I suspect that the majority of this paper’s readers, like me, have never known Manchester United to be managed by anyone other than Sir Alex Ferguson. When he took over at Old Trafford, the Berlin wall was still in place and Margaret Thatcher was at Number 10. In the twenty-six years since, through the rise of the internet, mobile phones, Middle-Eastern wars and a global financial crisis, Sir Alex’s tenure in Manchester has remained constant.
It’s a remarkably scary thought that the Ferguson era is coming to an end and it leaves me wondering where the hell we go from here. The simple fact is that Sir Alex is the most monumental figure in world football – for good reasons and bad. His managerial ability is all but unparalleled. He produces teams that got winning results week in, week out and have an infuriating propensity for snatching results at the last.
There is the slightly more dubious side of his game: his constant undermining of the officials. As entertaining as it could be, as the most recognisable face in the Premiership it was his responsibility to be setting an example of respect and support to the men in black. There’s also the way he tended to fly off the handle any time an opposing team’s player had the temerity to perform a less-than-perfect tackle upon one of his beloved players. This season saw the peach of the crop for me, after Ferguson claimed Robin Van Persie was “lucky to be alive” after having a football kicked at his head. It would have been very funny if you hadn’t felt that Ferguson was utterly convinced it was true.
That we have lost a great sporting character is obvious, but perhaps more pertinent, and worrying for United fans, is the question of who fills Ferguson’s chewing-gum-spattered shoes. David Moyes seems a sensible enough choice and he appears to be a replacement with a long-term future in mind, something a man such as Jose Mourinho probably wouldn’t provide.
But Moyes definitely isn’t Ferguson. His record at Everton is admirable, but United fans have got accustomed to challenging for at least one piece of major silverware every season. It remains to be seen whether Moyes can handle the pressure of that environment. And what happens if it turns out Moyes can’t? United may yet fall into the managerial carousel they’ve done well to avoid so far. United’s future is in the balance. On the one hand they may have found a new boss with the exact attitude required to take over Ferguson’s mantle – and you have to feel that Sir Alex will have laid some decent foundations for his departure. On the other, there’s the worry that 26 without a managerial change will make this swap more difficult than it needs to be. United fans can say as often as anyone will listen that Moyes will be given time, but in the hypothetical scenario that we reach Christmas next season and form is faltering, I wonder if they’ll feel the same. Whatever happens, though, with the possible return of The Special One to Stamford Bridge in the summer, next season’s Premier League campaign looks set to be one of the most gripping yet.