Management, they say, always ends in failure. Indeed, no matter how successful the coach, dismissal or undignified resignation is nearly always the fate. Recall José Mourinho fired by Chelsea or the late, great Brian Clough suffering the humiliation of relegation and near insanity with former European Champions Nottingham Forrest.
Sir Alex Ferguson may just be the only manager in history to define his end, his own way.
In the week that Ferguson passed Sir Matt Busby’s record as the longest serving manager in the club’s history – some well thought-out pedantry aside – United’s boss says he has dropped all thoughts of retirment.
Ferguson, having formally retired in 2002 only to change his mind on the advice of his wife, Kathy – or the horror at David Gill having appointed Sven Goran Eriksson – the Scot now also appears to be going back on a 2008 promise to retire within three years.
While his health remains, says Ferguson, he will be in charge of United. Indeed, speaking ahead of the club’s postponed Premier League clash at the weekend, Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti said that Ferguson could remain in charge for another decade. By which time the Scot will be 78.
“The older you get the more worried you are about retiring,” Ferguson told MUTV this week.
“You start to realise that while you have got your health and good fitness, you should carry on in your job. All thoughts of retirement are in the back of my mind.”
No wonder, with Ferguson still master of all he surveys at Carrington. Arguably the Scot is now more powerful than ever – so obviously the glue that holds the Glazer empire together during a period of austerity.
Yet, this was not always the way. During the 2002-5 period, when first Arsenal and then Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea appeared to usurp United’s domestic pre-eminence and the club became a non-entity in Europe, Ferguson was seemingly out of ideas. The energy so famed, no longer apparent.
For a while at least the decision to shelve retirement plans in summer 2002 seemed a mistake; one that could have put the great Scot’s legacy at risk. United’s uninspired football culminated in the humiliating group stage Champions League exit in winter 2005, a thumping defeat at Middlesboro and Roy Keane’s tumultuous exit.
No longer so of course – Ferguson’s drive and desired is renewed. In part the vigour of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez was a catalyst both on the pitch and in Ferguson’s soul. The challenge of chasing a second European Cup reawakening Ferguson’s passion, perhaps.
Despite José Mourinho waiting in the wings there is now no ovious retirement date for Ferguson. June 2012 is a guess already pondered on this website, although it is one based in nothing anything but educated speculation.
Certainly, the Scot will be around to see in 25 years at the helm next November and a major achievement it’ll be. And that, after all, is Ferguson’s true legacy. His ability to master the growth of United from global brand to financial superpower to the most heavily indebted club in sport is indeed remarkable. His longevity at the top is – almost – unsurpassed in world football.
Sir Matt, of course, lasted almost as long. Guy Roux at AJ Auxere remain in the job 44 years; that coming after more than a decade as a player for the club. Roux’ ties to the club were highlighted by his decision to resign just four games into only his second managerial job at Racing Club de Lens.
There is little chance Ferguson will make 44 years at United unless he remains in the boardroom and that is a lesson United learned painfully after Sir Matt’s first resignation when Busby consistently interfered from above. Ferguson could surely not remain aloof if his day job moved from Carrington to Old Trafford.
This time the Scot is unlikely to pre-empt the decision on retirement with a public announcement as he did in the winter of 2001 to such disastrous effect.
“At the time there were some reasons for it. It was one of those things, a mistake,” Ferguson said of his decision to go public with his decision.
The message is clear. One day Ferguson will be here, the next he’ll be gone. The question is, whether that’s in a coffin or not?