How splendidly ironic that Callum McManaman’s dynamic performance for Wigan against Manchester City at Wembley should almost coincide with the announcement that David Moyes would inherit the formidable mantle of Alex Ferguson.
Moyes having let the teenaged McManaman slip away from Everton to Wigan. Now surely Roy Hodgson must not look a gift horse, let alone such a galloping one, in the mouth. Whatever memories of that horrible tackle versus Newcastle, McManaman is surely a player who proved in the Cup Final that he has the famous Big Match Temperament. He might do much to revitalise an England team which sorely need it.
Moyes? An excellent manager whether or not he has ever won a trophy. Keeping a club as financially challenged as Everton afloat for so long has itself been a huge achievement. One still feels that for all his consistent success at Old Trafford – despite an uneasy and potentially fatal start – perhaps Ferguson’s major triumph was to make Aberdeen the dominant club in Scotland, breaking the Rangers-Celtic monopoly, beating mighty Real Madrid in a European Cup winners Cup Final.
It might be argued that the true architect of United’s prowess was Matt Busby whom, just after the war, took over a team whose stadium had been destroyed by German bombs and which for years to come had to share the home of Manchester City. The mentor of the Busby Babes, the man who defiantly took United into Europe; and had his ultimate reward when, ten years after being horribly injured in the 1958 Munich air crash, the European Cup was won.
By the time Fergie arrived things had fallen apart though Busby still hovered in his office, tactfully handled by Ferguson where Wilf McGuinness and Frank O’Farrell had foundered.
Moyes? He must show iron resilience in following such an iconic figure and one wonders how he will handle the Glazers still so deeply disliked by the fans somehow finessed by Fergie.
And now, predictably, Mancini has gone; with four years still on his City contract. Horribly wasteful behaviour but peanuts to the billionaire owners from Abu Dhabi. Roll on the Greed Is Good League.
Mancini made many a mistake but surely it is hard to blame him for failing to domesticate Mario Balotelli. Let it be remembered that it was he at Inter who fostered, encouraged and, at that time, successfully deployed that errant talent.
Alex Ferguson unquestionably deserved the highest praise on his retirement as Manchester United manager but many of the eulogies seem more like ecstatic obituaries. There seems little if any attempt to examine the relations of Ferguson with the notoriously exacting Glazers who have plunged the club so massively into debt.
And where could one find any reference to Ferguson’s failure when appointed manager of the Scotland team which failed in the Mexican World Cup finals of 1986? A team deprived of the essential and dynamic presence in attack of Liverpool’s Kenny Dalglish who, though he had made scant impact in the previous three World Cups, had been in devastating form for Liverpool all season. When Dalglish withdrew from the squad, pleading injury, the word was that he was in fact protesting against the decision of Ferguson to ignore his Liverpool colleague the centre back Alan Hansen. An elegant player whose weakness was to give what are known as too many second chances, insistent on doing the skilful rather than the safe, straightforward thing.
Fergie did have a point; I recall watching Hansen have a wretched game in Cardiff against Wales when he was embarrassingly mastered by the tall John Toshack who would in time score many goals for Liverpool. In Mexico Scotland were quickly knocked out, Fergie resigned and was never put in charge of the Scots again.
Mark Hughes was among the former Manchester United stars to laud Ferguson. More recently a manager himself, at Manchester City and Queens Park Rangers, Hughes as a brave centre forward often playing alone up front with his back to the goal, was, one felt, essential to United’s attack. Yet for some reason Ferguson once a battling but less gifted centre forward himself seemed to lack confidence in him and was frequently and expensively leaving him out with scant excuse. I remember especially watching a United game at Chelsea when Fergie dropped Hughes on the highly dubious grounds that United the following week had a European Cup away game in which being suspended, Hughes would be absent. At Stamford Bridge Chelsea won.
An impassioned and unceasing Trade Unionist and Socialist, Ferguson worked in the Govan shipyards in Glasgow. He joined the famous all amateur Glaswegian club Queens Park, eventually signing for the then dominant Protestant oriented club, Glasgow Rangers who, with their eternal Catholic oriented rivals Glasgow Celtic, dominated Scottish football; back then it was inconceivable that they would sink to the depths they have today.
Ferguson was a committed rather than a talented centre forward, somewhat notorious for the use of his elbows. When he retired from playing it was to take over a series of less known and sometimes impoverished Scottish clubs rather than, as many a real star player has done, being instantly appointed to a major club. But this tough apprenticeship served him well and by the time he took over at Aberdeen, he was a battle hardened, demanding and somewhat intimidating manager, notably confrontational, sometimes even to the point of physical challenge.
Aberdeen’s remarkable European Cup winners Final victory over Real Madrid made him a manager to be pursued but when, being preferred to Terry Venables, who had flourished with Barcelona, he was appointed by Manchester United, they had sunk from their former days of glory. Indeed, his first game in charge saw them defeated by humble Oxford United.
Fergie, the terror of referees, especially at Old Trafford, where many a disputed penalty has been given to United, the contemptuous scourge of journalists who offend him, has a subtler side when it is needed. As shown, when he arrived at Old Trafford, to find the architect of United’s success, Matt Busby still hanging on after retirement, a menace to two successors. Fergie cultivated him, across the corridor, and got on well.