Former Manchester United manager Frank O’Farrell, who passed away this week aged 94, will always be remembered as the man who followed Sir Matt Busby in the Old Trafford hotseat.
It proved to be a difficult reign that lasted only 18 months, but as events after Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure have proven, following a great man, especially when taking over a team that is on the decline, is far from easy.
The Republic of Ireland international had been manager of Leicester City prior to his appointment at United and had led the Foxes to the 1969 FA Cup final.
He saw his side relegated in that same year but they bounced back as Division Two champions a year later, when United approached him to take the job.
After a promising start in 1971/72 when United gained a five-point lead in the title race, performances started to dip and the side finished eighth.
‘It was a colossal assignment beset by problems,’ the club’s official website describes.
‘With several of the 1968 European Cup winners ageing or suffering from nagging injuries, a major team rebuild was urgently needed.
‘Against all odds, O’Farrell’s United got off to a sparkling start, losing only two of their opening 20 games and surging to the First Division summit.
‘[But] fatigue left United 10 points off title winners Derby by the end of the campaign.’
Fall-outs with Sir Matt, who he felt remained too involved with the team, George Best and Bobby Charlton were also a factor.
O’Farrell himself said ‘I was more disappointed in him [Busby] than anything else.
‘The alarm bells started ringing when he questioned my decisions. That to me was interfering and that made the job untenable.’ (Source: The Mail).
The next season’s problems were compounded by an injury crisis and when he was sacked in December 1972, United were in the bottom three.
The Reds subsequently escaped relegation that season before finally succumbing to the drop in 1973/74.
‘There is no shred of doubt that he was a talented manager and a man of unimpeachable integrity. The abiding frustration is what might have been,’ the club’s report continues.
‘O’Farrell had been unfortunate. His first two sallies into the transfer market were inspired, but while defender Martin Buchan embarked on a lengthy, magnificent United career, the prolific attacker Ian Storey-Moore soon saw his playing days ended by injury.
‘He lamented the fact that he had not been give more time to implement a long-term project at Old Trafford.’
We at The Peoples Person would like to send our condolences to O’Farrell’s family and friends at this sad time.