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Moyes versus Ferguson

Steven Saunders
March 20, 2014
History against United

Headlines screaming "Ten days to save his job" and "You've no divine right to success". A do-or-die cup tie. The spectre of a club legend hanging over his every move.

No, it's not David Moyes, March 2014. This is Alex Ferguson, January 1990. The do-or-die tie is in the FA Cup against Nottingham Forest, not Olympiakos. The 10 days are about to elapse; a 3-0 defeat by Aston Villa preceded it, draws with Wimbledon and QPR have been endured since. The club legend is Sir Matt Busby.

So what did Fergie say to inspire his men? Just how different was his message to that sent out by David Moyes as the problems piled up before Wednesday's potential watershed moment against Olympiakos? It's closer than most would like to think:

Early optimism

Alex Ferguson, December 3, 1989: "Four or five teams will be there at the end of the season - and we will be there along with Arsenal. They deserved their victory because they had a better cutting edge around the area."

David Moyes, December 5, 2013: "We have got a long way to go. We will need to play some great football and win an awful lot of games in the run-in if we are going to be in there and around it at the end of the season."

Fergie's darkest period

Sir Alex Ferguson was under great pressure in January 1990 © Getty Images
  • A little over 24 years ago, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson (long before he was made a Knight of the Realm) was in trouble and his side were struggling at the wrong end of the First Division table.
  • Rewind to 1990: Robins to the rescue


Alex Ferguson, December 28, 1989: "Everyone seems to have set the cup tie as my trial. I can cope with that because I know I am doing the job the right way and the motivation of the players is no problem. We simply have to get on with it and remember the match will be as hard for Forest as it is for us."

David Moyes, March 18, 2014:"My future has not changed one bit. I have got a great job, know exactly the direction I want to go in. It has not been the season we wanted but I have ideas I want to put in place. Now the most important thing is Olympiakos."

Protecting the players

Alex Ferguson, January 3, 1990:"We have a big tie looming and I don't want the players worrying."

David Moyes, March 18, 2014: "The results at Old Trafford have been disappointing but it is not for want of trying. I see the players every day with the qualities they show me. They know they can play better, I don't think any of them are questioning that. But I believe in the players, I agree they have not showed it as often as they would like, but I hope they can show it tomorrow night."

What happened next?

A goal from Mark Robins was enough to give United victory against Forest:

Alex Ferguson, post-match having beaten Nottingham Forest "With today's attitude we must have a chance of further progress. This result can certainly lift our season. We are an inspirational club and will have a huge crowd against Derby at home on Saturday. Today our fans were superb. I've tried to keep everyone relaxed for this big Cup date all week and credit to my lads. Their attitude throughout was great though we had to survive the usual frantic stuff in the last 20 minutes. Near the end it was a matter of eyes shut and praying. But we certainly deserved to survive."

But minnows still had United in their sights:

Ian Bowyer, manager of Fourth Division Hereford United, who were drawn to face Manchester United in the FA Cup fourth round. Manchester United won 1-0. "I fancy our chances more than I did at Farnborough in the first round. Whereas we sat in the dug-out there with white knuckles, we can sit with smiles on our faces."

And Fergie's team would still experience significant defeats:

Ferguson after losing 2-0 to Norwich at Carrow Road, January 21, 1990 "Norwich were absolutely brilliant. That was the best performance by any side I've seen since I joined United. They certainly reached a peak today. But that effort from my side was not acceptable. I know there is a distinct lack of goal threat from us. That was certainly a low for my lot today and there is absolutely no excuse."

How the Daily Express reported Fergie's 10-day ultimatum on December 28, 1989 © Express Newspapers
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