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Moyes proved too ordinary for greatness of Manchester United job

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From the start – from the FA Community Shield match at Wembley back in August — David Moyes seemed overmatched as the manager of Manchester United. It wasn’t an easy thing to put into words. He had obviously been a successful manager at Everton. He was obviously a smart guy, driven, committed to the cause, and certainly likable enough … I recall him saying two or three pretty funny and interesting things in the short time he spoke with the press before and after that game.

But there was something else, something that will come out harsher than intended.

He just seemed kind of ordinary.

It wasn’t exactly his fault. Well, it’s never the successor’s fault. The blunt and cold way Manchester United announced the news of Moyes’ sacking makes clear what his place in the club’s long and celebrated history will be:

“The Club would like to place on record its thanks for the hard work, honestly and integrity he brought to the club.”

Yep. Moyes will be the successor forever. The harsh truth is that, as the man who took over for Sir Alex Ferguson, “successor” was probably all he ever could have expected to be.

* * *

Phil Bengtson was a 55-year-old man from Minnesota who had coached football all his life. His claim to fame, before 1968, was that he had the patience, humility and strength to be Vince Lombardi’s assistant coach for nine years. No other coach managed to work that long for Lombardi. He was “rewarded” with the Packers head coaching job when Lombardi left before the 1968 season.

The successor lasted three years and never made the playoffs.

Gene Bartow was an accomplished 45-year-old college basketball coach who had led Memphis State to the 1973 national championship game. The Tigers lost the championship to UCLA – that was the game Bill Walton scored 44 points, making 21 of his 22 shots – but Bartow impressed enough people that he was chosen as the man to replace the great John Wooden in 1975.

Bartow had some limited success. He coached UCLA to the Final Four in 1976 and to the Sweet 16 the next year. But limited success was not what anyone had in mind after John Wooden won 10 national championships in 12 years. After two years, Bartow left to go start a basketball program at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

“Gene had the unenviable task when he arrived at UCLA of following the greatest coach in college basketball history, John Wooden, and he did so admirably,” UCLA’s athletic director Dan Guerrero said in a statement when Bartow died in 2012.

His legacy too, alas, was as the successor.

(MORE: How the Manchester United job has become a poisoned chalice)

Speaking of unenviable tasks, Tim Floyd replaced Phil Jackson in Chicago after six NBA championships … and without Michael Jordan too. Floyd was considered by many to be the next great thing in coaching. His teams won 49, lost 190 and at last check he was coaching at University of Texas at El Paso, where he has yet to guide the team to the NCAA Tournament.

Ray Perkins, one of legendary Bear Bryant’s favorite players, got to replace the Bear at Alabama. He had four up-and-down years before racing off to coach Tampa Bay in the NFL for more money and fewer headaches. Bill Guthridge was Dean Smith’s trusted longtime assistant coach, and he replaced his mentor and friend in 1987. He lasted three years and did reach two Final Fours. He retired and left the job to Matt Doherty, who almost crashed the program. Terry Simpson, a brilliant junior hockey coach, was given the task of replacing Al Arbour after four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders. He lasted two and a half seasons before being fired.

When Bill Snyder “retired” at Kansas State – he engineered the greatest turnaround in college football history there and was perhaps the most respected man in the state – he was replaced by a man named Ron Prince. Countless bad things happened the next three years, so bad that Prince was canned and Bill Snyder CAME BACK. And he is still the Kansas State coach almost 10 years after retiring.*

*Something similar happened when Minnesota Vikings’ legend Bud Grant was succeeded by the generally disastrous Les Steckel, a marine who went 3-13 his one and only season as an NFL head coach. Grant came back for one season.

This is not to say it’s impossible to replace a legendary coach. There are some positive examples. Every now and again a Jimmy Johnson will replace Tom Landry or Bill Cowher will replace Chuck Noll. But, in those two specific cases, there was something else at work. Landry and Noll were both legends, obviously, but fading ones. Landry’s last three teams had losing records. Noll’s teams had made the playoffs just once in seven years. In a way, Landry and Cowher were replacing ghosts.

David Moyes was not so fortunate. He was replacing a vibrant, active and very present legend in Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. On the one hand, Ferguson’s success was unprecedented – 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, winner of two doubles and the first treble in English football history when his 1999 team won the Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League.

(MORE: Giggs named interim boss  |  Candidates  |  Klopp not interested)

On the other hand, Ferguson was a larger than life figure, a tough, manipulative, literary and brilliant mastermind worthy of his own “House of Cards” like television series.

And on the third hand … Ferguson’s Manchester United team won the Premier League title in 2013. They were the defending champions, which brings with it another kind of pressure. Ferguson was every bit the force on the day he stepped down that he had been for two decades. David Moyes was not following some fading star, no, he was taking over the biggest team on earth and following the man who had made it so.

Moyes brought some solid credentials. He was successful at Everton and was known as someone who worked with 21st Century analytics. He was widely admired. But, again, right from the start, he just seemed … unspectacular. The man who tries to follow Sir Alex Ferguson, you would think, needs to have his own power, his own charisma, his own magnetism. Moyes just seemed like a nice guy.

Then the worst possible thing happened for Moyes: The team got off to a bad start – the worst start in almost a quarter-century. Manchester United lost at Liverpool and was destroyed at Manchester City. December proved to be the toughest month almost any Manchester United fan could remember. They lost at home to Everton for the first time in two decades. They promptly lost to Newcastle at Old Trafford for the first time in four decades. After a brief spurt of success, the Red Devils lost at home to Tottenham on New Year’s Day … the first New Year’s Day loss at Old Trafford since 1992.

All the while, Moyes tried to keep looking forward. But he was not reassuring. The word “disappointing” became his shield. He seemed to use it after every game. Manchester United lost at Stoke City. They could only manage a draw with Fulham at home. The anger and frustration over the early rough start was replaced by a realization: Manchester United for the first time in more than 20 years was not particularly good and Moyes did not know how to fix the problems.

When the Red Devils were utterly destroyed 3-0 at home by both Liverpool and Manchester City in March, Moyes’ fate was sealed. Fans paid to have an airplane banner reading, “Wrong one – Moyes out” flown over Old Trafford during a late March win over Aston Villa. Sir Alex had asked the fans to “stand by your new manager,” but there was no standing by Moyes after that. The listless 2-0 loss at Everton Sunday – in Moyes’ return to Goodison Park – clinched what everyone already knew: Manchester United for the first time ever would not finish Top 4 in the Premier League and, so, were eliminated from next year’s Champions League. And Moyes was a sacked-man walking.

All that was left was the announcement that Moyes was leaving the club, and the announcement was predictably short and chilly and dismissive. It had been a disaster. In a way, the Moyes tenure did serve one purpose: It reminded everyone just how great Sir Alex Ferguson really was. Unfortunately, that’s often the only thing successors accomplish.

Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over in-limbo Matip

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Joel Matip of Liverpool and Andre Ayew of West Ham United compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 11, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Few footballing sagas will ever reach heights of absurdity comparable to that of the Joel Matip/Liverpool versus Cameroon/FIFA battle currently raging, as the Reds defender finds himself “ineligible” to play for his club due to an international call-up 18 months after announcing his international retirement.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

PST’s Joe Prince-Wright summed up the situation quite well, in full, right here. An excerpt:

Matip, 25, was called up by the Cameroon national team for the 2017 African Cup of Nations which is currently taking place in Gabon. However, the former Schalke defender has previously stated that he did not want to play for them and he had retired from international duty.

Cameroon called him into their initial 35-man squad for the competition anyway but did not include him in their final 23-man squad once it became clear Matip, along with six other players, had no interest in playing for them at AFCON.

FIFA has confirmed that Liverpool has been in touch regarding Matip’s status and it now appears that he will not be able to play in any other competition while Cameroon is still in AFCON action under Article 5 of FIFA’s rules.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Fast forward a few days, and Jurgen Klopp and Co. have no further clarity regarding the situation. It’s so unclear, in fact, that Klopp said on Tuesday he may select the 25-year-old during one of two remaining games this week, and hope for the best — quotes from the Guardian:

“As you can imagine, we are in a lot of talks. We’ve done transfers quicker than this. It’s already long term but now it’s getting really tense on our side. We’ve tried everything but at the end I have to make the decision. Of course I have to ask [Liverpool’s lawyers] but the decision is for me to make. I could put him in the lineup. I don’t think the referee is going to say: ‘Stop, stop, you cannot go on the pitch.’ But I will do it when it’s OK from our point of view. Of course I need advice — I’m not a lawyer.”

“Most of the time in life you know if you do this, then you get this. But it’s not 100 percent clear what happens [if Matip plays]. We try everything to win football games. If this can happen — out of the tournament or whatever — then we have to decide about the risk. He’s ready to play for us and that makes it difficult.”

What an utter disaster of a situation Cameroon have intentionally created here.

VIDEO: Jeison Murillo’s incredible bicycle from a corner kick

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17:  (R-L) Jeison Murillo of FC Internazionale celebrates his first goal with Geoffrey Kondogbia during the TIM Cup match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Look away now, Andy Carroll. Take a bow, Jeison Murillo.

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Just three days after Carroll scored the bicycle-kick goal of the year (so we thought), here comes Murillo, Inter Milan’s 24-year-old Colombian striker, to steal his thunder (below video). The fact he did it directly from a corner kick, with the ball traveling roughly 40 yards before flinging his body into the air and striking the ball so cleanly, (somehow) trumps Carroll’s accomplishment from Saturday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

Sensational goals come in twos now, apparently, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored stunning scorpion-kick goals (WATCH HERE and HERE) just days apart earlier in the season.

FA Cup roundup: Burnley, Crystal Palace advance to 4th round

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 17: Christian Benteke of Crystal Palace (C) celebrates scoring his sides first goal with Andros Townsend of Crystal Palace (L) during the Emirates FA Cup third round replay between Crystal Palace and Bolton Wanderers at Selhurst Park on January 17, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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A roundup of all of Tuesday’s action in FA Cup third-round replays…

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Burnley 2-0 Sunderland

Sam Vokes and Andre Gray grabbed goals for Burnley, who opted for a largely first-choice lineup in Tuesday’s replay. Sunderland, meanwhile, went with a mix-and-match bunch and slumped to six games without a win (all competitions), meaning they can focus solely on Premier League survival from here on out. Burnley will host Championship side Bristol City in the fourth round next Saturday, Jan. 28.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Crystal Palace 2-1 Bolton Wanderers

Sam Allardyce picked up his first win as Palace boss, courtesy of a Christian Benteke brace scored nine minutes apart in the second half, as the Eagles came from behind to beat League One side Bolton at Selhurst Park. James Henry put the visitors three minutes into the second half, but Benteke hit back in the 68th and 77th minutes to improve Allardyce’s record to one win, two draws and three losses (all competitions). Palace will host Manchester City in the fourth round next Saturday.

Tuesday’s FA Cup scoreboard

AFC Wimbledon 1-3 Sutton United
Barnsley 1-2 (AET) Blackpool
Fleetwood Town 0-1 Bristol City
Lincoln City 1-0 Ipswich Town

AFCON: Ayew propels Ghana to victory; Egypt struggle vs. Mali

FORTALEZA, BRAZIL - JUNE 21:  Andre Ayew of Ghana celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between Germany and Ghana at Castelao on June 21, 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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A roundup of all of Tuesday’s action in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations…

Ghana 1-0 Uganda

PORT-GENTIL, Gabon (AP) Andre Ayew scored a penalty as Ghana beat Uganda 1-0 on Tuesday in a lackluster opening to the four-time champions’ bid for a first African Cup of Nations title in 35 years.

Ghana took control of Group D after seven-time champion Egypt struggled in a 0-0 draw with Mali in the other group match.

Ghana has three points, Egypt and Mali one each and Uganda zero.

Ayew, a West Ham winger, netted in the 32nd minute after Asamoah Gyan was held back by Isaac Isinde in the penalty area in Port-Gentil.

Avram Grant, a former Chelsea manager, is looking to lead Ghana to a second successive final but go better than 2015 when his team lost to Ivory Coast.

Uganda has also finished runner-up in the continental championship but the trip to the final in 1978 was the last time it qualified until making the Gabon event.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Mali 0-0 Egypt

Later, 44-year-old Egypt goalkeeper Essam El Hadary became the oldest player in tournament history when he came on for injured Ahmed El Shenawy midway through the first half.

El Hadary, who celebrated his birthday two days ago, is participating in his seventh African Cup, having picked up winners’ medals in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Egypt’s standout forward Mohamed Salah struggled and was replaced midway through the second half.

Mali, looking to improve on its third-place finishes in 2012 and 2013, produced many more chances.

Egypt failed to qualify for the last three editions of the tournament.

Wednesday’s AFCON schedule

Gabon vs. Burkina-Faso — 11 a.m. ET
Cameroon vs. Guinea-Bissau — 2 p.m. ET