There is no bigger story in the sports world this week than the shock announcement that Sir Alex Ferguson will be retiring at the end of the season after 26 and a half years at the helm of English champions Manchester United. We all knew a day like this would come, but when it did arrive, it was still sensational and, for many, it will take a bit of time to get used to the idea.
Sir Alex has not been an ordinary manager. As I told a friend once the speculation started, the Scot has been an institution within an institution and for many people, it is hard to imagine United without Ferguson. Indeed, there are many people within and outside the club who have not known any other manager in the Red Devils dugout because he has been an ever-present figure since November 1986.
The story of United and Ferguson is a remarkable one and one I don’t expect to see replicated in our life time. Here is a man who came with a mission to topple my Liverpool from the summit of English football, but had to wait for four years to win his first trophy and a further three years to win the league but has gone on to win 12 more league titles and a host of other pieces of silverware.
Being in charge of such a big club for as long as he has done is a phenomenal achievement because many other clubs of similar stature have been changing managers as a matter of course. Spanish giants Real Madrid, for example, have had 24 managers over the period Ferguson has been at Old Trafford. It is a huge credit to the management of the club that they have enjoyed such success and stability.
Because of the success he has enjoyed and the aura that he possesses, Sir Alex will be a tough act to follow and his shoes were going to be too big for whoever the club would have settled for as his successor. David Moyes, therefore, has his work cut out. He has done a very commendable job at Everton, keeping the team in the top eight in the last seven seasons with a very limited budget.
But truth be told, the 50-year-old former Celtic defender has never faced the challenges that await him in Manchester. He has, therefore, been hired based on his potential rather than accomplishments. Unlike Ferguson who walked into the club having won some trophies, including the European Cup, Moyes has no such pedigree and how he is going to instil a winning spirit in a team of proven winners will be interesting to watch.
As he has discovered while at Everton, the ingredients — financial, technical, psychological etc. — of taking a relegation-threatened team to mid-table safety differ from those required to take a mid-table side to the top-six. These days it is even harder to break into the lucrative top-four, let alone challenge for the title. Sir Alex must know a lot to be convinced that his fellow Scot has all that.
In saying this, I am not agreeing with those that are saying Ferguson’s departure signals the beginning of the end of United’s dominance. This move seems to have been carefully planned and managed. In giving Moyes a six-year contract, the club seems confident that everything is in place to ensure continued success and I am, therefore, willing to give them the benefit of doubt because they have earned it.