Had English football not been so overall dormant this year, with Manchester United comfortably winning the Premier League title and none of the top four significantly impacting upon the Champions League, you’d argue that the succession of retirements at Old Trafford from players past and present was an attempt by the Red Devils to steal someone else’s thunder.
Perhaps that is a rather cynical view, considering the members of the now famous class of ’92 have reached, and arguably surpassed their natural age of expiration as footballers, but this season will mark the final chapters in the on-pitch careers of David Beckham and Paul Scholes, with the possibility of Phil Neville joining them, in addition to Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure in the United dugout.
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It will be the end of an illustrious era for one of Europe’s biggest footballing institutions, with Ferguson and his boys claiming 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups and two Champions League trophies. The Scot’s natural successor, his fellow countryman David Moyes, faces a tall order in terms of boots to fill, but will be desperately eager from the start of next season to continue the supply line of silverware to the Old Trafford trophy cabinet.
Although it will be titles upon which Moyes’ tenure is judged most, he will also be expected to continue the effective running of many other aspects of the club, most notably the scouting and development of youth players, in addition to the continuation of Manchester United as an institutional force in the world of football, as well as the world of commerce which accompanies it.
With the benefits of consistency and longevity always being the key at Old Trafford, and easily visible throughout the current season as United have stood firm whilst the other Premier League big boys have failed to maintain form, it begs the question as to whether the incoming United boss should keep the experience, knowledge and connection to the club provided by Paul Scholes and Phil Neville within the realms of Carrington, by making them part of his managerial staff and back room team.
The initial concern with former players moving into coaching, is whether or not they can transfer their abilities on the pitch into abilities in the dugout or on the training ground. Of course, technical attributes will have little bearing -unfortunately for Paul Scholes but rather luckily for Phil Neville- however, Moyes will be more interested in the two former United players bringing their ethos, determination, discipline and professionalism shown throughout their playing days to the practice pitches and backrooms at Carrington.
Both players have their respective backers to continue their football careers as coaches, with Moyes tipping the now former Everton captain to be a successful manager in the near future, whilst Ferguson already employed Scholes as a coach at Old Trafford during his first bout of retirement, and has often been linked with managerial vacancies at his favoured club Oldham throughout the twilight of his career.
Yet overall, the pair are clearly inexperienced when it comes to the world of management. Neville has accompanied his former boss at Goodison in the dugout on occasion towards the tail-end of the current campaign, leading to suggestions that he would become Moyes’ successor next season, but he is yet to undertake any official training ground responsibilities in any form, whilst Scholes has just a six month period of coaching at Carrington under his belt.
It’s a sharp contrast to the current berth of talents that make up Sir Alex Ferguson’s staff, Mike Phelan, Mick Phelan, Tony Strudwick, Rene Muelensteen, Eric Steele and Paul McGuiness for example, all of whom have a wealth of experience and took up roles with other clubs first, learning their trade the hard way rather than having the opportunity to work for one of Europe’s footballing superpowers handed to them following their retirement, in addition to many but not all attaining University degrees in their respective fields.
But then again, the potential hiring of Scholes and Neville would be no ordinary appointments; both were members of the class of ’92, the generation of academy talent that has gone on to underpin the vast majority of Sir Alex Ferguson’s successes, and have felt and witnessed more than anyone the benefits and integral nature of United’s youth system and the importance of an overall philosophy of determination to succeed.
Similarly, the former has made 718 appearances for the Red Devils, a feat only beaten by Bobby Charlton and Ryan Giggs, whilst the latter also turned out on 386 occasions for his boyhood club. Together, both have amassed a total of 125 international caps for England and have a collective total in terms of silverware of 17 Premier League titles, 6 FA Cups and 3 Champions League trophies. They not only carry with them the Ferguson mentality, but more importantly in terms of longevity, represent the English core that makes the Manchester United identity – an unquantifiable intrinsic value that is often regarded as being the key to long-term successes at Old Trafford.
On the other hand, with the key words regarding the transition between Ferguson’s and Moyes’ tenures being longevitiy, consistency and stability, there is something rather paradoxical about the notion of the former Toffees boss bringing in two new recruits to his coaching team. The potential appointments will come at the expense of some of the old heads, with Rene Muelensteen already considering stepping down, and the possibility that Moyes will ask Mike Phelan, currently the assistant at Old Trafford, to resign to make room for his own choice of right-hand man.
Losing these two influential figures will have a bigger effect in a negative sense in terms of the club’s legacy and continuation of progress behind the scenes in comparison to the effect Scholes and Neville could have in a positive sense. Furthermore, you feel that Moyes, who will surely go with a policy of evolution rather than revolution, would benefit more in terms of advice from the current Manchester staff, who’ve on the most part been at the club for a decade or longer, rather than two former players.
But as i’ve stated before, these are no regular former players. They live and breathe the ethos, philosophy and mentality of Manchester United as a football club, and the extension of their playing careers into their late 30’s is only further evidence of their level-headedness, undying professionalism and commitment to the game itself.
Both are media-shy and have constantly avoided the whirlwind of the glitz and glamour of late-night call girls and heavy drinking sessions that lands modern players in the front pages of tabloids and red tops more often than the back, and if only a small amount of their talent and mentality were to rub off on the next batch of exciting Red Devils’ academy products, it will not be long before another class of ’92 comes to dominate the Premier League and the England national team.
In essence, they are perfect role models in many ways, on and off the pitch, and for that reason alone, David Moyes should strongly consider making them a part of the club next season. The appointment of former players has worked in the past for Sir Alex Ferguson – Bryan Robson and Steve McLaren to name a few – and there’s no reason it can’t continue to be a prosperous venture under his successor.
Although the outgoing Everton gaffer will be intent on making the transition between himself and Ferguson as subtle as possible, it is undoubtedly a new era at Manchester United, and he should use the opportunity for change to bring some fresh blood into the management staff. They could well go on to succeed Moyes in the distant future, and further continue United’s longevity in cultural, philosophical, and historical terms, in addition to prolonging their successes on the pitch.
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