Ferguson`s red and white army [clap, clap, clap]
Manchester City have had 19, Chelsea 18, Liverpool 10 and Arsenal have run through only 7. Overseas, Barcelona have had 15 and Real Madrid have had an astonishing 25! Manchester United, meanwhile, have had only one – Sir Alex Ferguson.
For 26 twisting years, one man has remained at the helm at The Theatre of Dreams. It’s a strange testament to Sir Alex’s hold over the club that while at other clubs the owners run through managers like a gambler rifles through a pack of cards, at United the question seems to be around the ownership of the club rather than the manager’s performance. A trophy-less season can signal a series of protests, urging the Glaziers to quit, but Ferguson remains above it all, imperial, regal.
The longest serving manager in the history of the game, Ferguson has already stayed on a decade past his planned retirement. Having announced his decision to leave the game in 2002, a dramatic u-turn post the end of the season has led him to another flurry of titles and accolades, including his promised seat for Man United atop the ‘perch’ of English football.
Stand up if you love Fergie…
With 37 winners’ medals and titles for Manchester United alone and an attitude that has been all about the club and less about the diva footballers he manages, there is an aura of grandeur and invincibility about him. But time seems to be against him, and growing older may not allow the exuberant and passionate manager to maintain the hectic work-load required of him.
The reason he’s even lasted this long is his insatiable hunger to win trophies and his innate ability to constantly adapt to the ever-changing game, be it tactically or otherwise. The former is evidenced by sheer stats and the importance he lays on winning the ‘next one’ rather than sitting on the laurels of his last performance. The latter can simply be shown by his longevity, but there’s far more there than just that.
He’s built and dismantled about 3 entire Manchester United squads, if not more, in his time at Old Trafford and is said to be on his fourth such mission. Each line-up has had a characteristic of its own: where one had a solid, firm defense, the current crop rely on speed and flair in the attacking half; where one epitomized a passing style so fresh in the English game back then, another yearned to just keep the ball and work around the opposition’s defense till it cracks.
But a few things have remained constant: a continuous, regular haul of trophies, a belief that the club is always more important than the player as shown in the cases of Messrs Beckham, Stam, Keane, van Nistlerooy and Ince. And, most importantly, a resilient never-say-die attitude on the pitch as was on display a few days ago against Newcastle.
He has also never looked to replace his star players, a weakness in most managers across the world. He, unlike others, is able to adapt to a swiftly changing scenario. When the crossing-to-perfection David Beckham was booted out, Sir Alex went for youth, pace and dazzling skill in Cristiano Ronaldo. When goal-scoring, intricately-dribbling Ronaldo finally succumbed to the flirtations from Spain, the team was refilled with a pacy strong winger who could produce plenty of goals and sent in more crosses in one game than Cristiano probably did in a season! It has been the same with Roy Keane, van Nistlerooy and the talismanic Eric Cantona.
Fergie, Fergie, give us a wave
But season-after-season, win-after-win, team-after-team, the exponentially swift world of professional football would be taking its toll on the gaffer. Replacing him would be no mean task and one that he alone can do.
Names like Sven Goran Eriksson and Carlos Quieroz have been suggested in the past with the former initially tipped to take over when Sir Alex had announced 2001-02 to be his last season, but they have faded away even as Ferguson has kept his appetite whetted. Bigger, more prolific names have also been suggested.
There’s the never-too-media-shy Jose Mourinho who had, reportedly, always wanted to succeed Sir Alex and had spoken about his desire to return to England. Even though he’s managing Real Madrid right now, times are rough and managers haven’t lasted too long at the Spanish club if the history is anything to go by. Trailing Barcelona by a fair margin in the league this year doesn’t help either. It may well be United itself that could drive in that final nail in Mourinho’s Real Madrid career’s coffin as they face off in the first knock-out round of the Champions’ League, the prize aim for Real fans and Mourinho. Even though he’s a brilliant man-manager with an impressive trophy cabinet at a relatively young age, his style of football is less verve and more result oriented and that may not work too well with the United fans.
There is, of course, ex-Barca manager Pep Guardiola who’s said to be spurning all other offers to wait for an indication from Sir Alex. The two have even spoken to each other on Sir Alex’s recent US trip. He would make an ideal successor to the gaffer and his work at Barcelona suggests he could even take United to the next level, making them a dominant force in Europe as well.
Amongst a range of other candidates though is one David Moyes who, in his decade at Everton, has made them far exceed their grasp, season after season, despite having meager funds at his disposal. He buys shrewdly and works the players around expertly. He also has the added bonus of having had considerable English experience and he’s handled the usually wolf-like British media rather adequately. His long list of admirers also crucially features a certain Alex Ferguson.
There are, of course, many others vying for the job. Who wouldn’t want to be the next Man United manager!? But what all United fans must be hoping for is that the next manager works with Ferguson for a year before taking over. The transition will be tricky and there’s no one like the gaffer to set things right.
Oh, every single one of us loves Alex Ferguson…
Sir Alex has previously admitted that it was a mistake to announce his retirement in advance and mentioned a difficulty in keeping order as the effect of his actions. It is, therefore, very likely that he will retire without much of a real warning. The only things that might signal his retirement are signs from the footballing world. Signs like Pep Guardiola taking a year-long hiatus, refusing to sign any other club’s contract, despite the interest shown by Chelsea and Man City. Signs like Mourinho’s impending departure from Real Madrid given the club’s league position and the rumoured fall-out between him and club President Florentino Perez. Signs like Ferguson coaxing Giggs and Scholes to play on for yet another season.
Nothing is ever definite in the world of football, not even a healthy seven point lead at the top of the table, but Sir Alex Ferguson will be looking to end with one last big trophy, be it the 20th league title or one last Champions League win. He has already forged the attacking force to deliver, much like the hallowed treble-winning team of ’99 with four deadly strikers, and just needs his defense to come together. While on current form United don’t look set for a treble, there’s no predicting the outcome when this team begins to click and it would, indeed, be a fitting farewell to one of the game’s greatest managerial legends.
His career has definitely reached the famous ‘Fergie Time’ and it would be characteristic of him to pull off one final incredible last-minute heist.
Glory, Glory Man UnitedGlory, Glory Man UnitedGlory Glory Man UnitedAnd the Reds go marching on, on, on…