Since the game against Charlton (when Ruud was told to fk off), I’ve been in two minds about Sir Alex Ferguson. On one hand, he is the best manager (judging his record, at least) that Manchester United have ever seen.
On the other hand, every man and club need a fresh start, and Manchester United seem to need it more than most.
Criticising your manager irrationally is not acceptable, but neither is defending him without reason. So let’s look at Manchester United’s performance in the last 3 years along with Ferguson’s record and see if we can predict whether he can still deliver the goods (i.e. Premiership and/or Champions League).
If you look at Ferguson’s record in the transfer market in the last three years, you’ll notice that he has bought quite well – van der Sar, Heinze, Rooney, Saha, Ronaldo, Carrick, Smith, Vidic. Of the players that failed to impress, Evra still has more time, Howard had a great season, Kleberson (IMO) had no place in the team although he was a good player and Park will only improve this season.
Only Djemba-Djemba and David bellion can be counted as true disasters. Both of them bought in the summer of 2003, when Ferguson made a big, big mistake – selling David Beckham.
No matter what you say about Beckham today, three things cannot be disputed:
- Manchester United sold David Beckham because Alex Ferguson had problems with him.
- David Beckham was in excellent form towards the end of the 2002-2003 season, and would have continued that form for United had he stayed.
- David Beckham (who is earning Madrid 25 mil per season) could have allowed Manchester United (thanks to his sponsorship deals) to buy a big (Ronaldinho, Gattuso, Essien big) player every year – just from the merchandise revenue his presence would have generated.
Ronaldo was an able replacement, but Ronaldo’s presence reduced the threat from crosses that had made Manchester United so effective on the attack.
The second mistake Ferguson has made was not buying a central midfielder in the last 3 years. In 2004 we went for Saha, Smith, Rooney and Heinze – a combined outlay of over 50 million pounds. That period of massive spending meant that United didn’t have the money to spend in 2005 summer (where we again failed to bring in a midfielder and instead chose to sell Phil Neville after selling Butt the year before).
Ferguson had another chance in January to bring in a central midfielder, although bringing in a quality player for 5 mil (the price he paid for Evra) would have been difficult. We’re buying players now, with Carrick at 18.6 mil and Hargreaves / Senna coming in as well. But the price we’ve paid for not controlling the game from the midfield in the last 2 years (thanks to Keano’s decline) has been failure in the Champions League and agonizingly falling short of Chelsea last year.
Overall, Ferguson’s signings would be considered a success. He has brought in a host of young and experienced players who will serve United well for the next 5-10 years. However, the two blots on his book – selling Beckham and failing to sign a central midfielder – plus a couple of bad buys (Veron and Forlan in my opinion just didnt fit in, although they were good players) have painted a bad impression of him.
Ferguson has done well, but perhaps not as well as expected of him.
As A Manager
Some would have you believe that Sir Alex Ferguson has failed as a manager. While I’m not so quick to jump on, there are clear indications that recent Manchester United sides are lacking in one key ingredient – motivation.
While United can be counted upon to turn out long winning streaks, we are liable to unexplicable lapses of effort, drawing and losing to teams we should be thumping 4-0. At times it is almost as if the players are not motivated at all – I doubt that is actually the case, but body language says a lot and at the end of the day, it comes down to the manager to properly motivate his players.
Manchester United players don’t look as motivated to me as they did before. Maybe this year will change, because I saw a clear change in the attitude of players after Keano was sacked, and towards the end of last season and in pre-season we’ve been good as well, despite the rare lapses.
Ultimately, the manager and the players are judged on results, and recent results have not been encouraging.
To put things in perspective though – 2 third-place finishes and a second-place finish in the Premiership is not something to laugh at. Chelsea have been 2-1-1, while Arsenal 1-2-4. However, while we are still confident of finishing above Arsenal this season, it is the failures in Europe and the inability to win a Premiership for three years (after 8 in 11 attempts) that will bother most supporters.
It would be unfair to say that Ferguson should be sacked because Manchester United fail to win the Premiership, but for the manager to stay, the following must happen:
- Manchester United must be in the top three come May 2007. 4th place simply won’t do, and even 2nd and 3rd place would be a bitter pill to swallow.
- Manchester United must reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Once again, anything less would be unacceptable.
Domestic cups won’t cut it. And if Ferguson fails to achieve these two targets this season, it could be bye-bye for the manager (as well as a few of the senior players).
The question is – who will replace him?
Before Capello moved to Madrid and Martin O’Neill moved to Aston Villa, we had always sat comfortably in the knowledge that at least these two could be approached (O’Neill being much more likely than Capello, to be honest). However, with O’Neill installed at Aston Villa, I don’t see any reasonable alternatives.
If any one of Capello, O’Neill or Mourinho (most hated manager at the most hated club, not bad eh?) are next in line, I’d be a happy man. This is wishful thinking though…
Alex Ferguson has been at Manchester United for 20 years. It is almost impossible to imagine United without him. But that switch must happen some day, and it should happen while United still has a core of players capable of winning titles.
Wait till 2008. Let the old players be phased out and young players brought in under Ferguson – after all, he’s a master at doing exactly that. But Ferguson eventually has to go.
What do you think? Who should replace Alex Ferguson, when he eventually leaves Manchester United?
Manchester United season preview.
This article is Part 5 of our 6-part Manchester United 2006/2007 season preview coverage at Soccerlens.