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Manchester United without Fergie will be a rare first for 659 million global Reds
Whenever a great coach or manager retires from his respective sport, it seemingly becomes our job to try to put his greatness into categorical perspective. So, when Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson announced his retirement Wednesday morning after nearly 27 years at the helm, he kicked off a high-stakes transition for one of the World’s most popular and lucrative sporting brands.
Like the end of the world, for those who follow English football closely, the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson was always one of those things, it's probably best to imagine never actually happening at all. But then a slight loss of scale is entirely par for the course when contemplating Ferguson's outsized footballing presence. Accordingly, his retirement is a loss not only to those with an affiliation to United, but to almost all who share the football obsession – even supporters of his club's greatest rivals will feel differently in his absence. Ferguson's retirement, rumored late on Tuesday and announced on Wednesday morning, arrived with the startling suddenness more usually associated with a major news event. The announcement even forced Manchester United's share price down by 4.5% to less than $18 on the New York stock exchange initially but by the close it had bounced back to $18.44 – a 1.76% fall overall.
How we define greatness in sports—specifically for the men and women who lead those teams from the sidelines—is by victories and championships. Ferguson, 71, won 38 trophies during his quarter-century at United, making him one of the most respected and longest-serving coaches in any sport. Combative, controlling, loyal, witty, Sir Alex has fought and won his last battle which spanned the ages and turned him into a legend. Some people have an essence, spirit that survives the ravages of age. Ferguson’s is not diminished, however scared he might be of retirement. His life has been a search for kindred spirits who could play from the soul and the imagination. Now that will come as a surprise more so to the growing legions of United supporters who started following the Red Devils solely because they had heard of this shrewd tactician whose winning attitude had established the club among Europe as well as the world’s elite. It is true.
Today the red half of Manchester could do away with all the marketing deals in place and still stay among the profits as well as publicity; all owing to this timeless classic of a trainer fondly called Fergie. While the Ronaldos, Cantonas and Keanos have come and gone at Old Trafford, the remarkable Glaswegian has stood firm in the Red Devils’ dugout and masterminded uncountable triumphs; and mind you we aren’t just talking in terms of scorelines. Fergie brought the winning habit to United. And so come next season, when this genius tactician’s successor (my word, those boots are huge to fill) assumes his seat in the United dugout, it is bound to leave a strange and weird feeling in the bellies of Mancunians or otherwise. This generation of football fanatics does not know of a Manchester United without Sir Alex. By changing as the game changed, Ferguson honed his talent for working two steps ahead of his contemporaries. He saw a team in multiple dimensions: the 11 he wrote on that day’s team-sheet and the United side of 12 and 24 months hence. Only once in his 27 years at Old Trafford did he deviate badly from his principle of constant building: in the relative fallow years of 2004-2006 before a second Champions League winning side was built around Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.
From the time I along with others of my generation started following the beautiful game, we have only known Manchester United to have one manager – Sir Alex Ferguson. In this day and age where loyalty is perpetually lured away by the promise of big bucks, the Scotsman has truly defied the trend by serving for a whooping 26 years at Old Trafford now with a directorial role in the offing. His status as the most decorated manager in the Premier League – and the oldest-was uncontested. During his tenure, for instance, Chelsea went through 15 managers and a roughly 255 managers considering all Premier League teams he has faced so far.
Under Ferguson, the club has become a “global brand”, with in a survey published last year it claimed to have 659 million followers worldwide, with an estimated Indian fan base of 35 million. As the time winds on it is safe bet to say now that Fergie Time has finally run out at Old Trafford. Some will remember the 13 league titles, others the five FA Cups or the financial growth that turned a club from Northern England into an international empire that trades on the New York Stock Exchange. But any list of manager Ferguson’s contributions to the game must surely include the concept of Fergie Time, though it may not be an official part of global soccer’s vernacular. It is also a fitting legacy. In Many ways, Ferguson’s career – which ended Wednesday as he announced his retirement after more than 26 years at Manchester United – included its own significant portion of Fergie Time. He was initially supposed to retire in 2002 but changed his mind, hung around for another decade and won six more Premier League titles in addition to a European championship.
Over the course of a lifetime, we're touched by many things, but only one is mandated to remain with us from the moment that we're born until the moment that we die: our football team. Accordingly, only a football team will necessarily chart your life from beginning to end, and it's only a football team whose history necessarily becomes your history. So memories that mean something – births, marriages, divorces and deaths, friendships, fallouts, blackouts and revelation – are all tracked by football, just like the ones which mean nothing at all. It's why nothing else provokes comparable levels of lunacy and nothing else takes the same peculiar hold over the psyche and the soul of so many apparently sane people.
For almost 27 years, Alex Ferguson has inhabited, directed and dictated the lives of Manchester United supporters. Ferguson arrived in Manchester as the bright young star of Scottish management with what could be described as an inferiority complex in relation to Liverpool. He has no recollection of saying he would "knock them off their perch" but the sentiment was there, and acted upon. By the time United began their run of 13 league titles and two Champions League crowns Liverpool were already in shadow. New forces were arrayed against him: Arsene Wenger's jazzed-up Arsenal, then the Chelsea of Roman Abramovich and finally City, who seemed intent on claiming the very soul of Manchester with their vast Etihad Campus and local emphasis. To endure all this, Ferguson has relied on a cast of allies: a republican guard led by Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, who speak truth to power and spread the kind of values Ferguson built his final decade on. Youth development, self-improvement, loyalty and progression through science. So thorough and driven has Ferguson become in the athletic sphere that Wayne Rooney's occasional lapses into chubbiness offend the very spirit of the manager's work, as he demonstrates by leaving 'Wazza' on the bench. No other manager would have the guts to even think about it.
There is little doubt that Sir Alex is one of the greats of the football managerial world. He has come, seen and conquered virtually every prize that this footballing fraternity has had to offer and over the years he has shown that buying clubs or great players or to the extent of assembling a wealthy team, doesn’t always guarantee a success. His modest assembled and even ‘Weakest Manchester Squads’ have trumped the rivals often enough. This became most apparent from 2003, when first Chelsea and then Manchester City began outspending Man United on wages. Sir Alex’s team have still won five of the past seven Premier League titles. No successor is likely to match that.
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