It was inevitable, in fact logical, that the repercussions of the departure of the greatest manager in the history of football would last well into his successor’s reign.
But supporters of Manchester United would have hoped that, while such a monumental change could never be seamless, they would witness a relatively smooth transition into the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.
Unfortunately for those who have spent the best part of three decades basking in almost unprecedented success, this season has brought them back down to earth with an unenviable jolt.
Under David Moyes, the man hand-picked by Ferguson to be his successor, United sit seventh in the Premier League, eleven points from the top, and the Capital One Cup – undoubtedly their lowest priority at the start of the season – represents their only realistic chance of silverware this year.
While fans of United’s strongest rivals watch on with unmitigated glee, those at Old Trafford – so used to dominating English football – are desperately seeking a remedy to ease the haste of their inexorable decline.
A great deal could be – and has been – said about Moyes’ tactical astuteness, man management and transfer dealings, all of which have come in for great scrutiny and criticism since his arrival just six months ago, but, while these factors are undoubtedly significant and must be addressed urgently, there seems to be something else lacking; something so pivotal to United’s success under Ferguson and something that could, if harnessed correctly, go a considerable distance to improving the fortunes of Moyes’ bedraggled side.
Surrounding Ferguson’s teams, for almost the entirety of his reign, there existed an aura; an aura of greatness and superiority, a sense of supremacy possessed by unquestionable right that rarely failed to strike fear into the hearts of opponents.
It mattered not if that feeling was justified by the ability of the individuals that comprised the team. Indeed, many of the individuals who played a central role in United’s success did not appear to possess the talent to warrant such eminence; Gary Neville and Roy Keane are just two examples.
But, in spite of this, the aura prevailed and proceeded to engulf all who came into contact with it.
It could be construed as exceptional confidence, overt self-assurance or simply plain arrogance, but its nature is irrelevant, for what it achieved was remarkable.
In many instances, opposition teams did not need to fear United nearly as much as they did. Even in Ferguson’s last campaign, the 2012/13 season, an objective observer could well have reasonably concluded that, on paper, both Manchester City and Chelsea boasted stronger squads, but it was United that remained the team to beat.
Their strength, under the genius that was Sir Alex Ferguson, was not their greater technical ability – though many of his players were wonderfully gifted – or their superior tactics, but the belief that they possessed that they were, to all intents and purposes, a superior side to their opposition, and that they had, because they were ‘Manchester United’, a divine right to succeed.
Opposition teams so often succumbed to Manchester United because they sensed this aura and, in most cases, were overcome by it and believed in it, too.
This was the brilliance of Sir Alex Ferguson. He instilled a belief in his players and in the club as a whole, and it was this belief that set them apart from their challengers. They possessed unparalleled self-assurance in their own ability, and they never let anybody convince them otherwise.
Under David Moyes, it is this belief that is lacking more than anything else.
The problems facing Moyes of course consist of numerous facets, of which this is only one. They do need to freshen up their aging squad, and to do this they could do much worse than begin their search in the Premier League, which boasts some exceptional young talent, a lot of it English.
But, most importantly, Manchester United must rediscover their belief and their self-confidence. They must reignite their aura and prove they still believe that, as Manchester United, they have a god-given right to greatness.
This will be a colossal task for David Moyes, the pressure on whom will only grow stronger as his tenure progresses. If he is to achieve this then the advice and guidance of his mentor and friend, Ferguson, will be indispensable, although it is questionable whether Ferguson’s presence in the stands at every match is truly of benefit to Moyes, and United would do well to consider addressing this issue.
A great challenge now faces David Moyes, of magnitude never before experienced by the Scot, and only time will tell if he is up to it.
If he can achieve this gargantuan undertaking, then normal service may well, in time, be resumed at Old Trafford.