Last December, my family and I had the opportunity to travel to the UK and my brother and I made sure we experienced Old Trafford while we were in England before we spent New Years in Scotland. An always-up-for-a-battle West Brom travelled to an icy Manchester to clash with United – a squad sitting pretty at the top of the league table. We were sitting high in the Sir Alex Ferguson stand, crowding around shouting, chuckling, cursing locals who hunched, chanted and drank like they had sat there week in and week out. This was special. For my family and I, Old Trafford never seemed a plausible destination – for many still, it’s a bucket list item that might never be ticked off. And all while the Reds came out and lined up for the courtesy handshake, I tried to spot Sir Alex on his cushioned throne across the field. Looking through my zoomed camera, I made out a figure huddled in a winter’s coat and I imagined him chewing aggressively, his cheeks pink from the winter breeze all while carrying an intensity and desire to win. While we obviously wanted to spot the players we always admired – Rooney, Van Persie, Vidic, Ferdinand, Giggs and the like, the real figure who we’d remember was a blurred through-the-lens look at one of the greatest football managers the world has seen. It felt otherworldly to be in Ferguson’s arena – a fort so feared in European football. Why? Because Ferguson’s winning mentality manufactured it so. Nobody figured Ferguson would take United anywhere and everybody raised an eyebrow when the man vowed to knock Liverpool off their perch. No one can laugh now. He kept his promises and built a world-class club that will hopefully safeguard the mentality and traditions it has always followed.
Fast forward five months after my Old Trafford visit and Sir Alex has shocked the world with the announcement of his retirement. And while the rumours were flowing across social media platforms, I never felt that it was Sir Alex’s time to go. It seemed rushed. It seemed like there was a behind-the-scenes reason. As a United fan, seeing Sir Alex hang up his coat is something that will never be forgotten. There’s an inevitable sense of panic a first: what will United be without him? In every sense, he was United for me. I was born in the Ferguson era and most fans were and have never known a United without Ferguson taking the reigns in his trusty hands. But like Life often does, eras end, masterpieces fade and new expectations need to be realised. Yesterday, Everton boss David Moyes was appointed as Manchester United’s new manager. The decision is met with excitement and trepidation from fans. While Moyes has carried Everton to new heights over his 10-year reign at the club, it will be a tough ask for a manager whose CV might not stand with the greatest managers in club football at the moment. While Mourinho remained a favourite, too, maybe he didn’t fit the United bill. In Mourinho, United may have flourished, sure, but his brash, over-powering personality might have been a short-term solution to the gaping hole Ferguson now leaves at the club. His mighty reign would have that flaw unfortunately – that no one can really replace him. In Moyes, United have a man with that winning mentality and a man who was handpicked by Ferguson as his successor. And who can argue with Sir Alex? Moyes now has the funds to build a new United and he can now utilise his own plans around United’s bustling youth system and stars. He has six years to re-build and design a Moyes future and with Ferguson still playing a major role behind the scenes, Moyes is still available to learn from the greatest and has the temperament and hard-working characteristics to fit in. But the appointment is for another day.
Sir Alex’s reign will not be seen again. There has never been a figure that is so centered around respect and fear in the football world. Ferguson, even at the age of 71, celebrated each goal and victory as he did in the beginning of his reign. The fire was always there and when United were at a low, he had the overpowering confidence to turn it around. In a modern game where managers are swapped and changed frantically every few months, Ferguson was always there. A steady go-to. A loyal leader who brought in youngsters and made them stars. In his 27 years at United, he won 38 trophies – most recently reclaiming his 13th league title which he’ll get to hold on Sunday. The man is a once-in-a-lifetime and never again. And while I and other United fans hope for a turnaround and that the club holds on to their passion, there will be a slow and steady grasp for the confidence under Ferguson. For other league opponents who also hold respect for Sir Alex, they can breathe a little easier.
Thank You Sir Alex. You have given me some of the greatest memories at United.