By IAN YEE
NOW that Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has finally retired, you really have to wonder how the chewing gum industry will fare without its biggest advocate. Hairdryer manufacturers, too, would probably be freaking out right about now.
But such is the measure of the man that his departure has actually caused quite a stir away from the beautiful game. For one, Manchester United’s share price on the New York Stock Exchange dropped as much as 4.5% in the immediate aftermath of the club’s announcement.
Twitterverse was so awash with tributes – from fans, rivals and barely-interested observers alike – that some poor Black Eyed Peas fans thought Fergie was leaving the band (Gasp! Shock horror!). Sorry for phunking with your hearts.
British Prime Minister David Cameron himself tweeted a tribute, saying that his beloved Aston Villa will now have life a little easier without the original Fergie (no offence to the Duchess of York, but she didn’t win 13 Premier League titles now, did she?) to dominate English football. Not exactly the most politically correct thing for a Prime Minister to say considering there was a new manager set to be installed, huh? Tsk tsk.
The truth is, Ferguson’s greatest achievement could yet be the manner of his departure. Not only has he left behind a football club in an imperious position at the top of English football (more on that and David Moyes later), but I believe he will also have inspired an entire generation of young people with his amazing work ethic.
They might think it old school, but hey, it friggin’ won the modern-day Premier League, with all its tweeting multi-millionaire superstar players, state-of-the-art facilities, fancy marketing machinery and 3D cameras.
Those who worked with him spoke of how he’d be in the office every day before 7am, even the day after he announced his retirement. My lovely grandma’s just a couple years older (in her mid-70s), but you won’t see her do anything apart from watching her TVB shows before noon!
For those who have grown up in the reality TV generation of instant fame and success, where everybody hopes to somehow cheat life and get ahead Mark Zuckerberg-style, Ferguson’s retirement can be a refreshing reminder of what good old fashioned hard work and integrity can get you. It got Ferguson, the former shipyard worker’s apprentice, true legendary status amongst a legion of fans around the world.
England manager Roy Hodgson said: “You only have to look at the help Sir Alex gives young managers in the game. You don’t expect that from someone at the very, very top of his profession, but he is always there for young managers to give advice.
“That is a part of the man that is overlooked. His footballing record is there for all to see, but his human qualities often get passed over amid all of his professional achievements.” Personally, I think that’s the true legacy of Sir Alex Ferguson. Some people have been going on and on about the number of titles he’s won, his match-winning percentage or Manchester United’s commercial growth; but it’s his incredible work ethic, and his commitment to doing things the right way and supporting others in his community that will truly resonate with those beyond the sport.
I’m sorry to disappoint the British Prime Minister, but Ferguson’s succession plans seem to be just his latest stroke of genius. His spirit and influence might linger on a while more to thwart Aston Villa (not that they’re a real threat. Pfft).
Ferguson had just recently overseen a £20mil (RM91mil) overhaul of United’s Trafford Training Centre, the training complex fondly known as Carrington, to secure the club’s ability to continue producing top quality youngsters. Against Swansea last week, United maintained their unrivalled record of having a home-grown player in their squad for the past 3,640 consecutive games.
In all his farewell speeches, he’s hit all the right notes. Addressing the Old Trafford crowd after the Swansea game, he asked the club’s supporters to back the new manager, David Moyes. Speaking at the post-match interview with Geoff Shreeves, he cleverly brought up United’s never-say-die attitude and their habit of scoring last-minute goals. At his trophy parade speech, he urged fans to turn up for United’s under-21s match against Liverpool the following day. He’s setting the right tone for the fans, making sure the right culture and attitude persists at the club.
Some fans I’ve spoken to have been distraught at Ferguson’s choice of Moyes as his successor, but I think it’s a brilliant move! United already have a successful culture that doesn’t need much tinkering. If they had chosen Jose Mourinho, he’d probably have wanted to bring in his own backroom staff, set-up his own scouting network, pick a new reserves coach or brand United “The Special Club”.
Moyes will ease in seamlessly, with a good understanding of English football and the family culture of the club; and he has the same fierce work ethic and appetite for success as Ferguson.
Rivals Manchester City seemed to have gone the complete opposite direction, with Chilean Manuel Pellegrini set to take over from the sacked Roberto Mancini.
Having a (supposedly) brilliant South American former Real Madrid manager seems infinitely more sexy than an untested Scotsman (Moyes), but all the good work Mancini has done will effectively be truncated, whereas at United it will be more or less business as usual. Of course, it remains to be seen which approach will work better, but I think the smart money is on United.
Off the pitch, out-going chief executive David Gill has successfully helped frame and push through financial fair play rules that, quite frankly, favour United. The rules will now focus on owner investment (targeting clubs with rich backers like Chelsea and Manchester City), rather than debt, of which United have a mountain. It is rather embarrassing to say this as a United fan, but the rules will put United in a stronger position in the transfer market compared to their rivals.
The on-going Wayne Rooney saga 2.0 appears to be the one loose end Ferguson has left behind, though one suspects he and the club know exactly what they’re doing. I for one believe they have already decided to let Rooney go. Ferguson has publicly brushed the transfer request aside just to maintain the order of things at the club.
By denying Rooney the satisfaction of having his demand for a transfer acceded to, Ferguson has effectively ensured that the player doesn’t make the club seem inferior. When Rooney does leave, it won’t appear to the public that it was because it suited the player – it will be because it suited the club.