So there it is. It’s the end of an era. For all fans under 26, and some a bit older, they will enter a new world as next season dawns. It will be a world without Sir Alex Ferguson as manager of Manchester United. The seat on the Old Trafford “Home” bench will be occupied by another. The question is however, how far away from power will he be?
For any of you old enough to recall, I would refer you to a different period in the history of the Manchester United story, when another Scottish knight finally hung up his overcoat, and was invited upstairs to be a director, as it was important to the club’s future. For those too young to remember, I’m referring to Sir Matt Busby’s retirement. His revolution saw the re-birth of the club, struck down in Munich, the flowers of Manchester still blossomed and became the first English club to win the European Cup. So, when he retired, it was seemingly sensible move to promote him to a directorship, so that he could oversee the continuing development of the club. Well, that was the theory, anyway.
After winning Europe’s premier trophy, Busby continued for one season, before passing the baton on to his erstwhile trainer Wilf McGuinness. Unfortunately, with Busby up in the stands, any slip by the new man was magnified, and poor McGuinness only lasted half a season before Busby was summoned down from the Directors’ b ox to take up the reins once more. At season’s end, he retired again, and this time former Leicester City boss Frank O’Farrell was tasked with the impossible job of following the legend, with not a slip allowed before the cry that Busby wouldn’t have done it that way was echoing around him. Unsurprisingly, with the errant George Best not an insignificant factor, the Irishman was sacked in fairly short order, with three years of his contract outstanding.
It took a man of the ego of Tommy Docherty to take the club on a new path, even though he was unable to save them from the brief embarrassment of relegation. Returning with a rapid promotion, it was a new beginning at last, and a final break with the past.
It may be a salutary lesson for the man who takes over from Ferguson. It may seem strange to call the job a poisoned chalice, but there is certainly an element of that about it. At a club where winning the league is considered de rigeur there’s no room to pause for rebuilding. Even if Ferguson is minded to keep out of team affairs, the fans will soon be calling for the new manager’s head should United fall from their very lofty perch atop the English football pyramid. Being the guy who follows Ferguson may be the hardest job in football, the next guy after that will find it a lot easier. It could a whole lot harder however should Ferguson not be able to separate the past and the future.