United’s first, and thus far only, manager from outside Great Britain, took over the reins in time for the 1971/1972 season.
Matt Busby had retired, after a second spell in charge, and his would again prove to be huge shoes to fill. Often described as a shy character, Frank O’Farrell agreed to take on the challenge of managing one of the biggest clubs on the planet despite the presence of a living legend in Busby remaining at the club. “I was confident in my own ability,” he recalled. “Okay, the club was bigger than I was used to but I was experienced and the object of the exercise is the same wherever you manage: you want to win.” Following progress with Weymouth and Torquay United, he rejected an approach from Ipswich Town and ended up joining Leicester City, where he impressed sufficiently to earn the chance with United. Despite overseeing relegation, he won the Second Division title with the Foxes and led them to an FA Cup final defeat against Manchester City. One of his first decisions at Old Trafford was to make star man George Best the highest-paid player at the club and United led the table during his first season with the Northern Irishman in stupendous form. However, O’Farrell found it harder and harder to tolerate Best’s off-the-field activities and his ageing team fell away before beginning the 1972/1973 campaign with a run of eight winless league matches. There was clearly plenty of rebuilding work to be done, as Busby himself had acknowledged, but the prospect of a five-year plan looked in tatters when the team continued to struggle. With Christmas approaching, the former West Ham United and Preston North End wing-half lost his job after Crystal Palace dished out a 5-0 thrashing at Selhurst Park with Tommy Docherty, the next manager, waiting in the wings to take over.