Where to start? The world of sport was struck this morning by the bombshell that Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, the most successful football manager in the history of the British game, will retire at the end of the current campaign after 26 imperious years in charge at Old Trafford.
When you think of Manchester United, you instantly think of the 71-year-old Scot. Ferguson always moved with the times, building and rebuilding teams, showing an insatiable appetite for success. In a fit of hubris, footballing titans such as Jaap Stam, Roy Keane and Ruud van Nistelrooy dared to cross the great man’s path. None survived. Ferguson is – and probably will remain, in his new capacity as ambassador and director of football – the heartbeat of Manchester United, unwilling to allow the club’s great reputation to be sullied.
To glance at his honours board is to acknowledge that his sides have monopolised English football. 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups, two Champions League trophies and ten Community Shields: astonishing. Michael Owen summed it up succinctly on Twitter: “Manchester United without Sir Alex just doesn’t feel right. What a privilege to have played under arguably the best manager the world has ever seen.”
Richard Brown, a Manchester City fan: “For as long as I can remember, he has been the scourge of my footballing life”.
Today is not the day to cross proverbial swords with the likes of Bill Shankly and Matt Busby. Ferguson deserves to be remembered on his own terms, and the timing of his departure ensures that he will leave with the applause of his audience ringing in his ears. After sealing the club’s 20th league title with an emphatic 3-0 win over Aston Villa last Monday, Sir Alex departs on top, leaving behind a youthful and vibrant side brimming with potential.
Attention has to turn to the future, though. Everton manager David Moyes has been installed as the favourite to replace Ferguson, with some bookmakers slashing odds to 1/25 today.
In ten years at Goodison Park, Moyes has consistently achieved top-half finishes with a tight budget, and has built a stable and unified outfit on Merseyside. But aside from an FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea in 2009, Moyes has never threatened silverware; the next manager of Manchester United will be expected to win it every single year. Can Moyes live up to these expectations?
Other candidates include Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho, who has won two Champions League trophies and league titles in a record four countries (England, Spain, Italy and Portugal). However, the Portuguese has been courting former club Chelsea so coquettishly that it seems unlikely he won’t be at Stamford Bridge next season.
He also has a propensity to flit between Europe’s elite clubs: from Porto to Chelsea, on to Inter Milan and then Real Madrid. The one-club mentality of Moyes and Borussia Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp, an outside bet, means they would fit the template of longevity embodied by Ferguson better than the ‘Special One’.
Possibly the greatest tribute that can be paid to Ferguson is that fans of Premier League sides will be inwardly celebrating his retirement. Liverpool supporters will suddenly sense the opportunity to reclaim the infamous perch that Ferguson took from them; Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur will sense the opportunity for a changing of the guard. In an age where managers are clearly dispensable, no manager is so integral to their club’s success than Ferguson.
It is understood that a new manager will be appointed before the weekend: it is highly likely to be Moyes. But whilst he remains behind the scenes, tirelessly representing the club that has defined him at the age of 71, he shall not be forgotten. It is farewell, but not goodbye, to Sir Alex Ferguson.