Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has once again broached the somewhat thorny issue of when he plans to finally step down from his position in charge of the club by revealing that he plans to become a director at Old Trafford, but would this simply create a power vaccum and leave his successor little chance of success with such a commanding figure of authority just down the hall?
Having been manager of the club for 27 years and led United to 12 league titles, 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups and 2 Champions League triumphs, what is clear is that whoever replaces Ferguson at the helm of this European juggernaut is tantamount on a hiding to nothing. It’s not only his success, though, that makes this pretty much an impossible act to follow, but his presence and both are intertwined so closely that unless Ferguson is gone for good, he will continue to loom large over the next man in the dugout.
In an interview with twentyfour7magazine, Ferguson said: “There’s no getting rid of me. I will probably become a director. Nobody knows. Neither do I. It won’t be a doctor that tells me to quit. That’s a long time away (being a director at the club), I hope.
“The role Bobby Charlton has played at the club has been fantastic. He has been a tremendous support to the manager and a lot of the players. I think Bayern Munich is the perfect model. It’s no problem having a replica of that for this club who have had so many great players over the years and who are now ambassadors now like Andy Cole, Bryan Robson, Peter Schmeichel. There are quite a few of them here now and that’s a role we should be using as well.”
By referring to Bayern Munich, Ferguson is obviously pointing to the fact that club legends Uli Hoeneß is chairman and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is the chairman of the executive board in what represents a complex and bureaucratic system which has helped ensure the club has become one of the best run and financially sound in the entire world. As models go, Bayern isn’t a bad one to reach for, but when it comes to Ferguson taking up a similar position at United, it just looks not only impractical but overbearing.
The aforementioned figures at Bayern were certainly legends at the club as players which has facilitated, like Franz Beckenbauer before them, a voice in the running of the club, but that is not to say that it is an environment without conflict, and various managers over the years have found the inner wranglings and behind closed doors power struggles impossible to work with. Could Ferguson really promise to stay out of all team affairs if he saw something that he didn’t like? A club with two masters would only serve to create and cause confusion when they should be speaking, listening and leading with one voice.
Ferguson is not just any other figure to Manchester United, he is the man who has transformed them from a sleeping giant into a world powerhouse and the richest club in the world just ahead of Real Madrid. The reason Charlton, like Hoeneß and Rummenigge found it easier was that they were never closely linked to team affairs after they retired and it’s a completely different kettle of fish because their opinions on certain matters concerning the team wouldn’t be sought with quite the same vigour or have been lent quite the same measure of weight.
It’s extremely likely that Ferguson will be heavily involved in picking his successor, with David Moyes, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola the favourites for various reasons, but every principle they come to encompass between them the 71-year-old Scot possesses. He’s able to hold the club together and its various strands, from youth-team development (an area of weakness for Mourinho), to European experience (an area of weakness for Moyes) to battling in an environment unfamiliar to your methods and having to change styles to suit the players at your disposal (a Guardiola weakness soon to be tested at Bayern).
Much like Liverpool had to eventually ban Bill Shankly from the training ground for frequently turning up and talking to the players after he stood down as the club’s manager only to discover he missed the job too much and took the leap too early, Ferguson’s presence could destabilise the new era that comes in after he’s finished. Dario Gradi tried and failed numerous times to step up to board level at Crewe only to be roped back into management when a new boss failed and you can see something very similar happening at United.
Nobody is telling Ferguson to retire right now, or even next season, because as he steers his side to yet another record-breaking league title, he clearly has something to offer and will continue to do so for a few more years yet, but when it comes to him taking a senior role within the administration of the club after he retires, unless it is merely a hand-holding exercise and a ceremonial post, unlike the ones at Bayern he mentions, then it could have a toxic effect on his legacy with visions of a man who simply didn’t know when to move on, let go and call it a day.