Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Fergie: Who can replace the irreplaceable?

The on and off romance Sir Alex Ferguson has with the concept of retirement, most likely brought about by Mrs Ferguson’s concern’s for her husband’s health, has once again fueled media speculation about who could/may/should inherit the world’s strongest squad and the world’s highest expectations. The big names like Mourinho and Capello have been bandied around, but a more rigorous and thorough examination of credentials, experience and ability needs to be done before any appointments can be made.

To start the process, all contenders have been placed in three distinct groups; Ex-United players, Ex-United Assistants, and Others. Group 1 contains: Steve Bruce(48), Mark Hughes(45), Laurent Blanc(43), Gordon Strachan(52), Roy Keane(37), Paul Ince(41), Eric Cantona(42), Mike Phelan(46) and the younger ones who are completing/ or have completed their coaching badges, Giggs(35), G. Neville(34) and Solskjaer(36). Group 2 contains: Steve McLaren (47), Walter Smith (61), Carlos Queiroz (46), Brian Kidd (59) and Archie Knox (61). Group 3 contains: Jose Mourinho (46), Fabio Capello (62), David Moyes (45), Martin O’Neill (57), Frank Rijkard (46), Martin Jol (53), Bernd Schuster (49) and Guus Hiddink (62).

Taking over the most high-profile team, with the world’s largest supporter base carries with it great responsibility and expectation. To succeed in the position, the man in the hot-seat would need to be driven to succeed, a good manager of footballers’ and their egos, the ability to rotate the squad without harming the teams’ ability to win, a good motivator, tactically knowledgeable, with the ability to respond to situations during a game and at half-time (taking players off if they are not playing well and changing the game by introducing effective replacements), the ability to ensure the team peaks at the right time during a season and is able to string wins together at the sharp end of the season.

The chosen candidate must be hard working, a good communicator (preferably able to speak several languages) and also a good judge of young talent, both local and internationally. An ideal candidate would have some European exposure, either in the UEFA Cup or Champions League, must have a healthy ego, self-respect and the ability to speak to and with the media without being the subject of news (too often). He must take pride in his team, be loyal to the United Spirit and play “the United way”. Last but not least, he must be able to manage expectations, fulfill season goals and be gracious both in victory and defeat.

The standard set by Sir Alex’s on-field success is impressive, but grows formidably larger when the skills shown by him off-field are analyzed from a distance. None of the younger generation of ex-united players have enough experience to take over the top job, which rules out Giggs, Neville, Solskjaer, Ince and Keane.

Steve McLaren and Carlos Queiroz both have questionable records managing senior domestic sides, though Queiroz had a decent record at Real and although they didn’t win anything in his single season, he had a win percentage of 59.32%. Both men are more suited to assisting managers, as they are both technically very sound and innovative.

Age would appear to rule out Fabio Capello, Guus Hiddink, Walter Smith, Archie Knox and Brian Kidd, although Capello or Hiddink may be a good choice if the club looks to hire a manager for a short stint of say 2-3 years.

Thus the whole of Group 2 have been eliminated, and Group 1 only has Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes and the dark horses Gordon Strachan and Laurent Blanc remaining in contention, as Eric Cantona has never expressed any interest in a career in management, though he would be a popular choice with the fans.

Appreciation for “The United Way”, the style, flair and attacking minded football the team plays immediately rules out Jose Mourinho. Perhaps just as importantly, Mourinho also lacks the required loyalty and longevity, seeing clubs as projects, moving on to a different challenge every few years, hoping to tick off all the major awards in his search for world domination( ‘England, Italy & Spain’ he said.)

Martin O’Neill and Martin Jol have always set about playing attractive football, to various levels of success at their past and current clubs, while Bernd Schuster has been credited with bringing stylish football back to the Bernabeu, winning La Liga with three games to spare in the process.

Frank Rijkard oversaw one of the most successful periods of Barcelona dominance, winning the league twice and clinching the 2006 Champions League title, though things started to unravel at the Nou Camp, as he was unable to keep the side disciplined and was consequently let go once things turned for the worse ( Real went on to win the league, right from under Barca’s nose). Both could be effective at Manchester United, although one wonders what sort of reception they might receive having managed United’s fiercest of European rivals in the recent past, added to which Rijkard is being hotly tipped to takeover from Hiddink at Chelsea.

Of the rest, Moyes and Bruce have done extremely well, given the financial limitations placed upon them by their respective clubs, Everton and Wigan. Both managers believe in trying to play attractive football when they can, player availability and opposition strength permitting, and can knuckle down and fight for survival when required (which I believe is harder than fighting to win trophies, as if come second in the league, you still make Europe, but if you lose the relegation battle and come 18th, you lose your place in the top league, you lose players and you lose one hell of a lot of money)

Sparky will be hard to reclaim, (once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate you destiny) as I do not see the oil Sheiks letting such a good manager go, especially one who is striving hard to meet all expectations.

I think the short-list of contenders could well boil down to Bruce, Jol, Schuster, Strachan and Moyes, because Rijkard has really only ever managed at the top and so he hasn’t had to deal with smaller clubs, which I think is crucial when managing a big club well. I believe that all managers need to be time-served having started their apprenticeship at the lower levels before working their way up to the top-tier clubs.

O’Neill misses out because he’ll be bordering on 60 when SAF calls time, and unless Randy Lerner can help him expand the squad to sustain the challenge into the top four and Europe, 08/09 could well turn out to be a flash in the pan for Villa, because I predict that Gareth Barry, Ashley Young and Agbonlahor will move on to bigger clubs.

Laurent Blanc, may be considered in a few years if he converts promising seasons to titles in France and gains more experience, possibly in England/Italy or Spain, though I like what he has developed at Bordeaux; remember SAF didn’t have any “big club” experience before getting the United job. The managerial statistics of the shortlisted candidates are on the end of this post, and fans must take into account the relative squad strengths and financial clout of the clubs compared to those in the same league at the time.

Schuster did very well in his second season at Getafe, although his win record shows otherwise, and surprised La Liga by coming 7th, and beating Barca 4-0 to get into the Copa del Rey final and booking a spot in the UEFA Cup. The German brought back style and flair to Real, but then got caught up in the politics of the club and was eventually forced out when events took a downturn.

Moyes worked his Preston side from mid-table League Two into table toppers (1999) and champions in 2000, and then almost secured a dream double promotion into the Premier League. Moved onto an Everton side that was, simply put, inconsistent, and managed avoid relegation. He has managed to stave-off the threat of relegation several times, bought some real gems to the club (Cahill, Arteta) and sold United Rooney (for which United will be eternally grateful). He’s also been awarded the LMA Manger of the Year, in the season Everton came 4th.

Strachan has led three Celtic sides to the SPL title; restructuring the team as required and refreshing the squad as players have come and gone. Has won the Scottish Cup and League Cup, and the manager of the year award twice, in the three full season’s he’s been there.

Steve Bruce has shown great character and determination to become successful at the many jobs he’s taken. Making the most of limited resources and talent, he’s built a reputation of no nonsense football, rebuilding Birmingham and gaining promotion into the Premier League. He would work wonders with a talented squad. Main advantage; he knows what it’s like playing for United, what’s required and what’s deemed adequate. Comes with the loyalty inbred.

Martin Jol is a strict disciplinarian, with a great work ethic, gets his players to play great, attractive football, and if given more time, would’ve built a great side out of Tottenham. Jol brought Berbatov to English soil and gave him vital match-exposure, preparing him for an assault on the league title with Keane, Bent and Defoe, only to see it pulled out from under him and his squad dismantled by a bunch of lunatics. Would do well with a board that listened to his plans and understood the requirements of a long term strategy.

Any of the aforementioned short-listed candidates would gain my support.

Vishnu Chari

The candidates managerial statistics...


  1. How can you rule out Mourinho? I recall when Fergie replaced Ron Atkinson, there was similar concern that the dour scot would replace the free-flowing attacking style of Ron Atkinson's United. And in the first few years he did just that, bringing in journeymen players like Mike Phelan, Danny Wallace and Brian Mclair. The football was terrible, it almost got him the sack, and only after Cantona arrived and Giggs developed did we see the sort of football that we know today. I would bet Mourinho would do just as well with the current crop of players. He would also command the respect of the big name players in a way that Martin Jol and others simply cannot. And that matters a lot in this day and age. The only question I have with Mourinho is his signings at Chelsea. Most of their flair players were signed by Rainieri before he was sacked. Only Essien stands out as a good Mourinho signing.

    Other than Mourinho, the only other serious candidate is Martin O'Neill, who unlike Mourinho has done very well in the transfer market and fashioned an attacking team in the same mold as United, if not as good. Unfortunately, I do not think O'Neill would command the dressing room in the same way Mourinho would.

    The dark horse for me is David Moyes. Here is a carbon-copy of Fergie from his Aberdeen days, but without the trophies. The guy has done great at Everton - remember what a shambles they were before he took over. He has done some great business in the transfer market (2 million for Cahill from Millwall is one example), developed a lot of talent in-house, and seems to have the respect of his players given the way Everton play for each other every week. At another club with more ambition, he just might have one the league by now. He could be the one.

  2. As Vishnu stated in his article Mourinho is something of a football gypsie, he pitches up for a while, usually doing extremely well, but there's always the feeling that he's not going to be around for the long haul.

    There are also doubts about his football style. Ref your comparision; Fergie was a winner, Atkinson was just a showman without the trophies.

  3. I don't know if Hughes is really stable at City, you never know with these crazy-rich, possibly crazy billionaires. I mean, the amount of managers changed every summer is pretty shocking, and also during the season.

    Leave Robinho to throw a fit, his team to miss out on 5-6 points beginning next season, and Hughes might wll be out of a job (but better off by a few hundred thousand , as in severance pay).

    Still, David Moyes might be a great candidate, but it would be a travesty to Everton that he would leave without major honours. Didn't stop us with Rooney though.

    I don't know that much about Jol, although I wouldn't be too displeased with Quieroz, given his knowledge of the United system. It would be a difficult job to follow up, but United should take the requisite risks, as they did with Ferguson.


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