Sunday 20 October 2019

Decision to hang around makes life even more difficult for his replacement

Alan Hansen

There has never been, nor can I imagine there will ever be, a harder job in football than to be the successor to Alex Ferguson. The very best of luck to the man entrusted with perpetuating the era of dominance Ferguson has masterminded at Old Trafford. You're going to need it.

We will never see one manager dominate English football in the same way. Every other manager in England is rubbing his hands today, or at least they should be. The most formidable foe and intimidating obstacle to Premier League success won't be there any longer.

There are managers who are described as irreplaceable, and then there is Ferguson, who is at an altogether higher level entirely.

Ferguson's genius has been to weld the traditional values of the managerial Titans – following the line of the greatest Scots, Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and Jock Stein – with the modern techniques and psychological skills of any young pretender trying to catch him.

He not only possesses the 'old school' qualities of those coaching icons, he has moved with the times to become the archetypal manager for every generation. Today's game is a far cry from when he took over, given the financial rewards for players and the interference of agents. Ferguson has been able to ensure that the first priority of everyone under his command is to win. That in itself, in an era of so many distractions for wealthy young footballers, is a triumph.

I've never seen any team of his that did not possess that unshakeable will to be successful, mirroring his personality.

We've seen it time and again over the years, United sides turning losing positions into crucial draws or victories. Some put that down to luck, but there's always been far more to it. Ferguson's capacity to make each of his players believe no position is irretrievable is a trait few have been able to match.

The general rule is that the players win titles, the manager simply guiding what tends to be the most equipped squad to success. It does not matter how shrewd the guy in the dug-out, if you've an inferior group it will catch up with you over 38 fixtures.

Ferguson has changed my opinion of this in the last three years. I believe if he was the Manchester City manager, they would have won a hat-trick of league titles. The timing of his departure is apt given he leaves United back in front of City, seeing off their challenge this season in the way he has all other rivals for the last two decades.

In some respects, having initial success was the easy part. Sustaining it year after year is far more difficult. Ferguson managed to usurp Liverpool in the early '90s, see off the greatest Arsenal team there has ever been and then faced the financial power of Chelsea and still emerged with the league title. The emergence of City was another fight he relished and overcame, bowing out having wrestled the title back from the wealthiest club in the world.

I recall watching United lose in the FA Cup at Anfield in 2006 and thinking they could be in some trouble for the next few years.

Jose Mourinho had just won his second consecutive league title at Chelsea, and there seemed to be signs of deterioration at Old Trafford. What happened next? United won three consecutive Premier League titles. That's Ferguson. Meticulously planning ahead to ensure there's never been any possibility of stagnation.

The debate rages as to whether Ferguson retires as the greatest there has ever been. The outgoing United manager is understandably ranked as the number one by his fans, while others will point to Bob Paisley's haul of six titles in nine seasons, three European Cups and the UEFA Cup. Ferguson has never been able to dominate Europe.

Having played under Bob, you wouldn't expect a neutral conclusion from me and the truth is I don't believe it is possible to compare their success. Bob reigned for a shorter period in a different time, and to accumulate so many titles in a compressed period was unprecedented. Equally, to win 13 titles since his first 20 years ago makes Fergie's success unparalleled in the history of the game.

Ferguson has also rebuilt his team more than any other manager, easing star players out at the right time and maintaining his club's position at the top. That is another skill others have never been able to master. To build one great side is enough to become a legend, but at least four? No-one will match that.

His decision to remain at the club in some capacity will make it harder for whoever replaces him, knowing that shadow looms large. The comparisons with Busby are unavoidable.

Liverpool avoided the fate of United post-Busby because Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish were promoted from within. There was no sense of upheaval or any feeling it would all fall apart. It is different when you appoint from outside the club, a manager arriving with his own ideas, seeking to establish himself in his own right.

A seamless transition is impossible now Ferguson has gone. He is the last of his breed and the Premier League will be a far less colourful place, but possibly much more competitive, in his absence. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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