Fergie and after

Sir Alex Ferguson... one of the very few managers whose autograph was cherished.-AP

Alex Ferguson has enthusiastically endorsed David Moyes, and it is generally believed that he was largely responsible for Moyes’ appointment. But for all his excellent decade at Everton, all his shrewd transfer policy, one wonders whether Moyes can survive in the shadow of Ferguson’s success. By Brian Glanville.

There can be no disputing Alex Ferguson’s formidable record at Manchester United, the 13 Championships, the two European Champions Cups, the Cup Winners’ and the FA Cups galore. Nor should one forget his surely comparable perhaps even more remarkable triumph in the Cup Winners’ Cup with modest Aberdeen against illustrious Real Madrid before he was appointed at Old Trafford. Yet in all the euphoria a sense of proportion seems to have been lost. One lone voice in a major newspaper’s leading article has tried to restore it.

Comparison was properly made with the achievements of Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest, a club without remotely the prestige and resources of Manchester United but with which Clough fashioned a team that won the European Cup for two seasons in an astonishing row. And I was glad to see my view shared that when United themselves did win the European Cup final, each of their victories was somewhat fortuitous.

Against Bayern Manich in Barcelona, United, a goal behind when the crossbar had saved them from at least one other, looked a beaten team until the closing minutes. Ferguson’s decision to play Ryan Giggs out of position on the right flank, while using the ineffectual Jesper Blomqvist on the left, had unbalanced the attack. Not till the concluding moments when Ferguson brought on Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to transform the team and score two desperately late goals did United win. Well indeed might Ferguson have declared, “Football; bloody hell?”.

That was in 1999 and when United won that Cup again in Moscow, it was only in a penalty shootout against Chelsea when John Terry was unlucky enough to slip and fail to score. This season and last, United’s performance in the Champions League has been indifferent, though it was no disgrace to be knocked out in the second instance by a club as European oriented as Real Madrid.

It has also been pointed out that when Ferguson joined United from Aberdeen, in November 1986, it took him four years, towards the end of which his position seemed in jeopardy, before they won the FA Cup then the Cup Winners Cup to make his position secure. It is legitimate to wonder if his successor, another Scot, in David Moyes, will be given such latitude. Ferguson has enthusiastically endorsed Moyes, and it is generally believed that he was largely responsible for Moyes’ appointment. But for all his excellent decade at Everton, all his shrewd transfer policy, with a mere fraction of the money Ferguson has had to spend, one wonders whether Moyes can survive in the shadow of Ferguson’s success.

It is indisputable that Moyes has never won any title of consequence at Everton. What he has done is to perform the minor miracle with such limited funds of keeping them so respectably in the Premier League for season after season, tactically shrewd and equally adept in the transfer market, where so many of his acquisitions flourished. He is a committed student of the game, and, however bitterly criticised by the younger Wayne Rooney, whom he was obliged to sell to Manchester United and who later recanted, he plainly has commanding authority over his players. Without the somewhat intimidating autocracy of Ferguson.

Yet following Fergie is an unenviable task. You wonder whether United might have gambled on Jose Mourinho — admittedly still “in love” with Chelsea — a man and a manager given to hyperbole, flamboyance and self promotion, qualities, together with his extraordinary record in European football with such clubs as varied as Porto and Inter Milan, which might have saved him from being overshadowed by the image of Ferguson. Though, this season has shown, all too clearly, at Real Madrid, that Mourinho can lose authority and goodwill in the dressing room.

How, you also wonder, will Moyes deal with the Glazers, the Americans so detested by United’s fans, who somehow managed to buy the club, then use its own money to pay off the colossal debts incurred? In all these eulogies of Ferguson, surprisingly little mention has been made of his relations with the Glazers. Somehow or other he seems to have reached a modus vivendi, a working relationship, with them, but it may not be so easy for Moyes, who does not enjoy the same towering authority and huge reputation of Ferguson.

There is no doubt that in his Manchester United years, Ferguson has not only brought off great coups in the transfer market — Cristiano Ronaldo and Eric Cantona being two of the most spectacular — but has also successfully developed such remarkable home-grown talents as Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, each of whom has played on so successfully into late 30s. Though, Giggs was spirited away as a youngster from the eternal local rivals, Manchester City.

To see Ferguson as a domineering bully would be simplistic and wrong. His handling of the fiery Cantona was inspired and he commanded great loyalty and affection from his players. Even if that boot did fly across the dressing room, hit David Beckham and arguably propelled him out of the club. And unlike his predecessors “Wilf” McGuinness and Frank O’Farrell, he dealt tactfully and successfully with the true pioneer of United’s achievements Matt Busby, still hanging on in his Old Trafford office.