The so-called impossible job proved to be just that for David Moyes.
Overwhelmed by the giant task of replacing Alex Ferguson, Britain's greatest ever manager, David Moyes was fired by Manchester United on Tuesday after losing the support of the club's American owners.
He lasted just 10 months.
Exactly a year after winning a record-extending 20th English championship, United dismissed Moyes during a meeting at United's training ground in the morning. The news was released in a terse, two-line statement on the club's website, a far cry from the fanfare of Moyes' hiring last summer.
"Manchester United has announced that David Moyes has left the club," the statement said. "The club would like to place on record its thanks for the hard work, honesty and integrity he brought to the role."
In the 27-year, trophy-laden tenure of Ferguson, United stood out as a pillar of stability, continuity and patience. But Moyes, hand-picked by Ferguson and given a six-year deal, was unable to replicate the success of his fellow Scot or even come close.
The facts speak for themselves: United is languishing in seventh place in the Premier League and will miss out on Champions League qualification for the first time in 19 years. That's unacceptable for a club that expects to win trophies year in and year out.
Ryan Giggs, a club great who was on Moyes's coaching staff and is still a member of the playing squad at the age of 40, will take temporary control of the team until a permanent replacement is found. The 40-year-old Welsh midfielder has spent 23 years at Old Trafford and won every trophy in the game at club level, making him United's most decorated player.
Louis van Gaal, who will leave his position as Netherlands coach after the World Cup in Brazil, is the favourite to succeed Moyes on a full-time basis.
A person with knowledge of the situation at United said the club would be seeking an experienced manager and a short list was being put together with a view toward an appointment being made quickly. Giggs was not being considered for the full-time position.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club was yet to announce the moves.
A surprise choice to many because of his lack of top-level experience, Moyes was hired by United after 11 relatively successful years at Everton but failed to cope with the enormity of taking one of the most coveted jobs in the sport.
United is 23 points behind leader Liverpool and has slumped to a string of humiliating losses, including home and away to fierce rivals Liverpool and Manchester City. Moyes hoped he'd be given at least a second season to turn things around, just as Ferguson was given time after a slow start to his reign.
"It's surprising because it's not a habit of Manchester United to do things this way," Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said Tuesday. "At Man United, after so many years of Sir Alex, it's a little surprising."
Moyes has been under pressure for months but guiding United to the quarterfinals of the Champions League — after squeezing past Greek outsider Olympiakos in the last 16 — earned him some breathing space.
His future was placed in serious doubt, however, after Sunday's lacklustre 2-0 loss at Everton, which ensured that England's biggest club over the last two decades wouldn't be in next season's Champions League.
"There is no disguising that the football this season has been poor, the results have been poor," said former United defender Gary Neville, whose younger brother Phil was an assistant manager to Moyes. "The performances have got worse and worse."
Lack of improvement
United has lost a club-record 11 times in the league and 10 times in 22 matches in all competitions in 2014. Worse for Moyes, there has been no discernible improvement in the level of performance, with his chances not helped by the absence of leading striker Robin van Persie for large chunks of the season through injury.
The deposed champions appear ready to spend considerable sums over the summer to strengthen an aging squad. But United's American owners, the Glazer family, were not willing to trust Moyes to oversee such heavy spending.
United is one of the sporting world's most lucrative brands — it brought in 363.2 million pounds ($610 million US) in revenue last season — but the lack of Champions League action next season will clearly dent income streams.
The Glazers likely would have been concerned that next season's exile from Europe's top club competition may have dragged on for years at a time when player costs are high and interest payments on the club's debts are a real burden. Big Manchester United sponsors, such as Nike, may have become restless.
"Clearly Nike and other sponsors are paying for one of the best and most recognized football brands in the world — not one that cannot even make the Champions League," said Louise Cooper, an independent financial analyst in London. "The financials ensured that Moyes was not given the time to perform."
Such is United's decline that the world's top players are unlikely to want to move to Old Trafford without the pull of the Champions League. With four matches left in the league, qualification for the second-tier Europa League is also looking unlikely.
Giggs has long been regarded as a future United manager, having established himself among United's greats by winning 13 Premier Leagues, four FA Cups, three League Cups, two Champions Leagues, one UEFA Super Cup, an Intercontinental Cup and a Club World Cup as a player.
United denied reports last month that Van Gaal met with a member of the Glazer family, but the Dutchman will be free in the summer. He has the experience of coaching at big clubs that Moyes lacked, having been in charge of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Ajax in a 23-year managerial career.
Moyes statement after firing
"To have been appointed as manager of Manchester United, one of the biggest football clubs in the world, was and remains something of which I will always be incredibly proud.
"Taking charge after such a long period of continuous stability and success at the club was inevitably going to be a significant challenge, but it was one which I relished and never had a second thought about taking on.
"The scale of the manager's job at United is immense, but I have never stepped away from hard work and the same applies to my coaching staff. I thank them for their dedication and loyalty throughout the last season.
"We were fully focused and committed to the process of the fundamental rebuilding that is required for the senior squad. This had to be achieved whilst delivering positive results in the Barclays Premier League and the Champions League. However, during this period of transition, performances and results have not been what Manchester United and its fans are used to or expect, and I both understand and share their frustration.
"In my short time at the club I have learnt what special places Old Trafford and Carrington are. I would like to thank the United staff for making me feel so welcome and part of the United family from my first day. And of course thank you to those fans who have supported me throughout the season. I wish you and the club all the best for the future.
"I have always believed that a manager never stops learning during his career and I know I will take invaluable experience from my time as United's manager. I remain proud to have led the team to the quarterfinals of this year's Champions League and I remain grateful to Sir Alex Ferguson for believing in my ability and giving me the chance to manage Manchester United."
— The Associated Press