The day is fast ap­proach­ing when Fer­guso

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODWINES - PA­TRICK COLLINS

A COU­PLE of days ago, Alex Fer­gu­son was asked about ru­mours that his club cap­tain Gary Neville would re­tire at the end of the sea­son. His re­ply was pre­dictably brusque: “Why would we make a de­ci­sion about his fu­ture when we don’t need to? You don’t make de­ci­sions like that in the mid­dle of the sea­son. It’s a load of non­sense.”

When it comes to re­tire­ment, the Manch­ester United man­ager shares the view of the late Bill Shankly. “A ter­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble word,” said Shankly.

“They should re­move it from the dic­tio­nary.”

And yet, it would be sur­pris­ing if that ter­ri­ble word had not crossed Fer­gu­son’s mind th­ese past few weeks.

Fer­gu­son was 68 on New Year’s Eve. He is sharp of wit and fit of body, with a mind which ac­com­mo­dates the ex­pe­ri­ences of more than 35 years in foot­ball man­age­ment yet re­mains open to ev­ery de­vel­op­ment in the mod­ern game.

He also re­tains his low cun­ning and high ideals, his crude ag­gres­sion, ser­pen­tine sub­tlety and all those qual­i­ties which set him apart from ev­ery other man­ager in the English game. But that for­mi­da­ble cock­tail is now sea­soned by a cu­ri­ous whiff of un­cer­tainty.

This is a man who con­structed fine foot­ball teams; from the era of Rob­son, Hughes and Pal­lis­ter, to Can­tona, Keane and Sch­me­ichel, to the glit­ter­ing gen­er­a­tion of Beck­ham, Giggs, Sc­holes and the Nevilles, through to Fer­di­nand, Rooney, Ron­aldo and the play­ers who landed the lat­est of Fergu- son’s 11 League ti­tles. His ap­petite ap­peared in­sa­tiable, his re­source­ful­ness un­lim­ited. He seemed to thrive on the re­cur­ring con­fronta­tions, and if fines and bans came his way, then he viewed them as prices to be paid.

Even in the most dif­fi­cult times, he never looked es­pe­cially baf­fled by events. Un­til now. It would be fool­ish to seize upon a sin­gle re­sult – even the wretched FA Cup de­feat by Leeds – as ev­i­dence of de­cline.

But United’s en­tire sea­son had been threat­en­ing to yield some­thing sim­i­larly dis­turb­ing. Wayne Rooney has been work­ing slav­ishly to up­hold es­sen­tial stan­dards but even his self­less run­ning has not con­cealed the in­ad­e­quacy of many of his col­leagues.

Fer­gu­son must look at Dim­i­tar Ber­ba­tov and won­der what it takes to per­suade that va­pid un­der-a de­liver his God-given tal­ent wince at the con­tin­u­ing irre Michael Owen, the in­ef­fect An­der­son, Nani and Luis and the lack of im­pact of t ones: Rafael and Fabio, Da beck and Gabriel Ober­tan.

Of course, it is far too judge, but few re­sem­ble United play­ers. And a manag a full half-cen­tury older tha them may find it des­per­a­tel to com­mu­ni­cate his own dem ex­pec­ta­tions.

In dif­fer­ent days, Fergus have spent a slice of the mon he and his foot­ballers had g in­deed, he in­sists trans­fer are still avail­able. But you s whistling in the wind; that t

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