Dubai: Just how do you replace the irreplaceable?
That was the thorny question facing Manchester United after Sir Alex Ferguson on Wednesday announced his bombshell decision to retire as manager at the end of the season to become a club director and ambassador.
Former Manchester United midfielder Paul Ince summed up the intractable problem facing the Red Devils perfectly.
He said: “He’s done the lot, you will never see anyone of his kind again. Replacing Alex Ferguson is such a massive, massive job. Whoever goes in will need the help of Alex Ferguson. Whoever comes in, if it doesn’t go well, you’ve got Sir Alex Ferguson upstairs and it can put added pressure on you.”
Everton manager David Moyes and Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho and are the two clear favourites, with Ferguson having recently mentioned both men when discussing his potential successor.
Some British newspapers have claimed Moyes could even be named as Ferguson’s successor today.
Michael Owen said on Twitter: “What an act to follow. I guess only Mourinho would have the confidence to strut through the door. If it were me, I’d go for Moyes.”
Former United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel also believes that Moyes would be the best candidate to succeed Ferguson. He told Sky Sports News: “What we are looking for is, not someone to come in 10 months or three years, we want someone to come stay there and give stability. When we talk about Moyes, he has been a decade at Everton and done a fantastic job on limited funds.”
So, what of the credentials of the likely contenders to replace the Manchester United institution? Mourinho, who has been heavily linked with a return to Chelsea this summer, has won the domestic league title at every club he’s coached.
The Portuguese coach brings almost guaranteed success and has the proven strength of character and personality, like Ferguson, to prosper at arguably the world’s biggest club.
However, he also creates rancour and negative headlines, which are said to worry senior United officials, and some critics say his inherent defensive mentality does not fit in with the attacking traditions of Manchester United.
Yet can anyone call Mourinho’s Real Madrid a defensive team? Even during his time at Chelsea, when his tactics were often decried for being boring and erring on the side of caution, flying wingers such as Damien Duff and Arjen Robben were intrinsic to his successes.
However, it’s been widely reported that it’s a fait accompli that ‘The Special One’ will not be heading to Manchester and will instead make an emotional return to Stamford Bridge, a move expected to be confirmed after the Europa League final later this month.
Meanwhile, Moyes, a fiery Scot in the Ferguson mould, has shown loyalty and staying power at Everton, which might curry favour with the Old Trafford hierarchy given Ferguson’s creation of such a strong and stable ship. He’s also blessed with a forceful personality and fierce will to win like his fellow Glaswegian.
A major question against Moyes’ name, though, is that he’s never managed an established European side.
Overseas, if United want an experienced winner in the vein of Ferguson, they could look no further than Bayern Munich’s Jupp Heynckes. The former Germany international is on the brink of winning a historic treble, having already won the Bundesliga title and after leading his team to the German Cup and Champions League finals.
Heynckes’ fellow German Jurgen Klopp, whose Borussia Dortmund side will face Bayern in the Champions League final at Wembley later this month, will also have his supporters.
A number of Ferguson’s former and current Manchester United players, including Ryan Giggs, made the bookmakers’ lists. But for United fans, the precedent for Ferguson’s decision to maintain an Old Trafford role is not encouraging.
When Ferguson’s fellow Scottish managerial great Matt Busby, who took United to their first European Cup title in 1968, retired he remained as ‘general manager’ only for both Wilf McGuinness and Frank O’Farrell to come and go before the club were dramatically relegated to English football’s second tier in 1974.
— With Inputs from Agencies