I’d like to be one of many, many people to thank Sir Alex Ferguson today.
When I first started following the Premier League five years ago, it was Ferguson more than any other man who hooked me. The man was a legend – indomitable, scary, mythical, and yet down-to-earth, old-fashioned and charitable.
He was the only man who could give hairdryer to referees as regularly as players – insurmountable at times, especially Fergie Time, and after when he would not speak to the BBC. Then when the dust settled, Sir Alex showed a more intricate side. He would speak openly of his failures, his hopes and dreams, and his family.
Ferguson at his core was a very secure manager and he is an even more secure man. Like all great coaches in all sports, Ferguson was incredibly driven by the defeats – he refused to step away last year after Manchester City won the title and created what would have been the ultimate anti-fairytale ending to Ferguson’s career.
Ferguson adapted his tactics and style and changed his style of management over the decades, but he never compromised his passion, smarts, or will. Ferguson leaves having reestablished the biggest and most successful sporting entity in the world. He is most likely the best football manager ever.
The problem for Manchester United is that Sir Alex Ferguson is the club.
United breaths Ferguson just as humans breath air. The club’s ideals and image, along with its structure, is all modeled either by Sir Alex, or in his image. What do you do when a man as important as Ferguson calls time on his career?
You try to carry on in that man’s image.
Manchester United is one of the few top clubs left in the world that still values longevity and loyalty, honor and respect. It’s United’s way, because it was Ferguson’s.
Think of all the clubs in football that would have leapt into bed with Jose Mourinho. Now understand that presented with Mourinho, United easily decided to stay away. Mourinho isn’t a United man – he’s too controversial, too brash, and too cocky. United don’t want their next manager to be around for three years, they want him to be around for 23 years.
Ferguson loves Mourinho, and knows his talent well, but when he recommended David Moyes to his bosses, he must have seen a young version of himself in the current Everton boss.
Moyes is a hard worker. He’s committed, loyal, and tough.
Moyes isn’t flashy, and that may be why a public poll of United fans in The Sun shows that the supporters want Mourinho to be the next boss. But to misunderstand the hiring of Moyes would be to misunderstand the influence and respect for Ferguson at United.
Ferguson isn’t going away completely. He’ll be a club ambassador and director, and he wants United to carry on in that image he crafted over the better part of three decades.
People forget how United toiled and twisted and turned between the eras of Busby and Fergie. In those years, United didn’t have an identity. But after 27 years of Ferguson, if Barcelona is “Mes Que Un Club”, what United does is more than winning.
They are the banner franchise of the Premier League. United is a classy club – look at the way they treat their legends, and veteran players, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes for example. United have barnstormed Liverpool, and held off Chelsea and Arsenal and Manchester City at the end of the day.
How much of that was Ferguson, his vision and management, and how much of that trademark United magic is irreplaceable? We’ll see. But Mourinho and managers like him would never have been able to keep United going the way they want to move on from Ferguson.
And that’s the key: United move on from Ferguson, but they should never move out of his shadow. It’s what the club is, and there isn’t a United fan on the planet who doesn’t like what the club is right now.
The fact that Ferguson has endorsed David Moyes as the new manager is key. It’s a boost that Moyes needs as he tries to restock a team that is aging and toothless in areas like the wings and central midfield. With rumors swirling around the biggest names around the club, like Rooney and Ronaldo, Moyes will be tested right away.
He’ll also have to learn on the job. As well as he has done at Everton, Moyes has never been on the stage United sits on – never dealt with the expectations or scrutiny he will face at Old Trafford.
The rest of the league will take aim, but Moyes is a man who can stand firm, stand tall, and make United proud. That’s what counts.
Now was the right time for Sir Alex to step away. With difficult hip replacement surgery on the horizon, close ally and friend David Gill leaving the club, a turning point coming up for the team and the title convincingly wrested back from the Fergie coined “noisy neighbors”, the stars have aligned. Ferguson will leave walking into the sunset under the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, with the Premier League trophy tucked under his arm.
We may never see another Sir Alex Ferguson. The man amazed. His impact on United, the Premier League and football will be felt for years to come. He made people care, from his players, to opposing managers, to fans.
David Moyes has a tough job ahead of him. He’ll be thrilled, after 11 hard, well-worked years at Everton to get his big break. He’s indebted for Ferguson in particular for that break, and we in one way or another, we are all indebted to Ferguson, for bettering the beautiful game.