“When United came calling and Sir Alex was on the phone you got a buzz from it,” Dwight Yorke, who was once the subject of a tempestuous transfer window raid by Manchester United revealed when asked about the club’s dealings this summer. “Does David Moyes have that though? That’s my one question.”
It would seem United manager David Moyes has made plenty phone calls since assuming the self proclaimed biggest job in football, updating the press with every twist and turn his transfer market strategy takes.
Yet Yorke’s question is a pertinent one. Are United struggling to attract players without the man who came to embody the club? Is Old Trafford still the appealing arena it was with Alex Ferguson on the sidelines? Read the rest of this entry »
Listen, I’m not going to match the eloquence of others on the Ferguson retirement. There’s no way. I’m not Brian Phillips, for one. I also haven’t been working the first division beat since 1980, I have never visited Old Trafford (but let me tell you about Charlton and the Valley!), I was five years old when he first moved from Aberdeen to United, and my first memories of actually spending time to consciously think about him as a football manager involved Ryan Giggs whipping his shirt off in an FA Cup semifinal in 1999.
Most of the readers of this site will find themselves in the same camp. For a certain generation of North Americans who wormed their way uncomfortably into football via satellite TV and the Internet, there is no United without Ferguson. Rumours of Matt Busby, Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and George Best aside, United involved an old, scary looking Scottish man in a blazer over-seeing a bunch of very talented school kids doing incredible things. It was all reminiscent for me of my old choir director when I was a kid of 11, a man who was brilliant, capable of furious anger, and expected nothing less than the best from us because he saw it in us. When I was feeling charitable, that’s the person I saw in Sir Alex.
Neither do I have a particularly hipster Fergie moment that’s somehow radically different than all the rest. Mine is still the “Bloody hell,” quote, when goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer won United their second European Cup and the treble in 1999. Too often football resembled something Ferguson had to win simply because he hated losing, a dirty war with other managers, referees and the media. But that sometimes masked his intense love of the sport reflected in his dumb-founded, plaintive response: “I can’t believe it.” You saw it in the way he almost danced out on the pitch before catching himself when Steve Bruce scored against Sheffield Wednesday in the dying days of the 1992-93 season.
That’s not to say he didn’t infuriate me. His abuse of officials bordered on the odious, and his patronizing attitude toward small clubs flat out enraged me at times. But if it had been my club, I don’t know. I’d shrug and say thanks I guess. And as David Conn pointed out today, his stance on the Glazer takeover was more than a little contradictory considering his ostensibly left-wing politics. But all that crap…meh.
As for David Moyes taking over, I think it’s the right decision on the whole. Jose Mourinho would just as soon arrive and leave in a few years, which would leave United in the same place as it is right now. Moyes’ approach, which is among the most forward-thinking in football at the moment (he’s a major proponent of statistical analysis and intelligent use and application of match data), offers United something in the way of stability. There is also good reason to think that the resources available to him via United’s ample revenue will allow him to do considerably more than he can currently at Everton.
The question is now what United will become without him, and I don’t mean in terms of their fortunes in the table. Their identity is so wrapped in the man, United’s accomplishments so intractably linked with Ferguson’s, that United risk becoming like any other club; that as Ferguson fades from memory, the Ferguson way will fade along with it.
And what is that, exactly? Well, the refusal to speak to the press on players. The sense of fierce loyalty. The diplomacy in selecting the first team, carefully massaging egos, doing everything he could in a an incredibly individualist professional field to create the idea that a team is something much bigger than the sum of its parts. The bulk of that work was likely accomplished in the little things we never saw. I’m a person who is often accused of dismissing vital intangibles, but I really do believe that Ferguson’s approach, in which he was always the face of the club, was the right one. I also think that future clubs and managers fail to take it at their peril.
Ferguson is old. So are we. We’re no longer 18 year olds in bars wearing replica shirts. That we were here to see it is enough, though. The titles, the wins, the transformation of United into the behemoth. He did it. It may never happen again.
I’m trying my best not to bash the living stuffing out of this thing today, but it’s fascinating taking a step away from the many Man United retrospectives about (you should have no trouble locating them) to look at Ferguson at Aberdeen. Here’s a three part documentary from this time there (parts two and three below), which really hits at some of his constant values as a manager. Some of the music makes the hair on your neck stand up too, and Ferguson’s comments on the shipyards…woof.
And here’s the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in its entirety (courtesy @MueFootballHist):
Last night I was on the Ossington bus home when I got an email.
“Fergie is off.”
As ridiculous as it seemed, a slow wave of reports came trickling in from all around. Various officials within the club had been put on standby for interviews, the players had been alerted, word was spreading through fan groups. It all seemed a bit fantastical until Mark Ogden at the Telegraph let loose.
As someone pointed out to me, the time from first rumour emerging to published story: 37 minutes.
Everyone always said when it happened, it would be quick. And now already the next morning:
There is currently an avalanche of news and reaction, photo retrospectives, expansive op-eds, backlash against all the attention, sour grapes, reports of at least one person calling into a phone in show to report they’d been sent home they were so distraught.
I honestly haven’t had time to put two thoughts together on the end of the Sir Alex years. Even if I had those two thoughts I’m not sure they’d be worth adding to the cacophony at the moment. Sir Alex Ferguson is gone. He was football’s Thomas Tallis. All I’ve got is a fairly slim bag of forced metaphors for you. Something about the Internet age, club branding, and old choir directors he reminded me of. More as the day goes on obviously.
“The decision to retire is one that I have thought a great deal about and one that I have not taken lightly,” said Ferguson. “It is the right time. It was important to me to leave an organisation in the strongest possible shape and I believe I have done so. The quality of this league winning squad, and the balance of ages within it, bodes well for continued success at the highest level whilst the structure of the youth set-up will ensure that the long-term future of the club remains a bright one.
“Our training facilities are amongst the finest in global sport and our home Old Trafford is rightfully regarded as one of the leading venues in the world. Going forward, I am delighted to take on the roles of both director and ambassador for the club. With these activities, along with my many other interests, I am looking forward to the future.
“I must pay tribute to my family, their love and support has been essential. My wife Cathy has been the key figure throughout my career, providing a bedrock of both stability and encouragement. Words are not enough to express what this has meant to me.
“As for my players and staff, past and present, I would like to thank them all for a staggering level of professional conduct and dedication that has helped to deliver so many memorable triumphs. Without their contribution the history of this great club would not be as rich.
“In my early years, the backing of the board, and Sir Bobby Charlton in particular, gave me the confidence and time to build a football club, rather than just a football team.
“Over the past decade, the Glazer family have provided me with the platform to manage Manchester United to the best of my ability and I have been extremely fortunate to have worked with a talented and trustworthy chief executive in David Gill. I am truly grateful to all of them.
“To the fans, thank you. The support you have provided over the years has been truly humbling. It has been an honour and an enormous privilege to have had the opportunity to lead your club and I have treasured my time as manager of Manchester United.”