By Mike Collett
LONDON (Reuters) - After the announcement was made last May that David Moyes was to succeed Alex Ferguson as Manchester United's new manager, United, with the title already secured, had two more games to play before the end of the season.
They beat Swansea City 2-1 in Ferguson's last game at Old Trafford before his 1,500th and last match as United manager ended in a 5-5 draw at West Bromwich Albion.
After United squandered 3-0 and 5-2 leads with a shambolic defensive display at The Hawthorns, Ryan Giggs cracked a joke to Ferguson in the dressing room afterwards.
"David Moyes has just resigned," laughed Giggs.
The irony of that quip could hardly be exaggerated on Tuesday following the actual departure of Moyes and Giggs being put in charge of the last four games of the season.
Moyes had been Ferguson's hand-picked successor when he stepped down after a 26-year reign at Old Trafford - the Scot getting his own way with the board pretty much as he had always done during nearly three decades in which he turned United into one of the dominant forces in world football.
Ferguson was convinced Moyes was the man to ensure a smooth transfer of power and keep United at the top.
But a year to the day after Ferguson won his 13th and final league title with United, his judgment looks seriously flawed with Moyes being given none of the leeway Ferguson himself had enjoyed during his own difficult early years in charge.
Ferguson had known Moyes's father, also called David, since he played amateur football in the 1950s in Glasgow and wrote of Moyes in his autobiography published last year: "I knew his family background.
"They have a good feel about them. I am not saying that's a reason to hire someone but you like to see good foundations in someone appointed to such high office (as the United job)."
Unfortunately for Moyes those foundations were not strong enough to resist the tide which turned against during a season littered with humiliating results - culminating in Sunday's 2-0 defeat at his former club Everton.
In retrospect it could be seen that appointing Moyes was the worst signing Ferguson made in his time at Old Trafford.
A real indication of Moyes' limitations as a manager at the highest level is not only United's current position in the Premier League table where they sit in seventh place with no hope of Champions League football next season.
What is also painfully clear is that Everton, where Moyes toiled without an honor for 11 seasons, are two places above them, playing stylish football and still have a genuine chance of a top-four finish and Champions League football next season.
Spaniard Roberto Martinez has taken Everton on from where Moyes left them last season, adding more flair without damaging the "hard to beat" quality Moyes instilled.
The joke this season has been that Moyes always wanted Everton to be higher than United in the league, and he's now succeeded in making it happen.
The only time Everton got into the top four in Moyes's 11 years at Goodison was in the 2005-06 season when they were eliminated in the qualifiers by a very good Villarreal side.
Apart from that fourth-placed finish in 2005, Everton finished fifth under Moyes twice in 2008 and 2009 when they also lost to Chelsea in the FA Cup final after Louis Saha had given them the lead after 25 seconds -- the fastest ever goal scored in the final.
Everton's last major honor remains their victory over United in the 1995 FA Cup final. Since that time every major English club, and not so major ones like Wigan Athletic, have won trophies while Moyes failed to win a single trophy.
In fact the only trophy he has to his credit is the inconsequential Community Shield, which United won in August in his first official match in charge when they beat last season's FA Cup holders Wigan in the traditional season curtain-raiser.
Although some fans had serious misgivings about his appointment, there was little real hint of the trouble to come as the post-Ferguson era began with a 4-1 win at Swansea City.
A 0-0 draw at home to Chelsea the following week was hardly a cause for concern but a 1-0 loss to Liverpool was and after a 4-1 thrashing at rivals Manchester City on September 22 the alarm bells were beginning to sound.
Defeat in their next home game to West Bromwich Albion, who had not won at Old Trafford since 1978, left United 12th in the table and meant it was their worst start to a league season for a quarter-of-a-century.
Moyes began to look increasingly uncomfortable as the season wore on and his words had an increasingly hollow ring to them.
Everton won at Old Trafford for the first time in 21 years, Newcastle United won there for the first time since 1972 and Swansea City won there for the first time ever when they defeated United in the third round of the FA Cup.
Although United went 12 games unbeaten in all competitions from the beginning of October to the start of December, fans were unhappy about their style of play.
That unbeaten run came to a halt with the home defeats to Everton and Newcastle in December. They started this year with three consecutive defeats in seven days to Tottenham Hotspur in the league, Swansea in the FA Cup and Sunderland in the League Cup semi-finals.
Despite those setbacks Moyes continued to talk up his team, although he did admit at one stage the job was bigger than he thought - a fact underlined by 3-0 home defeats by Liverpool and Manchester City in March.
He now faces an uncertain future and although he was regarded as a qualified success at Everton, he will be seen as a distinct failure at United, the first manager to be sacked by the club since 1986 when Ron Atkinson left and Ferguson arrived.
(Reporting by Mike Collett; editing by Martyn Herman)