The day is fast approaching when Ferguso
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