Wilf McGuinness (above) was assigned mainly as coach, while Busby, who had announced his plans to stand down in January of 1969.
Another peep into the English League’s past. This one goes back to a time of change at Old Trafford, similar to the one of recent weeks. It concerns a change of managers, Man U fans, no doubt, hoping Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fares better than one of his predecessors.
Like David Moyes when he was chosen to replace what many would contend was the irreplaceable, Wilf McGuinness was on to a hiding to nothing when he took over the reins – on a trial basis, to begin with – from the first of the club’s legendary managers, Matt Busby. United had only recently been crowned the best in Europe.
McGuinness was assigned mainly as coach, while Busby, who had announced his plans to stand down in January of 1969, continued with the day-to-day running of the team, having, ostensibly, moved upstairs to fill the role of general manager.
The Press, as always, speculated. A former ‘Babe’ and a great favourite with the Old Trafford crowd, Irish International Noel Cantwell, along with Derby County’s Brian Clough, made most headlines. But the club management, taking advice from Busby, stayed in-house. McGuinness was given the chance to prove himself. Well, in a kind of way.
United were the best on the continent, and in one of his first games on the sideline, the new man saw his charges lose 2-0 to Milan in an opening semi-final leg. Bobby Charlton pulled a goal back, but it wasn’t enough to keep two-in-a-row hopes alive.
And the season ended with an eleventh place finish in the league. Not the most auspicious of starts, but could the rookie be blamed?
McGuinness continued into the ’69/’70 season, still waiting to be made permanent. Busby, remaining prominent, was said to be spending much of his time trying to keep a wayward George Best in line.
A modest eighth place finish in his first full season in charge (as coach) McGuinness himself might have been surprised when at last he had the word ‘manager’ attached to his office door. His promotion came with Busby’s approval.
Dealing with a squad said to have lost the ambition that made them the best in Europe a short time earlier, United had a disastrous opening to the new guv’nor’s campaign. There were more defeats than wins, and allied to lying fifth from the bottom of the table, interest in the League Cup ended with a defeat by Third Division Aston Villa.
That signalled the end of McGuinness’s reign as manager. Busby was back in charge - officially - as the search for a successor took off once again.
If the newspapers were hungry at the time, this would have been food for them in abundance. Who’s it to be? Revie? Shankly? Clough? Those three would have been among the favourites, but not for the first time the bookies got a result.
Frank O’Farrell, a Cork native, got the nod to the surprise of many. However, like the man before him, the former Irish International found himself unable to find a way out from under the Busby shadow. And he also had difficulty keeping a rein on Best, who had contributed largely to United going 12 points clear in a glorious pre-Christmas spell, but, conversely, was, through his continued absence from the team in the new year, the main reason for the side’s dramatic slump.
O’Farrell paid the price. He was out after 18 months, replaced by Tommy Docherty. The soft-spoken Irishman, who never made a secret of the difficulties he came under at Old Trafford, took over at Cardiff City.
Wilf McGuinness, who took the step up from reserve team coach on this day 50 years ago, was probably the most reluctant ever United manager. Following his demotion, he was happy to stay at Old Trafford, returning to his former post. O’Farrell, now 92-years-old, is living in Devon, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is hoping, no doubt, to be allowed do it his way.