This month marks the 47th anniversary of Matt Busby’s retirement from the Old Trafford hot seat. But what has history taught us about replacing a managerial legend?
On January 14th 1969 one of the most successful and respected managers in the game shocked the world of football by announcing his retirement.
In his time at Old Trafford Matt Busby had won five league titles, three FA cups and just 12 months before announcing his departure; the European Cup at Wembley.
The triumph that May night in 1968 was the pinnacle of Busby’s time at United after rebuilding a team depleted by the tragedy of Munich only 10 years previously.
But barely a year later he was to leave the club and such glory wasn’t to be seen again until well into the Alex Ferguson era some 30 years down the line.
“It’s time to make way for a younger man, a tracksuit manager,” he announced as the club prepared for the future under a new and inexperienced manager. “United is no longer just a football club. It is an institution. I feel the demands are beyond one human being.”
It was to be a decision that would ultimately dent the club for a generation as a succession of managers came and went without ever getting close to emulating Busby’s triumphs or even laying any foundations for future regimes.
The team was full of ageing superstars and despite some exciting young talent, Busby had failed to build a side like the one that was so cruelly torn apart in 1958. United needed emergency surgery and fast.
As history tells us, it turned out this wasn’t to be his final swan song with the club. He became the general manager later that summer and then returned to manage the team 18 months later in an interim capacity when it all became too much for former player, coach and successor Wilf McGuinness.
The club, players and fans simply didn’t want to say goodbye to one of their favourite sons and Busby felt the same way.
It was a U-turn which Paddy Crerrand described at the time as inevitable. “He is Old Trafford. If you have any problem, you don’t think of going to anyone else. You go to the Boss,” said Crerrand.
But ultimately the return was too little too late and tarnished the great man’s latter years at Old Trafford in the eyes of some. After being replaced by Frank O’Farrell in 1971 the club’s demise continued, culminating in relegation just three years later.
Busby carried on as a club director for 11 more years, before being made president in 1982.
So almost half a century to the day after a decision that shook the club to its foundations, and at a time when we are left with a United team still reeling from the shock retirement of its most successful manager, a side of ageing players who are yet to be replaced, not to mention a scarcity of any reliable youth policy; let’s just hope any similarities that might be made with the current state of Manchester United and the club during the post Busby era are purely coincidental.