Bracing Up for Man United without Fergie

18 May 2013

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Alex Ferguson when he joined United in 1986 

By Tunde Sulaiman

This article should have actually been more appropriate if it had been penned last week – the week that Sir Alexander Chapman "Alex" Ferguson dropped a bombshell: he would be leaving Manchester United after 26 years at the end of the season!

In fact I received numerous phone calls and text messages the day the news broke last Wednesday from those who knew I was a die-heard “Red Devil” wanting to know my reaction (although some did gloat predicting the end of United).

The trend also continued over the weekend when not even a line of the seismic shock news of the week was mentioned in my column.

However, I must confess now that the topic that dominated the news headlines around the world completely caught me off guard; so much so that I knew I would not be in the right frame of mind to write anything coherently on the man that transformed the Red Devils into one of the dominant forces in world football.

Ironically, this was never to be expected when he took over in November 1986. Then United was a team struggling at the wrong end of the table and had not tasted league glory in over two and a half decades!

And for some of us, whom had grown up casting envious glances at our rivals about 46 minutes drive to the west (it was Liverpool that was reigning then not our “Noisy neighbours”) Fergie appeared to be another manager who was destined to be unsuccessful in his effort to break the circle when he failed to win anything in his first four seasons until the FA Cup in 1990.

I had a friend, Segun Omokeji, who was a die-hard Reds fan and he could not get enough meddling me over our repeated failed attempts to join the “big boys” by ending our long trophy draught.

Then there was no 24-hour satellite television’s saturation coverage of football and no internet; and so we had to rely on football magazines, Match and Shoot (if we were lucky they would only be a few weeks old more often they were a month old) to keep abreast of the fortunes of our favourite teams in the UK.

Both magazines would announce the arrival of another “saviour” arriving at the Theatre of Dreams only for the player to turn out to be a flash in the pan with Liverpool, Everton and others regularly challenging for the old Division One title, while United often struggled at the wrong end of the table.

However, after four seasons in charge, the man from Scotland appeared to no nearer to solving the problem and according to reports was on his way out of Old Trafford until Lee Martin scored the winner in FA Cup final replay against Crystal Palace – to secure the first silverware of Ferguson's reign in May 1990.

Of course, it was not the league title but at least we did finally have something to celebrate since the arrival of the Scotsman.

The following season, the man who had guided Aberdeen to European glory in 1983, finally ended United’s long wait for continental glory when they beat Barcelona 2-1 in the final of the now rested European Cup Winners Cup. Again with no satellite television I was opportune to watch the game (albeit a few weeks later) on video courtesy of a friend who brought the tape from England.

But despite these successes the man, who when he was appointed promised to knock Liverpool of her perch as the most successful team in Britain (they had won 18 titles), was no where near fulfilling his boast.

However, final piece of the jigsaw was Fergie’s shrewd acquisition of the man who had helped Leeds United (anyone still remember them?) win the last Division One title in 1991, Eric Cantona and the subsequent arrival of the Premier League the following year.

The Frenchman blamed by many of his countrymen for costing Les Blues a trip to the 1994 World Cup finals in the US, but dubbed “Le God” by many United fans was the catalyst that ignited the Red Devils climb to the top of the league and her amazing ability to remain there.

Please note this, in the 21-year-old history of the English Premier League, Ferguson’s United has never finished below third and has won the trophy 13 times.

However, while for many, success has become a way of life at United, the million-naira question now is will Everton manager, David Moyes be able to keep the flag flying?

I don’t envy Ferguson’s fellow Scotsman, because despite the many positive things being said about the ability of the 50-year-old Bearsden native to do well at Old Trafford, no one can really be sure until the football season resumes.

I’m not too worried about whether United will be able to compete well next season, because Fergie has wisely left a young but very experienced team in place for the new manager, which should be able to still hold its own, my worry is when it comes to adding new faces to the squad.

Sir Alex had been generally credited with building four distinct teams during his trophy-laden reign and that will be the major challenge for Moyes.

Many will quickly forget that even the great man himself did bring duds to the Theatre of Dreams, players like Bebe, Manucho and Djemba Djemba to mention but a few, but because it was Sir Alex he got away with it. Moyes will definitely not be so lucky and questions will immediately be asked questioning his ability!

However, like Fergie pleaded, United fans should rally round Moyes but anyway which way we look at it after almost 26 years of almost non stop success, playing second (or even mid-table) fiddle will be a very difficult pill to swallow.

And so I and millions of other United fans around the world can only hope for the best; while also preparing for the worst as we get set for life after Fergie as the curtains finally fall on his reign and the 2012/13 English football season Sunday.

Tags: Sports, Nigeria, MAN UNITED, Fergie, Retirement

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