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Erik ten Hag’s encounter with David Moyes a reminder of Alex Ferguson’s shadow

United manager is showing inner steel as he takes on the alpha males at Old Trafford

Erik ten Hag has shown authority in his dealings with Cristiano Ronaldo. Photo: Manchester United/Manchester United via Getty Images© Manchester United via Getty Imag

West Ham United manager David Moyes found it hard to shake off the shadow of Alex Ferguson when he took over at Old Trafford. Photo: Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images© Getty Images

Manchester United's manager Erik ten Hag was not afraid to drop team captain Harry Maguire. Photo: Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images© Getty Images

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta during the Premier League match at St Mary's, Southampton. Picture date: Sunday October 23, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Southampton. Photo credit should read: John Walton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.© PA

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22: Declan Rice of West Ham United and Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United in action during the Premier League match between Manchester United and West Ham United at Old Trafford on January 22, 2022 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)© Visionhaus/Getty Images

Paul McGrathSunday World

Erik ten Hag has only to look across the Old Trafford technical area today to absorb the most vital lesson in survival.

David Moyes’s presence in the away dugout offers a timely reminder of the gargantuan scale and responsibility that comes with the office of Manchester United manager.

And, critically, of how the most essential imperative for any individual stepping onto Alex Ferguson’s old throne is to somehow emerge from the Glaswegian’s vast and imposing shadow.

It is something Moyes could never do and the reason why he lasted just a few painful months in Manchester.

I haven’t agreed with all of Ten Hag’s decisions.

But his strength of personality has impressed me.

He doesn’t seem remotely intimidated by the alpha males that populate the world’s biggest club.

That he didn’t hesitate in either dropping or disciplining Cristiano Ronaldo, when he felt that was the right thing to do, illustrated the courage of the Dutchman’s convictions.

It was a big test for a manager in his opening weeks in the job and he did not shirk.

I love a leader who is unafraid, who doesn’t worry about his popularity or reputation when making a big call.

Moyes (left) came to Old Trafford a decade ago, tasked with a responsibility that, essentially, amounted to mission impossible.

Being the first man in after Fergie’s endless imperium had yielded a vast treasure house of glory was in so many ways a thankless task.

How do you replace such a colossal figure, somebody who delivered 13 Premier League titles and who twice lead United to the European summit, an insatiable figure who towered over even the most celebrated of his peers?

Moyes who had done brilliantly at Everton, would probably admit today that he was a little bamboozled.

With Fergie anointing his fellow Scot as his successor, with Fergie visible in the stands at every game, the pressure on Moyes was unceasing. And he looked cowed.

West Ham United manager David Moyes found it hard to shake off the shadow of Alex Ferguson when he took over at Old Trafford. Photo: Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images© Getty Images

He was deferential to his predecessor – and really struggled to singe his own imprint into the club.

In many ways, it was as if Alex was still in charge.

To be fair, few, if any, are the men who could have carried such a weight without buckling.

Fergie had governed from top to bottom for a quarter of a century. He controlled every facet of the organisation. It was his club, he ruled – as I myself discovered – with an iron fist.

Still, Moyes probably didn’t help himself with his submissive approach.

Ten Hag looks different.

That he cancelled a scheduled day off after the four-goal humiliation to Brentford and made his players run, at high intensity, the 13.8km by which the Bees outran them the day before, illustrated he was calling the shots.

Not only that, but the manager ran every centimetre of the punishing journey with them.

He announced he was the boss while winning the respect of his players for suffering alongside them.

To face down Ronaldo, the biggest name in world football, while dropping club captain Harry Maguire were further important statements.

By telling his most-vaunted stars that they were not bigger than the club he was passing an important message to his entire squad.

This was always a key to Ferguson’s unbreakable authority.

Even his key players, giants of the glory days, were never allowed to forget who was in charge. David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Jaap Stam and Roy Keane were shown the door the moment Fergie believed their presence could undermine his control.

If Ten Hag wants to view a prototype of the assertive type of leader designed to survive and thrive he should look to today’s earlier kick-off at The Emirates.

Manchester United's manager Erik ten Hag was not afraid to drop team captain Harry Maguire. Photo: Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images© Getty Images

Mikel Arteta (left) impresses me. He has a vision of how he wants Arsenal to play – and he has been unwavering in implementing that plan.

It is evident why Pep Guardiola would have recruited him as his Manchester City right-hand man.

They are similar personalities: Driven, intense, with a specific view of how the game should be played – and capable of schooling players to carry out that plan.

Arsenal have surprised many of us. That they have maintained the trajectory of their thrilling start speaks of a club on the up.

Young kids Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and William Saliba look utterly undaunted. Arteta’s coaching and man-management must be factors in their confident self-expression.

They had a rare difficult week, with a draw at Southampton followed by defeat in Holland after Arteta made a few changes for the Europa League tie with PSV.

But a win today over Forest and they will top the Premier League into November. Even the most diehard Gunner might not have been so bold as to predict that back in August.

Ten Hag also has his preferred tactical approach, one to which the individual industry of every player is central.

I spoke a few weeks ago about United’s maddening inconsistency, but there are signs that they are rising above that.

Since the Manchester derby humiliation, they are unbeaten in seven games in all competitions, winning five.

If not all the performances have been outstanding, the results suggest they are developing a resilience and a capacity to eke out victories when not at their best.

It was the calling card of the Fergie era. United are a long, long way off that old standard. But recent weeks suggest Ten Hag is equipped to avoid the kind of mistakes that doomed Moyes to fail.

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