Di Matteo’s demise underscores Ferguson’s enduring value

November 22, 2012 Tags: Opinion 27 comments

It has been a week for managers; one which has often reminded Manchester United supporters just how fortunate the club remains to keep Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm after more than a quarter century. True, the cantankerous 70-year-old Scot has many faults, more of them personal than professional, but whatever the legitimate criticisms, Ferguson’s stewardship continues to avoid the managerial dramas prevalent elsewhere.

Indeed, Wednesday’s commotion at Stamford Bridge, in which Champions League winning manager Roberto Di Matteo was unceremoniously sacked and replaced with out-of-work Rafael Benitez, says much for Old Trafford’s contrasting stability. Benitez is the 10th manager employed by Roman Abramovich in nine years. Ferguson hasn’t hired that many deputies in more than 25.

Fitting, than, that yet another tribute is paid to Sir Alex this week, with the manager’s statue unveiled in front of the renamed Sir Alex Ferguson Stand on Friday. The statue, marking 26 years of the Scot’s tenure in Manchester, is set to be placed above the main entrance, with Ferguson-themed artwork adorning the lower concourse.

Little wonder, while there is sympathy for Di Matteo in football circles, the real plaudits have poured in for Ferguson this week; a man still without peer in the game.

“He’s unique, especially in the modern day,” said Jose Mourinho, whose Real Madrid side knocked City out of the Champions League on Wednesday night.

“If you go back many years, then you will find somebody like him but [it’s amazing] in the modern day at the highest level, where it is really difficult to survive in our job. He’s absolutely incredible at what he does and we can’t even imagine when he’ll stop. He’s unbelievable.”

Over at Cobham, Benitez, whose anti-Ferguson rant remains a career highlight, will take his first training sessions ahead of the west London outfit’s trip to Manchester City this weekend.

Chelsea, having lost twice and drawn another brace in the past month, is hardly in a tailspin other than that self-induced by the owners. Yet, out went Di Matteo as the sun rose on Wednesday morning, seemingly on the capricious whim of a narcissistic owner. For all Abramovich’s investment, which is running at more than £1 billion over just shy of a decade, the Russian has repeatedly hamstrung his own club.

Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, and perhaps even Andre Villas-Boas, each went far too early. Elsewhere, the Russian’s bizarre recruitment policy seemingly owes more to the latest hype than a genuine process.

True, Abramovich’s spending is in stark contrast to the Glazer family’s drain on United. The Americans’ cost to the club is estimated at north of £550 million in debt servicing, interest and other payments. But the family, for all the insidious drive to exploit United’s fame, has at least retained the good sense to hold keenly the club’s playing stability.

At the core of that is Ferguson. Infuriatingly stubborn, an aggressive supporter of a hated regime, and often embarrassingly myopic, but the Scot is still utterly peerless. It is a quality recognised in high circles.

“He’s one of these people that has a strength of character that immediately marks him out as a leader of people,” said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“He’s a great competitor but he’s also got huge integrity, to himself and to what he believes in. I think that’s quite unusual in life to find people like that.

“If you’re in a tough situation and everything is coming down on top of you and you feel you’re slowly getting surrounded by the people that want to put you in a deep dark pit, Alex is the type of person you’d want standing alongside you. He is a great leader, a great character, and a great human being.”

Which, of course, leaves the oft-debated question of Ferguson’s successor out there – in this week of tributes and tribulations in managerial circles above all others.

Turning 71 in the New Year, Ferguson cannot last much longer. Indeed, the no-fly order prescribed by his doctors in the summer may be a sign of things to come. Sir Alex has often claimed that health, rather than age, will dictate his long-term future at Old Trafford.

Still, as Chelsea flit from one fashionable manager to the next, David Gill and United’s board will face the mother of all managerial appointments when Ferguson’s replacement is finally required, whether that comes next summer or beyond.

The usual suspects – Mourinho, Abramovich’s favourite Pep Guardiola, and perhaps David Moyes – will head a very short list of candidates. Whomever the new man, none will match Ferguson’s achievements. Few his aura and universal respect among his playing charges, says Paul Scholes, who at 38 has only known one club manager.

“He’s been brilliant for every single player that’s worked for him,” adds the midfielder.

“There is such a hunger and desire about him that really drives his players on – he knows how to keep you motivated throughout a season. It’s something that he’s managed to do for the last 20 years and I’m sure he’ll carry on doing it for the next few years as well.

“Somebody’s going to have to come in one day and manage this team and if they do half as well as he does they’ll be successful. There’s nobody like him I know that – but somebody’s got to give it a go.”

There could, of course, still be a left-field choice. How many have have come and gone in the decade since Ferguson’s ‘first’ retirement in 2002? Once chic Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce and Mark Hughes will be nowhere near Gill’s short-list. Neither, thankfully, will Sven-Göran Erikson, Sir Alex’s mooted replacement a decade ago.

Then there is former player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a romantic choice among United’s support. The 39-year-old is unlikely to be offered the job either, despite two Norwegian championships with Molde in as many years. After all, United’s drive for revenues and profit under the Glazer regime is anathema to inexperience.

To paraphrase the great Marcello Lippi, Solskjaer’s appointment at Old Trafford in 2013 or 14, would be akin to handing the keys of a Ferrari over to a learner driver.

Meanwhile, at Stamford Bridge, 52-year-old Benitez is certainly no learner, although the Spaniard hasn’t taken the wheel of a supercar in some time either. It remains to be seen whether the former Liverpool coach is given time in west London.

History dictates Abramovich’s whim will bring Benitez reign to a swift and unstable end. It is a lesson United learned to the club’s benefit some time ago.


Anantax - November 22, 2012 Reply

What is the no fly order about?

Scott - November 22, 2012 Reply

The lads mentioned it some time ago on the rant, apparently he had a couple of serious nose bleeds and was told not to fly. Why some people thought he might have gone to meet Pep in New York as he had to have good reason to fly, though it could have just been to see his compatriot.

Scott - November 22, 2012 Reply

Just checked, it’s on ep 122 sep 14 at 30 mins.

bman - November 22, 2012 Reply

Mourinho, Guardiola, Moyes — I’d be happy with any of them, for different reasons. Mourinho’s an asshole, but he’s obviously a winner and a great leader. Guardiola got Barca playing fantastic football, the idea of something similar at United is mouthwatering. Moyes has proven that he’s clever about tactics, a great spotter of talent, and a good manager, so I’d be happy to see him given a chance to run a really big club. I still think it’s going to be Mourinho, provided the club has enough money to attract him, but it seems like the club is about to get a pretty massive boost to revenue from the new TV deals, Chevrolet and all that, enough for the Glazers to treat it like a cash machine while still having a decent chunk left over for transfers.

Why Mourinho? Well he makes a point of publicly kissing Ferguson and United’s arse every chance he gets. Plus, where else could he go after Real that wouldn’t be step down? Barca wouldn’t have him, but you get the sense he’s sick of Spanish football anyway. Sure City have loads of money, but Mourinho always wants to achieve the next amazing thing, and there’s pretty much not much else left for him to do except say that he took on the impossible task of replacing Alex Ferguson and succeeded.

Spudiator - November 22, 2012 Reply

I really do fear for the future when Fergie does eventually bow out. Though he may have his detractors, nowhere more so than on here, you can’t argue with the level of success he’s brought to the club and the legacy he’s created, and therein lies the problem. Sir Matt Busby left a legacy when his time came to an end, and it was so great that his successors all wilted under the pressure to such an extent that United ended up relegated 5 years after he retired. I’m not suggesting the same will happen again, but stranger things have happened, and if United ever were to suffer relegation during the Glazers’ regime it could potentially bankrupt the club, and who out there has the strength of character and talent to succeed a man who has made Sir Matt’s tenure pale into insignificance comparatively?

Mourinho? Perhaps, but he would bring with him a media circus and an undoubtable amount of disrepute. Moyes? He would be my personal preference, but although he’s performed minor miracles keep Everton reasonably competitive in the league on a shoestring budget, there’s no telling how the step-up to the highest level would affect him, whether it would be the making or breaking of his managerial career. Similarly, Guardiola has succeeded at the highest level in Spain, albeit where there’s realistically only one other team in contention for major honours, and there’s no telling how he’d adapt to the Premier League.

All the talk of Mourinho or Guardiola is possibly somewhat moot anyway though, because I highly doubt either would take the job without a huge wage and guarantee of a borderline fantasy transfer budget, and unless the Glazers have got another trick or two up their sleeves to produce money out of thin air, it just doesn’t seem likely.

marlon - November 22, 2012 Reply

Moyes has been impressive for Everton, but I wouldn’t want us to be his first big job. At this rate, Ole will manage in the CL first. I like Guardiola for his belief in youth, but his inflexibility in his philosophy would cost us in the long term. Mourinho is the most like Fergie, but my concern with him would be longevity. Jurgen Klopp could be an interesting choice. Have we ever had a non-UK manager?

bman - November 22, 2012 Reply

Spudiator said:
All the talk of Mourinho or Guardiola is possibly somewhat moot anyway though, because I highly doubt either would take the job without a huge wage and guarantee of a borderline fantasy transfer budget, and unless the Glazers have got another trick or two up their sleeves to produce money out of thin air, it just doesn’t seem likely.

The club’s income is about to get a very substantial boost from the new TV deals as well as from the new marketing deals we have with Chevrolet etc. In fact, the club paid to get out of the DHL deal early because they think they can get a much better deal, but when that went through just a couple of years ago everybody was astonished. So I think what’s going to start happening is that the Glazers will start taking a decent cut for themselves, but the amount of revenue we’ll have coming in should allow for a pretty sizable transfer budget. Our big advantage over Chelsea and City will be consistency. Chelsea and City might splash out every now and then, spending £100M or more in a season, but if we’re able to spend regularly in the range of £40M, give or take £10M in either direction, I think that long-term consistency outweighs Chelsea and City’s big splurges. Take Chelsea for example — they splash out on Torres, Hazard, etc., but the team is hopelessly imbalanced.

Spudiator - November 22, 2012 Reply

Ah come on Bman, you don’t honestly believe that money will go to the transfer kitty, do you? Not while there’s still debt to be serviced, and even after the debt is finally cleared (which is still gonna be a few years yet by the looks of it), any excess income the clubs earns is just gonna end up going towards fattening the owners’ wallets.

bman - November 22, 2012 Reply

We’re talking about a very sizable increase in income; my point that even a fraction of that going towards transfers would make a pretty big difference.

Ichiro - November 22, 2012 Reply

I respect Moyes as a manager but the question with him will always be what has he won? Even if he had won the league cup or something I might be convinced. In that respect Ole has done more in his two seasons at Molde than Moyes has in his whole career.

Alfonso Bedoya - November 23, 2012 Reply

Ichiro said:
I respect Moyes as a manager but the question with him will always be what has he won? Even if he had won the league cup or something I might be convinced. In that respect Ole has done more in his two seasons at Molde than Moyes has in his whole career.

With the resourses he’s had to work with, it’s amazing he’s never been relegated.

sheesh - November 23, 2012 Reply

United unveil statue in Fergie's honour:

uncleknobheadforfucksake - November 23, 2012 Reply

did they have to include his fucking primark fleece

sidney - November 23, 2012 Reply


I don’t mind the statue. It’s not exact but massive bronze statues never are. It’s like a mix of young Fergie and old Fergie. And it’s quite understated which is good. Finishes off the Fergie stand nicely. Looks great from the outside now.

Btw, love the photo of Van Persie taking a picture of Cantona on his phone.

sidney - November 23, 2012 Reply

Apparently this banner is going to be hung somewhere in the north stand n all
Maybe on the concourse

uncleknobheadforfucksake - November 23, 2012 Reply

so theyre just assuming we’ll never win anymore trophies under him then

its a fair cop

sheesh - November 23, 2012 Reply

It’s a strange statue in the sense that there is more or less of a likeness depending on which angle you look at it.

Anyway, here’s part of a documentary on Fergie’s 25 years at United. Slightly old but still worth a watch. I think the other parts might also be on YouTube.

sidney - November 23, 2012 Reply

It could have been worse http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2148/2483016537_310b1105ab.jpg

fucking love that ^

baloo - November 23, 2012 Reply

sidney said:
It could have been worse http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2148/2483016537_310b1105ab.jpg

fucking love that ^

It is genius isn’t it? They melted it down pretty sharpish didn’t they? Superb

sidney - November 23, 2012 Reply

Yeah, I think it lasted less than a week before it got pulled down – haha

Cost over a hundred thou n all

Denton Davey - November 23, 2012 Reply

Spudiator @ 10:46: “Sir Matt Busby left a legacy when his time came to an end, and it was so great that his successors all wilted under the pressure to such an extent that United ended up relegated 5 years after he retired.”

You’ve hit the nail on the head – this is directly related to the biggest issues in regards to the succession:

will SAF make a clean break ?

will his successor have the same autonomy/power ??

will his successor find that the “cupboard is bare” ???

Ten years ago, SAF announced his “retirement” too soon; the danger now is that he’s leaving it too late. He must know that – all happy thoughts and pronouncements about his health and energy notwithstanding – he can’t go much longer.

Ten years ago, that end-of-season “retirement” decision was announced when he was still trying to control his players. I doubt that he’ll make the same mistake again.

So, I reckon that SAF’s decision will come like a bolt-from-the-blue. Rather like the moment when RedNev realized that he was past-it. Here today, gone tomorrow.

I also reckon that he’s given his bosses his recommendation as to who he thinks would be the best bet to succeed him in the hot seat.

There are four obvious candidates: Jo$e, Pep, Moyes, and OGS. Not one of those guys can guarantee success – and it would be amazing if any one of those guys can replicate SAF’s record for consistent success.

I hope it’s going to be OGS. He’s the long-shot but he’s also very intelligent, well-prepared in terms of his youth coaching with UTD and then going on to win two Norwegian titles in two years at Molde, and he bleeds red.

As for timing, I would imagine that SAF wants to go out on a high – winning this year’s EPL (or CL) would be a perfect moment to fade into a glorious sunset. Beating ManShitty on December 8th wouldn’t be too bad, either.

Anantax - November 23, 2012 Reply

Did Keane come?

bman - November 23, 2012 Reply

I think it’s weird to put up the statue while he’s still working there. Wait until he retires at least.

sidney - November 23, 2012 Reply

So right I did just post something but the formatting is fucked in this thread so it was unreadable
Sort it out, Ed

sheesh - November 24, 2012 Reply

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again:

I really hope we don’t go for someone ‘from within the club’ when choosing the next manager. I think it would be a recipe for disaster.

We need someone who can hit the ground running pretty much straight away. Expectations will always be high at United. Who’s to say how fans will react if we go through a slightly barren spell? We’ve been spoilt by success. Are we in a position of financial strength to be able to pick someone who can ‘experiment’ just because he’s bedding in? No, we’re not.

Also, just look at the hole Fergie will leave when he finishes. He is United. The right candidate has to have the temperament and stature to assume the role. You can’t just pick anyone who looks like a semi-decent manager. This isn’t 1986.

Finally, I’d hate to see a United legend get the job and made a pig’s ear of it.

steggo - November 24, 2012 Reply

We think all he does is sit at Fergies side looking clueless and gormless but the true successor must be wee Micky Phelan. To be assistant manager not only to Ferguson but the great Gary Megson (3 times), means we have a true giant already at the club. He is only biding his time………

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