It is a subject that Manchester United fans will have suppressed for years, but there will be a day when the greatest football club in England will have to confront the insurmountable task of replacing the irreplaceable. Predicting the end of Sir Alex’s reign at Old Trafford has been a tantalising topic that has occupied the football world for as long as I can remember, but the resignation of David Gill this week may just be a catalyst for the beginning of the end of an era at Manchester United.
But, who will replace him? That is the million-dollar question. And vice-chairman Ed Woodward, the man who is has been entrusted with answering it, has claimed that the club has already drawn up a list of candidates and that this list is locked firmly away in a drawer.
You could probably hazard an educated guess as to the names on it. Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp and David Moyes are all at the top of their games right now and it would be naive to suggest that Manchester United will completely disregard making a big name signing. I mean, after all the hype that surrounds the manager merry-go-round in this day and age, it would surely be inconceivable for the Red Devils to commit a managerial faux pas by offering the job to an “unfashionable” insider.
It poses the question of what is more important: The manager? Or the process of hiring one? Chelsea has repeatedly reminded us that a conspicuous appointment doesn’t necessarily guarantee instant success. And as Manchester United have to replace a man who has won 12 league titles; two European cups; five FA cups; four league cups; not to mention fathered generations of world class teams in his time at Old Trafford - the size of expectation that awaits the next in line is unprecedented. Let’s face it, the next United manager won’t still be in charge in 30 years, but this is a club who will not settle for anything less than the immediate success and long-term sustainability that his predecessor left behind. So, what would does it take to be the next Sir Alex Ferguson manager?
Manchester United is a club built on stability (and the occasional bit of Fergie time). Sir Alex was employed in 1986 and has since become the club’s longest serving manager. It may have eluded peoples’ attention that Ferguson struggled in his early years. His tenure began with an assortment of winless runs, humiliating defeats (including a 5-1 loss at Manchester City) and a relegation scrap. Supporters were calling for his head and it wasn’t until they beat Crystal Palace 1-0 in the 1990 FA Cup Final did the United boss eventually win his first major trophy.
Can you imagine “The Special One” lasting four years at United without any silverware to show for it? The club’s ability to build progressively is indispensable to their long term success. Fergie is part of United’s DNA and for the next man in charge to stand even a chance of emulating his achievements, it is crucial he is given the opportunity to instil his identity, his ethos and his philosophy on a gradual basis. Continuity is the key. This is not a place to introduce the culture of the disposable manager. Mourinho would probably achieve a lot in a very short space of time before pursuing another challenge. He’s a project manager. He wins, he leaves. He wins, he leaves. This wouldn’t suit Manchester United at all (nor would it win the approval of a certain Sir Bobby Charlton).
From Manager to Mentor
Nobody will ever replicate Sir Alex Ferguson’s accomplishments and I challenge anybody to prove me wrong. But if you’re going be the very best, you’ve got to learn from the very best. The next United manager will need to adopt Fergie’s man-management skills and autocratic leadership style to keep the club performing consistently at the same level. It’s all about personal preference, and yes, managers like to enforce their own method, but you can’t help thinking; if it isn’t broken, why fix it? These are the values United have sworn by for the last 26 years: is there really any need for a revolution? Roy Keane, Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes top an extensive list of ex-personnel that Ferguson has mentored in the past as they made the big jump into management and you can’t help think that by securing an “internship” under the United boss would be the best way to pass the baton on.
Expecting a manager from the outside to come in and learn exactly what it is that makes Manchester United the club they are is a pretty tough ask. So, why not hire from within? You have only got to look back through the years at the pedigree of Fergie’s right-hand men. Would McClaren or Queiroz now be at the helm if they hadn’t received better job offers? They had it all: the knowledge; the familiarity; the talent. They were exceptional coaches and knew exactly how to manage Manchester United (or would have done by the time Ferguson had finished with them). The club need someone who knows what it’s like to wear the badge, work in the United environment and be a member of a team that possesses that vital winning mentality. They can’t waste years waiting for the new kid on the block to adapt.
So when Mr Woodward revisits the list that has been hidden about as securely as one of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter drafts, he should perhaps consider crossing out the likes of Mourinho, Klopp and Moyes and start writing a new one with names like: Solskjaer; Bruce; Hughes and Robson. Let’s bring football back to its roots.