the marquee names from the squad, as he did Bobby Charlton after some poor performances, Busby would make his feelings on the matter well known, undermining the manager’s ability and decision making. Having Busby still a part of the club proved difficult for O’ Farrell and after a poor second season and just 18 months at the helm, he knew that his time was up. Frank O’ Farrell was sacked in December 1972. But when we think of the connection Busby had with those players, what he had been through with the ‘Busby Babes’ squad and the aftermath of the Munich Disaster, you realize why he may have still wanted a say in how the squad was run. He had been through exhilarating highs and devastating lows with that squad. Any man would find it difficult to just cut ties and wipe your hands clean of those relationships. So could you blame him?

Nevertheless O’ Farrell did go on to have some managerial success, leading the Iranian National team to Asian Cup victory in 1976… As you do! Unfortunately he was given less than a fighting chance while at United. Yes, he did have some poor performances but he did manage to bag an 8th place finish, not bad for his first season. Having such a high achieving former manager still at the club after his retirement, still determined to have his say, may have always meant that O’ Farrell was only going to have a short time at the helm unless he bagged some silverware sharpish.

Britain Soccer Man Utd Ferguson SuccessorSo although the O’ Farrell reign at Manchester was over 40 years ago, it does draw some similarities to the managerial world of today.  Immediate success is a must for most clubs and there is often a figure in the boardroom that casts a big shadow and can kick you out as fast as they welcomed you in. So what is in store for David Moyes? Like O’ Farrell, Moyes is taking over from a hugely successful Scotsman and like Busby did, Ferguson will remain an influential figure within the club after stepping down as Manager. Busby backed O’ Farrell for the job much like Sir Alex has backed Moyes.

So could we see Moyes go down the route of O’ Farrell? If we were talking about Man City or Chelsea I wouldn’t be surprised if the manager was shown the door after one or two unsuccessful seasons, just look at poor old Mancini. Winning the Premier Leaguer one season, finishing 2nd the next, reaching a cup final and still being handed his P45. But as I said earlier, this is Manchester United. They will want Moyes to be at the helm for as long as possible, the board will not let the club turn into one that has a quick managerial turnover. Such a philosophy may be the reason why Jose was never in contention for the top job at Old Trafford.

Unlike O’ Farrell, I do think that Moyes will be given a fair chance at United without the man who went before him questioning his decisions, but rather imparting some wisdom if needed. He will be given time to make his mark on the club and if success comes early for him we could see Moyes ranked up there with the likes of Busby and Ferguson rather than the O‘’Farrells of the managerial world. Only time will tell for the Scotsman.

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