The great Scottish football knight retires as manager of Manchester United after more than twenty years at the helm and having built a number of successful teams, moves upstairs. The post is not advertised and on the manager’s recommendation, the board choose to replace him with a manager with no experience of managing at the same level. Then, after a short period, the board realise they have made a mistake and he is relieved of his post.
If that sounds familiar and as a Manchester United fan it should.
It has happened twice!
In January 1969, Sir Matt Busby retired as team manager but not from the club, as the statement issued by the club explained:
“Sir Matt has informed the board that he wishes to relinquish the position of team manager at the end of the season. The chairman and directors have tried to persuade him to carry on and it was only with great reluctance that his request has been accepted. The board fully appreciates the reason for his decision and it was unanimously agreed that Sir Matt be appointed general manager of club which he is very happy to accept.”
The chairman added:
“Of course we knew that it had to come but this does not mean that Sir Matt will be any less involved with Manchester United. In fact the post of general manager carries even wider responsibilities and my board are well content to think that in future they can call upon Sir Matt’s unique football experience in both home and international fields.”
Press speculation on who would succeed Sir Matt was rife with a host of famous names bandied around, including Don Revie, Brian Clough and Ron Greenwood. However, by making Sir Matt general manager had United already ruled out an “outsider” with management experience? To expect an experienced manager to work under Sir Matt would be fraught with difficulties.
On Sir Matt’s recommendation, United chose to appoint a man already at the club – coach of the reserve team, 31-year-old Wilf McGuinness. He was a Manchester United player whose career was cut short by injury. He played in three FA Youth Cup winning teams in the 1950’s and made his first team debut in 1955 against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Prior to Munich, his first team appearances were limited as the player in his left half position was Duncan Edwards. Then in the 1958-59 season he broke his leg playing against Stoke City in a reserve team fixture and although he attempted to come back the break was so bad that he had to retire at the age of 22. He was appointed as Manchester United assistant trainer and was put in charge of the reserve team. He was also England‘s youth team coach and was appointed manager of that team in 1968.
So what were McGuiness’s responsibilities if Sir Matt was general manager of the club? A statement from the club in April 1969 clarified his role:
“The board has given further consideration to the changes which will occur at the end of the season and has decided to appoint a chief coach who will be responsible for team selection, coaching, training and tactics. Mr Wilf McGuinness has been selected for this position and will take up his duties as from 1 June and in these circumstances it is not necessary to advertise for applications as first intended. Sir Matt will be responsible for all other matters affecting the club and players and will continue as club spokesman.”
As previously mentioned would any experience manager be willing to work under those conditions?
So, why was Wilf McGuinness appointed as chief coach not team manager that was the position Sir Matt held when he retired. This was explained by Sir Matt:
“This is sort of preliminary. All the great names in the game started this way. He has a bit of experience to pick up yet in management and it’s a question of starting this way. I think he will have enough to bite on with responsibility for the team without taking on other things which could come later. The question of team manager could come probably in a year or so. We hope it will.”
In his first season in charge Wilf McGuinness guided United to two Cup semi-finals, losing to Leeds United in the FA Cup (after a two replays) and Manchester City in the League Cup. They finished eighth in the League with a record of:
Played 42, Won 14, Draw 17, Lost 11, Goals For 66, Goals Against 61, Points 45 (Note: In those days teams only got two points for a win)
His second season started badly as United only won five games before Christmas in the league. His final game was a 4-4 draw with Derby County on Boxing Day; he was sacked later that day. The game that sealed his fate was a defeat in the semi-final of the League Cup on 23rd December against Aston Villa, then a third division side. United finished that season in eighth place again, with a record of:
Played 42, Won 16, Draw 11, Lost 15, Goals For 65, Goals Against 66, Points 43
So, Wilf McGuinness only lasted 20 months in the Manchester United hot seat before being replaced, slightly longer than David Moyes, but that is hopefully where the similarities end.
Wilf McGuinness was sacked in 1970; under Sir Matt we had won the league in 1967. It was not until 1993 that Manchester United regained their rightful place as Champions.
Those were without doubt the wilderness years – we even suffered the ignominy of relegation in 1974. I was a Stretford Ender in those days and throughout that time I and my mates never lost the faith. We knew that Manchester United would one day regain their place at the top of the pile, even when in that black season of 1974/75 we were watching United in places like York City, Millwall (that was scary), Bristol City and Leyton Orient.
In the years following the sacking of Wilf McGuinness, United have appointed nine managers. Without using the internet or reference books how many can you name?
Next time, I will look at those nearly men, the managers who tried and unfortunately failed to lead United out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land.
This article was researched and written by Roy Belton.
Quotes obtained from “The Hamlin Illustrated History of Manchester United 1978 – 1996” by Tom Tyrrell and David Meek