United need Ferguson more than ever -- and he knows it
I f Manchester United beat Barcelona at Wembley next Saturday then many will ask if Alex Ferguson has achieved all he can ever achieve at Manchester United. Alex Ferguson's gift is that he has never felt he has achieved all that he can. If he can win the European Cup with this Manchester United side, then he would be demonstrating that he is at the peak of his powers.
Manchester United need him to stay and, although they could not be said to be acting entirely in Manchester United's interests, the Glazers desperately need him to stay.
There is no post-Ferguson world that is not high-risk for the family. Even if they could appoint Jose Mourinho, which is unlikely to be an option this summer, there is a doubt over what Mourinho could achieve and how he would achieve it.
In a world in which Ferguson is reprimanded by the English FA for praising Howard Webb, Mourinho's arrival would be deeply unsettling. Football's Oliver Stone makes Ferguson look like Jimmy Stewart. Ferguson takes stances, Mourinho takes hostages.
Ferguson will also believe that Manchester United cannot do without him and he would be right.
He may take some satisfaction from the idea that he would be an impossible act to follow but his public reaction when Sven-Goran Eriksson was his putative successor in 2002 suggests that he also wants what's best for the club.
Mourinho is a more palatable successor than Eriksson but for now Ferguson is right to believe nobody is as capable as he is of managing Manchester United.
His son Darren suggested two years ago that his father would quit in 18 months but his father is still here, still finding ways to win the league with Michael Carrick, still finding things to fight against.
They make it easy for him at times, warning him last week about his behaviour when praising Webb. They think they are censuring him but essentially they are reminding him that there are still stances to be taken against his enemies who at times like those can seem like the confederacy of dunces.
He has dominated English football and that domination has found its home at Old Trafford where everyone -- opponents, referees -- bows down.
There may be some in English football who feel Ferguson is too powerful, but Old Trafford is where the power asserts itself, not in London committee rooms.
Wembley against Barcelona may be a different matter. It may feel like a home game but Barcelona will not be intimidated. Ferguson may consider retirement if United win because he may not achieve anything as improbable again. To win the European Cup with Darron Gibson on the roster is a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment, even if it is more likely to be accomplished if Gibson stays in his cup final suit.
There is nobody to challenge Ferguson and he knows it. All around him, clubs are either planning for the future or dealing with the wreckage of the past: Ferguson seizes every moment.
Chelsea will look to a new man next season; Arsenal will suffer in their existential way while Manchester City and Liverpool will have massive expectation. United have no need for turmoil, not when there is so much around them.
There will be those who will say Ferguson should get out now, especially if he wins on Saturday. He can only go down, they'll say, with some merit. But if Ferguson wanted to get out when he was ahead he would have already quit. He has stayed because he never believes he's behind. He never sees United as the underdog.
Why allow the Glazers to squeeze Manchester United, to force a decline in standards if you didn't believe that you could conquer every problem with your own will? He has stayed despite the lack of investment in the squad. This season the success of Chicharito has made it seem like a strategy. Ferguson might have always enjoyed developing young players but from Pallister to Keane, from Ferdinand to Veron and Berbatov, he has liked spending money too. The Glazers have forced him to remember how much he enjoys working with youth, as well as the aged, like Giggs and Scholes.
Yet none of it matters. He sends out a side to win, believing they will win and is only surprised when it doesn't happen.
This has been a season of immense achievements. He now has his 19th title and the chance of a third European Cup which would match Bob Paisley's record. But when he stood up to Wayne Rooney and his agent last winter, he made the decisive contribution to United's season. He demonstrated that there were battles he wasn't prepared to lose. United have followed his example ever since.
"The manager can never lose an argument," he said once. One day, he will lose it with time, but not today. If Manchester United win next Saturday, he'll have no worlds left to conquer. He'll just have to conquer the old ones again.
Sunday Indo Sport