"So you got someone lined up?"
"Yes, we do, and we're very confident in-"
"We heard the Real Madrid guy is on the market. Two European championships, two Premierships, Spanish and Italian leagues. He's the guy, right?"
"Er, no. He's going to one of our biggest rivals."
"Uh huh. So who you got?"
"He manages Everton."
"Small club. But big ideas!"
"What's he won?"
"Well, he hasn't exactly won anything..."
Personally I think the choice of Moyes is a good one. You can't read this without being tremendously impressed by Moyes's dedication, intelligence, creativity and (relative to resources) success. But boy, it's brave. It feels very much like Fergie's choice, and I wonder if one of the factors pressing him to retire now was so that David Gill, the retiring CEO and Ferguson's closest ally on the board, was still in the driving seat when the decision on succession was made.
But I'm interested in the wider question of why a company like MUFC might choose one kind of manager over another.
From a business point of view, Mourhino would have been by far the safer choice, at least on the surface. You could walk into a meeting with any shareholder and they'd be convinced he was the right guy before you sat down. A proven track record of success at the highest levels, a global reputation, no period of adjustment to the top level necessary: Mourhino would have been the closest thing to a guarantee of success and revenue growth over the next three years. If running a football club is about getting good results quickly, you want the guy who done the most winning in the last ten years.
But a successful business, according to another point of view, depends on more than than short term results. It depends, for its long term health, on something more intangible: call it values, or culture. Ferguson called it history. Whenever a challenger threatened United's dominance, or a player threatened to take a higher offer elsewhere, Ferguson would make reference to his club's history. He returned to it insistently. It was a way of saying, this club is about more than a chequebook, or one season's results, or a balance sheet. It's about values, memories, ethos: things that can't be bought or quickly produced.
It could have seemed old-fashioned and archaic, this insistence, in a world of global brands and profit projections - capitalism has a manic focus on the future, not the past. But Ferguson's focus on history turned out to be good for the business, and good for the club. That shouldn't be a surprise: many studies have found that culture matters. There's a strong link between a company's values and its long term performance. Barcelona and Bayern are examples of clubs whose strong cultures have enabled them to overcome the brutal logic of the market and achieve consistent success on relatively low wage bills. But because it's hard to measure and difficult to create, culture is often forgotten or ignored.
By choosing Moyes, MUFC plc are choosing a culturally based business strategy. Mourhino wouldn't have take as much pride in the club's history or care over its ethos as Ferguson did and Moyes will. Mourhino never really fitted in at Real Madrid, another club with a grand sense of its history, because he is too big a character not to clash with a club with a strong character of its own. He takes his own cultural ecosystem with him: buy Mourhino the manager, and you buy in the Mourhino worldview.This works well at a club at Chelsea, which long ago lost any sense of its own identity. Where there is a cultural void, Mourhino, and perhaps only Mourhino, can fill it.
But that's not the problem at Manchester United. The problem is finding someone talented enough to run the world's biggest football club, and humble enough to know that the club's values are more important to its success than he is.