MAN U can trust
LLOYD BURNARD on why a man who has achieved everything in football still has the desire to keep going.
LOVE him oor hate him, the majority of footballball lovers across the globe respect him.
It was in 1986 when a then far from knighted AAlex Ferguson made the move across thethe SScottish border to enter the world of English fofootball and manage Manchester United. FerFerguson had enjoyed success at Scottish cluclubs St Mirren and Aberdeen — tasting EurEuropean success for the first time with the latlatter. He arrived in England and immediatelimmediately made it his mission to dethrone Liverpool aas the dominant force in English football. He would have to wait more than 24 years to see that dream become reality. A rebuildinrebuilding phase that included the signingsings of playplayers such as Brian McClair, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Paul Ince and a returningturning MarMark Hughes would lay the foundationtion for FerFerguson’s first league success as United boss in 1993. His signing of the shortfusedfused EricEric CCantona from league rivals Leeds United provproved to be pivotal that season.
It was the first of many triumphs to come and when MManchester United meet Blackpoolpool at Old Trafford tomorrow, Ferguson will celebcelebrate his 12th Premier League titletle with UUnited. More importantly, he will celebratecelebra United’s 19th league win — one morem than Liverpool’s 18 — and knowknow that what he set out to do in 1986 has bbeen achieved.
AnAnd still, after all of the success thathat he has enjoyed (including two ChChampions Leagues, five FA Cups anda four League Cups), the 69year-old Ferguson is hungry for more and has no plans to swallow his chewing gum just yet. “I have no plans to retire. I must say that [my wife] Cathy is delighted. She would have thrown me out,” he told MUTV recently. “TThe salient point is that whilst my health is good, carry on. You hear manyma stories of people who come off the treadmilltrea and their system breaks down. I dondon’t want that happening to me.”
Ferguson has threatened retirement on more than oone occasion, but has never been able to leave Old Trafford. He has built a legacyacy there anand has inspired a mentality that, in an age of unthinkable player wages and inflated egoegos, puts the club first.
The longlongevity of professionals such as Gary NevillNeville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs bares testamtestament to that — all three players have devotedevoted their careers to Manchester United. FerFerguson has maintained that no player will eever be bigger than the club. It’s always been his way or no way, and anybody who fails to adhere to that way of thinking best start lolooking for somewhere else to play their footbafootball. Over the years, players such as Dwight Yorke, David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Paul Ince and even Gordon Strachan have left United after disputes with the boss.
Though he now devotes even more of his time to keeping his body in shape, Ferguson has long been a believer in healthy living. He was a pioneer in diminishing the once widespread drinking culture of English football, instead encouraging his players to marry young and become family men.
With a third Champions League final in four years around the corner and Ferguson already pondering new signings during the off-season, it would appear that his willingness to continue is heart-felt and not another of his notorious media mind games.
Anybody who watches a Sir Alex postmatch interview after a rare United loss will know that Ferguson’s passion for the game is as strong as ever. Throughout his career he has had no problem criticising referees and members of the media and this stems from a hatred of losing. The fact that he still possesses this biased mean streak indicates a desire to win — something that is crucial in any manager’s book.
In fact, some of Ferguson’s rants over the years have resembled that of a father who has had a go at an unqualified high school referee while watching his son compete in a match. While the parent may be out of line, nobody at that ground would be able to question how badly “dad” wanted his son to succeed.
And that is precisely it. Ferguson has made Manchester United and all who are a part of it his baby, and leaving it in the hands of somebody else, as long as he knows he can do better, is simply not an option.
Contemplating a replacement for Ferguson at Old Trafford is almost impossible to do. Jose Mourinho is constantly being linked with the job, but the media-frenzy that accompanies him would surely go against everything that Sir Alex has spent a quarter of a decade eliminating — nobody is bigger than the club.
One thing that Mourinho does have in common with Ferguson is a detestation for anything other than victory.
Whoever does succeed the man who has taken football dominance in England to new heights will certainly have gargantuan sized shoes to fill.
In fact, the first word of advice for the new manager would surely be to never compare himself with his predecessor. Judging by the way things are now, though, that is a bridge that will not have to be crossed for some time.