Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Sir Alex Ferguson - The End Of An Era!

Football has lost one of it's all time greats with the news that Sir Alex Ferguson is to retire as manager of Manchester United.  Ferguson has been in charge at Old Trafford since 1986 and has won thirty-eight trophies in that time.  Regardless of what team you support, Sir Alex has been one of the best managers of all time and deserves respect from all football fans.

As a player Ferguson was a decent striker, averaging better than a goal in every other game.  He spent his entire playing career in Scotland and spent a few years at Rangers although it was during a period of Celtic dominance and he never picked up any silverware.  His only honours as a player came when he won the Scottish Division 2 title with St Johnstone (1962/63) and Falkirk (1969/70). 

Ferguson started his managerial career at East Stirling but was only there for a few months and quickly moved onto St Mirren where he transformed the clubs fortunes, winning promotion to the Premier Division after winning the league in 1977. However, he was sacked by St Mirren in 1978 and moved onto Aberdeen were he really started to show the brilliance that he is now known for. 

Scottish football has been dominated by Celtic and Rangers over the years but Sir Alex gave them a rough ride during his time at Pittodrie.  He managed to break the Glasgow dominance by winning three league titles, four Scottish Cups and one League Cup.  More remarkably though was leading Aberdeen to victory in the Cup Winners Cup which included wins over Bayern Munich and Real Madrid on the way to the trophy.  They also went onto win the European Super Cup in the following season. 

In 1986 he led Scotland to the World Cup in Mexico, stepping up from assistant manager after the death of Jock Stein.  Scotland failed to make an impact in Mexico and in November 1986 Ferguson left Aberdeen to take over at Manchester United after Ron Atkinson was sacked.  When he took over United they were second bottom in the old first division and he had a big job on his hands.  Slowly but surely he began to rebuild the club but at a club like United, trophies are a big part of it and it has been said that if they had lost to Nottingham Forest in the 1990 FA Cup, Ferguson was going to be sacked.  Fortunately for all concerned, United won that game and went on to win the FA Cup, giving Ferguson his first trophy as manager of Manchester United. 

United followed that success by winning the Cup Winners Cup in 1991 and in the following season United took part in their first real title race of the Ferguson era.  On that occasion they were pipped to the title by Leeds United but Ferguson learned some valuable lessons and hasn't looked back since, winning thirteen league titles in the next twenty-one seasons.   

As well as those thirteen league titles, Ferguson will end his career with five FA Cups, four League Cups and ten Community Shields.  His success hasn't been limited to England and he has added to the Cup Winners Cup with a European Super Cup, two Champions Leagues, an Intercontinental Cup and a Club World Cup.  That is an extraordinary record and it puts Ferguson up there with the best managers of all time.

For someone who is not a United fan it is difficult to put into words my thoughts on Ferguson.  When I was younger I really hated him.  He had a nastiness about him and when United lost it was always the referee's fault.  As he has aged he has mellowed and has become a more likeable character.

Maybe I'm wrong in saying that as my anti-United bias has dwindled since Leeds got relegated and we are no longer in direct competition with them.  I still watch as much Premier League football as I ever did but without that personal rivalry perhaps it's me that has mellowed.  However, when Leeds beat United in the FA Cup at Old Trafford, Ferguson spoke very well of Leeds which wasn't like the guy I remembered. 

I found Ferguson's statement to be quite interesting.  The part were he says it was important to leave the organisation in the strongest possible shape combined with what seems like a sudden change of heart over his future suggests to me that there is more to this than meets the eye.  In recent programme notes he has indicated that he would be around to oversee what he believes is a bright future at Old Trafford and now all of a sudden he has announced his retirement.  I'm not convinced that it hasn't long since been decided who is to follow Ferguson and with that person being available this summer, someone and perhaps even Ferguson himself has decided that this would be an appropriate time to step aside. 

I just find it strange that this turnaround has happened so quickly.  In his programme notes at the weekend he said "whether I will be here to oversee another decade of success remains to be seen but I certainly don’t have any plans at the moment to walk away from what I believe will be something special and worth being around to see."  I can't imagine Ferguson writing those words knowing that he was on the verge of retiring.  It suggests to me that something has happened behind the scenes and Ferguson has either decided to step aside to allow who he believes to be the right man to come in or that the club have someone lined up who they believe is the right man and they have forced the issue.  It may well be something that we never find out the truth about but there is something that doesn't quite add up here. 

All eyes will now turn to Ferguson's successor.  David Moyes of Everton appears to be the front runner but I have to be honest and say I don't think he is the right man for the job and it would be a mistake on everyone's part to give him the job.  Moyes has done a decent job at Everton but in my opinion he is vastly overrated.  There seems to be a big deal made of Moyes guiding Everton to a lot of top half finishes but is that not Everton's level?  Everton are one of the biggest clubs in England and I would have them in the top eight clubs.  If he was guiding a top eight club to top four finishes then I'd be impressed but he has took them to the top four as many times as he has to the bottom four. 

Many people make a big deal of Everton's transfer policy but it really isn't as bad as people suggest.  Outside the Champions League clubs there's not many that spend as much as Everton.  In Moyes time at Everton he has spent over £140m on players and while he has uncovered a few gems for every Marouane Fellaini there is a Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.  I'm not sure Moyes is ready to go to a huge club like Manchester United and feel that he would be much wiser to stay at a team were he seems to be regarded as a great manager for guiding Everton to their rightful position every year. 

There's only one man for me who could go to Manchester United and rise from Sir Alex Ferguson's shadow to make a success of it and that's Jose Mourinho.  Would he care about replacing Ferguson?  Not a chance.  The man's ego is bigger than Old Trafford itself.  With Ferguson still about Old Trafford in his role as a director and ambassador the last thing his replacement needs is Ferguson sitting in the director's box as United go 1-0 down at Old Trafford.  The pressure of managing Manchester United would be hard enough without the weight of Ferguson's legacy on your shoulders too.  For me, Mourinho is the only man who could deal with that pressure and it is well known that he is a huge admirer of Ferguson and Manchester United.  It has been said that he is being lined up to take over at Chelsea in the summer but if he was offered the United job I believe he would walk to Old Trafford to take it. 

If Jose has already signed a deal with Chelsea then I think United should go all out for Jurgen Klopp.  Klopp has done a great job at Borussia Dortmund and with rumours circulating that a lot of his key players are set to leave the German club Klopp may decide to cut his losses and start a fresh somewhere else too.  If United are looking for a manager who knows how to find value for money, bring through youth and have success in Europe then Klopp is the man for the job.  Most people regard Moyes as a great manager because of his ability to build a competitive team with "limited resources".  If that's what we are looking for then I'm grading Moyes as a C and Klopp an A.  Klopp took over a Borussia Dortmund side who were coming through a financial crisis.  He has had to find young talent to develop and he has done a fantastic job at it.  In similar situations Klopp has took his side to two league titles and a Champions League Final while Moyes has took his to an FA Cup Final and one fourth place finish which got them into the Champions League where they failed to negotiate the qualifiers.  Not really a contest is it? 

Regardless of which way the United board decide to go in the coming days, Ferguson's replacement will face a massive task to replace certainly the best manager of my generation and arguably the greatest of all time.  Football won't be the same without him and I can only wish him well in the future.  I'm not sure Sir Alex is the sort of character who can go from running one of the biggest football clubs in the world to tending to the flowers and mowing the lawn so I wouldn't be surprised if we see him in the future with an international side but regardless of what the future holds for him, I wish him well and for what he has done in the football world, I say thank you. 

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