Time Lord Ferguson should’ve had less say in his Manchester United regeneration

It may well have occurred to him before, in fact it almost certainly had, but this Christmas is when it will have really hit home. That was when it became real.

Perhaps he looked in the mirror as people often do, in films. Those big, bulging eyes, like two Cyclopes’ joined at the nose, or the good side of Marty Feldman in a symmetry mirror, staring back at him, terror etched across his eroding Scottishy face. “Am I cut out for this?” He may have asked himself. “Is this too much? The global appeal, the obsessive fans, the omnipresent weight of impossible continuity?” Everyone loves you when you’re the big fish in the medium sized pond, but this is the f***ing sea!

Still, I think Peter Capaldi will make an excellent Doctor Who. Precisely for the reason that wobbly little niche show has endured as a national institution for half a century; Change. A reason another famous sweary Scottish lord of time would’ve been wise to heed before he regenerated into a lither, less successful version of himself.

The post-Ferguson propaganda out of Old Trafford made a great deal of his successor being “cut from the same cloth.” After everyone had gotten over the joke about this cloth being tartan, the general assumption was that David Moyes was chosen for his other similar Fergusonian traits; Old school integrity, repeated team building and club management, youth advancement, scary face etc. He also happened to play a similar style to recent Ferguson sides, with an emphasis on wing play and overlapping fullbacks. All these compatibility issues were trumpeted as a positive. The king is dead, long live the clone.

Only this seemed to rely on two fairly large assumptions. The first was that United the team didn’t need any real change. They’d won the league after all, a manager cut from the same cloth need only keep the quilt clean, while taking his time to replace the dirty bits (I’m aware this cloth metaphor is getting away from me a bit.)

This was problem one.

If one criticism could be leveled at Ferguson’s final United teams, it was that they seemed oddly incongruous among the modern elites. While the rest of the world moved feverishly towards the in vogue possession based human Subbuteo format, United stuck rigidly to their fast breaking wing centric one, augmented, but not disconnected from the basic 4-4-2. As all their rivals clamored to collect diminutive Spanish players like creative midfield Pokemons, United kept buying wingers and strikers. The Robin van Persie 2012/13 cheat code only served to disguise the fact United were a bit behind the times.

They were still far from poor, and certainly far from mid-table, but what kept them right at the top was Ferguson. A truly remarkable manager. Possibly the greatest ever. Yet perhaps his one fault was not accurately identifying why. For all of his wizened, wizardly knowledge, the Govan Gandalf himself seemed to place less emphasis for his success on his fantastical footballing know-how and more on his romanticised old school personality traits.

This was problem two.

In much the same way English pundits and commentators describe Andy Carroll entirely in descriptive nouns that have nothing to do with sport (nuisance, presence, handful) the section of Fergie’s autobiography dedicated to David Moyes and his succession is tellingly lacking in any kind of football-themed reasoning or praise. The Mourinho chapter (for yes, he gets a whole chapter) is gushing with this sort of stuff, yet the largest section on Moyes affords him merely damning faint praise for the overwhelming Scotishness of his Scottishness.

“A lot of Scots have a dourness about them: a strong will. When they leave Scotland it tends to be for one reason only. To be successful. Scots don’t leave to escape the past. They move away to better themselves. You see it all over the world, in America and Canada especially. Leaving the homeland creates a certain resolution. It’s not a mask; it’s a determination to get things done. The Scottish dourness others talk about sometimes applied to me as well.

The Scotsman abroad doesn’t lack humour. David Moyes is not short of wit. In their jobs, though, the Scots are serious about their labours, an invaluable quality. People often said to me, ‘I never see you smile during a game.’ I would reply, ‘I’m not there to smile, I’m there to win the match.’

David had some of these traits. I knew his family background. His father was a coach at Drumchapel, where I played as a lad. David Moyes senior. They have a good family feel about them. I’m not saying that’s a reason to hire someone but you like to see good foundations in someone appointed to such high office. I left Drumchapel in 1957 when David senior would have been a young boy, so there was no direct crossover, but I knew their story.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

Perhaps the reason Moyes is skulking around Old Trafford like a chemically castrated Malcolm Tucker is because he’s failing to get the same performances out of the same players in the same system with his good family values and supremely Scottishy Scottishness alone. And why would he? Fergie was a one-off. Trying to replicate him in Moyes is as futile as trying to grow Mike Phelan from an egg. Only much less amusing to try.

With every defeat the shadow of Ferguson looms larger over the dugout, the ghost of Christmas past, present and future all rolled into one. No one could eclipse that shadow. No one could weave a tapestry as rich and evocative as his, let alone out of the same cloth (back of the net!) and attempting to do so will only illuminate the discrepancies.

“I’ve said it many times: The bus is leaving. If you’re not on the bus you’re left behind, and that applies to the manager as well. You must have the humility to do that and not think the world should never change because you’re stuck with your ideas and philosophies.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

Perhaps the wise old master should’ve taken his own advice when regenerating, and borrowed a phrase from another long running British institution;

“And now for something completely different”


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