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Sir Alex Ferguson’s Legacy Falling Apart At The Seams

It was sheer boredom which allowed me to stumble across Rob Smyth’s damning report of Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United which was written last summer. Twenty days before United opened the 2006/2007 season with the memorable 5-1 battering of Fulham, United had been written off. Our decline was evident, according to the likes of Smyth and pretty much every other sports writer, with the second place finish and Carling Cup being as good as it could get for us. Of course Jose Mourinho would lead Chelsea to their third title in a row, whilst Arsenal, Liverpool and even Spurs would be too much for United.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and of course it is easy to gloat once your team have proved themselves victorious. However, I never quite bought in to the “United in decline” stories which were printed over the two seasons preceding our 2007 title. I did consider that maybe I was going mad, that my bias was allowing me to see things which weren’t really there though. Looking at our first XI of Van der Sar – Neville – Ferdinand – Vidic – Heinze (before Evra emerged as the top quality left back we know him as) – Giggs – Scholes – Carrick – Ronaldo – Rooney – Saha, I couldn’t quite believe we would do as badly as the press told us we would. Maybe winning the title was out of the question, but a fifth place finish? Surely not.

Whether you too believed we were dead and buried, or if you always had faith Fergie would come up with the goods again, I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading this article from The Guardian, dated May 31st 2006.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s brilliance famously knocked Liverpool off their perch. Now his incompetence is doing the same to Manchester United.

It was John Cleese, in Clockwise, who said: “I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.” Manchester United fans would beg to differ. Usually, the best thing about pre-season is the hope: reality’s incisors have yet to pierce the gums of optimism, and fans can live off the balmy, often barmy belief that this is their year. For supporters of most of the other 91 English clubs, that’s the mood right now. For United fans? Forget it. After three seasons of papering over the cracks, it seems most United fans are awaiting the moment that the fault lines tracing a veiny path across Old Trafford are exposed.

Almost everything about the club reeks of disarray. Owned by the Glazers, who push buttons from a remote hideaway like Dr Evil; run by a manager who shreds his legacy at every turn; almost exclusively represented by the inadequate (Darren Fletcher and Kieran Richardson) and the odious (Rio Ferdinand); unable to close a deal for The Shit’s reserve keeper, never mind the new Roy Keane. The signing of Michael Carrick, a Pirlo when a Gattuso was needed, is a band aid for a bullet wound, and a ludicrously expensive one at that.

If anything, it’s a surprise that United have bought anyone at all. This summer, they have been like a pathetic drunk lumbering across a dancefloor at 1.45am, trying to get off with everything that moves. No matter how many people they move in for – and if reports are to be believed, United have made offers for dozens of players – nobody wants to go near them. And the one person who surely would, Damien Duff, was allowed to slip into the arms of Newcastle for less than United paid for Patrice Evra. You couldn’t make it up. You don’t have to.

United finished second last season, but that as much about the deficiency of the Premiership as their own quality. Arsenal will surely not have a four-month blind spot this season, while all evidence suggests that Liverpool’s gradient will continue on its upward trajectory. With Tottenham getting stronger, even with the loss of Carrick, it is conceivable that, if they start slowly and get significant injuries, United could finish fifth; in today’s environment, that would be disastrous.

The problems are so obvious, so fundamental, as to be beggar belief that they have not been addressed. Just as the glory years of 1992 to 2001 will only fully be appreciated in 20 years’ time, so will Ferguson’s subsequent failure. It is particularly bewildering that a man who once exerted such an unyielding grip on every single aspect of the club that he had to be virtually coerced into delegating has let things slip to this extent. Take the Cristiano Ronaldo situation: Ferguson said recently that he had not even spoken to Ronaldo since the World Cup, a dereliction of duty that is in total contrast to the us-against-the-world protection that he gave to David Beckham – and for which, for a time, he was so thrillingly rewarded – in 1998.

Once upon a time Ferguson could play ‘who blinks first’ with fate and win every time, his iron will shaping his destiny exactly as he wanted. Now he is reduced to uttering garbage like “it’s like having a new signing” of Paul Scholes, Ole Solskjaer, Gabriel Heinze and Alan Smith, the irrational if-I-say-it-enough-it-might-happen gibberish you’d associate with a serial loser like Kevin Keegan. These days, the man they call The Hairdryer is full of nothing but hot air.

Ferguson’s squad, once so taut, is a baggy mess of has-beens, never-will-bes and Liam Miller. The simple repetition of 4-4-2, of Giggs, Scholes, Keane, Beckham, Cole and Yorke, has given way to myriad tactical and personnel changes, to a ruinous obsession with utility players and tinkering. It’s a truly appalling fact that, with Ruud van Nistelrooy gone, none of United’s outfield players have played in only one position at the club. A nadir was reached in the FA Cup game at Wolves last season, when nearly £60m of defensive and attacking talent (Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney) was used in the centre of midfield.

It is an increasingly inescapable conclusion that, unwittingly or otherwise, Ferguson is winding down, a prizefighter who no longer has the stomach or the wit for an admittedly enormous challenge which, once upon a time, he would have fervently inhaled. Like he did with Liverpool. Ferguson’s almost maniacal yearning to “knock Liverpool off their fucking perch” was arguably the single most important factor in United’s 1990s renaissance. It makes it all the more vicious an irony that, 10 years later, he should knock United off the perch he had made for them through increasingly rank mismanagement.

Indeed, it must irk him beyond belief that United are making exactly the same mistakes that Liverpool did: lack of pheromones in the transfer market; laughable, fall-back signings at suspicious and ridiculous prices; deluded ramblings (“we are as good as Chelsea, no question”) – and, worst of all, a dressing-room where playing the field seems as important as playing the game. Liverpool’s Spice Boys were bad, but they have nothing on Merk Berks like Ferdinand, Richardson and Wes Brown.

Ferguson has taken this end-of-an-empire template and, incredibly, managed to develop it: he’s added a sprawling, outsized squad chock-full of obscenely well-paid deadwood; insultingly obvious spin that a two-year-old could see through (the Van Nistelrooy saga); economy with the truth (Ferguson ridiculed a journalist for saying that Paul Scholes had been scouting for United; a few days later Scholes confirmed the story); a coaching set-up that had Wayne Rooney playing wide for a season and turned Ronaldo from the world’s most thrilling off-the-wall talent into a run-of-the-mill winger when he plays for United, as was confirmed by his liberated displays for Portugal at the World Cup.

Ferguson, an essentially honourable man, is partly suffering because of the impossibly high standards he set, and he carries the fatigued incomprehension of a man who is out of time. When he cites his favourite United team it is not the Treble-winners of 1999, but the Double-winners of 1994: Schmeichel, Bruce, Pallister, Ince, Keane, Hughes, Cantona, Robson – a team that dripped masculinity, who bonded over blockbusting Saturday-night sessions, who embodied the old-school values to which Ferguson can relate. Real men. The gentrification generation – sarong-wearing, pink champagne-swigging metrosexuals – are entirely beyond his comprehension. He could handle one, David Beckham, for a time before eventually giving up on him. Now he has a pack of them, for whom the hairdryer means only one thing – a trip to Toni & Guy. It is a different world. Ferguson probably doesn’t even know what ‘merk’ means.

Everywhere, principles are being sacrificed. In years gone by Ferdinand – who for all his irrefutable ability is the type of character whose presence in a United shirt symbolises much of what has gone wrong with the club – would’ve been out the door faster than Paul Ince could say ‘big-time Charlie’, but now Ferguson can’t afford to lose his only world-class defender. In years gone by he wouldn’t have considered signing someone like Patrick Vieira, on grounds of age or character, but now he is left looking for someone, anyone, to appease the fans. In years gone by he would never have given a game to someone like John O’Shea, whose sole use is to put the podge in a hodgepodge midfield, or someone as meek as Darren Fletcher. In years gone by, he would never have sanctioned the mediocre football that, except for a few giddy weeks in the spring of 2003, United have played ever since Carlos Queiroz arrived in 2002 spouting gobbledygook disguised as continental sophistication.

And the thing is, it is only going to get worse: Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham have all made shrewd, cheap signings and are going in one direction. United are going the other way: they are hugely dependent on Ferdinand and Rooney, but no number of Carling Cup medals is going to sate their ambition. Then there is the Glazer factor, the full, inevitable horror of which is only just beginning to emerge. United fans think this season is going to be bad. It hasn’t even started.


 

15 Comments

  1. jsos says:

    touche, dear Guardian, touche

  2. Old Trafford faithful says:

    wonder whether this reporter still has a job….

  3. tdj says:

    can’t think how one guy could have been more wrong – did he tip jade goody as next leader of the UN?

  4. Taehr says:

    The english press actually write such bullshit?just shows how much these ” football writers” know.

  5. Andy says:

    Believe it or not but this guys a United fan.

    He was pulled up by Soccerlens after writing the article. And no I don’t think the deluded hack is trusted at the Guardian any more, although I thought that article would get him his tenure.

    Here’s the transcript of his conversation with Soccerlens, Robs comments are in CAPS:

    I’ve had enough of ignoramus critics, journalist hacks and piss-minded football fans taking potshots at Manchester United.

    It may the case of the last straw that broke the camel’s back, but Rob Smyth’s asinine piece in the Guardian on Monday has got to be the worst case of kick-em-while-they’re-down BS that I’ve seen.

    The article, in case you are wondering, is a scathing attack on Alex Ferguson and his role in the recent ‘downturn’ of Manchester United’s fortunes.

    The man has taken half-truths and lies and turned them into a saga of a manager hellbent on destroying the very club that he had put on the top. It makes for a pretty story, and undoubtedly sells more papers, but not only is it not true, what readers will invariably fail to remember is that:

    1) A football writer is biased – and this one is biased against Manchester United

    THAT’S GENUINELY NOT TRUE, AS YOU NOW KNOW

    and….

    2) This writer is framing his beliefs for the sole purpose of serving his argument

    Where is responsible journalism?

    THIS IS A DIFFICULT ISSUE BECAUSE INCREASINGLY – ESPECIALLY ON THE WEB – WE ARE GIVEN THE CHANCE TO MAKE OFTEN STRONG COMMENTS, SO THE CLASSICAL NEED FOR IMPARTIALITY IS LESS RELEVANT. WHAT IS IMPORTANT IS TO BACK UP YOUR POINTS WITH EXAMPLES; I THINK I DID THAT, WHETHER PEOPLE DISAGREE OR NOT

    Look at the article rationally, you say? Well, let’s do that.

    First things first. Is United in a crisis?

    The answer depends on your perspective of United’s potential and ability to produce results. We’re in a position for which most other fans would kill for. We’re better off than Arsenal, and I dare say that we have a better team (though not a better midfield) than Liverpool. Carrick’s signing, expensive and misguided it may be, has given the squad balance in its attack. We need to sign another midfielder and possibly a striker (although we could get away with the ones we have).

    I’D ARGUE THAT, IN MANY WAYS, THE CRISIS IS GREATER OFF THE PITCH, WITH THE DEFENESTRATION OF THE VALUES OF THE CLUB

    There are several lies Rob Smyth perpetrates in his quest to prove that United are in a crisis. First, it’s his statement that “No matter how many people they move in for – and if reports are to be believed, United have made offers for dozens of players – nobody wants to go near them�?.

    Here’s a list of players United have made official bids for this summer:

    Michael Carrick and Tomasz Kuszczak. We signed Carrick, and decided not to sign TK when Bryan Robson asked for players plus the 4 mil on offer. Despite the rumours linking us to several players we have not bid for them or even approached their clubs. We have talked to Villareal about Riquelme, but no bid was made. That is IT. Ferguson has been after a creative and a holding midfielder, and he got one of them, and he’s close to getting another.

    UNITED HAVE MADE BIDS FOR OVER 20 PLAYERS THIS SUMMER, INCLUDING ZOKORA, PETIT, SENNA, CARRICK, KUSZCZAK AND VARIOUS OTHERS

    Surely a columnist from the Guardian has enough resources and knowledge to check his facts before hiding behind the cover of “reports�??

    Second, it’s United ‘letting Duff’ slip through our hands. Duff? Hello? Why would United want Duff when they already have four wide players in their squad, 3 of them for the long-term and 1 (Giggs) their most experienced midfielder?

    IN MY OPINION DUFF IS BETTER THAN ALL THE LEFT-WINGERS AT THE CLUB, EXCEPT RONALDO. GIGGS IS BETTER IN CM, PARK IS GOOD BUT NOT AS GOOD AS DUFF, AND I DON’T RATE RICHARDSON

    But the BS doesn’t stop there. Next, Manchester United’s second-place finish is criticised on the grounds that Arsenal didnt play well enough and Liverpool and Tottenham are getting much stronger so it is unlikely that it could happen again.

    I think we heard the news about Liverpool ‘getting stronger’ last year. They still came third. Despite their improvements to the squad I don’t see them overtaking us next season simply because our squad needs less tinkering. United under-acheived last season, but you wouldn’t believe it if you knew that our first choice central midfield was John O’Shea and Ryan Giggs – a utility defender and an attacking left winger remembered for his runs and goals rather than his bossing of the game from central midfield.

    I’D SAY LIVERPOOL ARE ON AN UPWARD TRAJECTORY, UNITED THE OPPOSITE.

    Two more points that made me boil – one was his attack on the current crop of United players, calling them spoiled and arrogant.

    Were you born under a rock? United players are no different than the players at any other top club – overpaid and well-stuffed. They still manage to win games. The players he singled out – Richardson, Ferdinand, Rooney, Ronaldo and Wes Brown – form the core of United’s best starting 11, and are without a shadow of a doubt 5 of the most hard-working players on the field. Ronaldo has his quirks, so do Ferdinand and Rooney, but then Gerrard has this need to be the center of attention, Cole likes to dive, Lampard goes AWOL and Terry can lose concentration.

    AGREED THEY ARE THE SAME ELSEWHERE – BUT THERE HAS ALWAYS BEEN A TRADITION OF UNITED PLAYERS HAVING A LITTLE BIT MORE CLASS THAN THE REST (SEE THE TEAM OF 93/94, OR WHEN KEANE RULED THE ROOST). THAT IS NOT THE CASE NOW.

    Players today are well-paid and their quirks are magnified because of the constant media spotlight. It doesn’t change the fact that they are there to play football, and that they are willing to bust their chops to win.

    I THINK IT GOES BEYOND THAT, THOUGH – IT IS NO COINCIDENCE THAT PEOPLE LIKE FERDINAND AND FOWLER HAVE WON LITTLE OF SIGNIFICANCE IN THEIR CAREER.

    Ferguson was at fault for not reinforcing the midfield last season – but considering that he had Alan Smith earmarked for that role, had Keano and Scholes there already, plus O’Shea and Fletcher to back them up, I don’t see how Ferguson could have predicted Smith’s injury, Scholes going blind, Keano being kicked out, Fletcher being injured and both O’Shea and Giggs (our replacement midfield) being injured. This led to an emergency pairing of Ferdinand and Rooney (two of our best players).

    HE COULDN’T HAVE PREDICTED SMITH’S INJURY BUT HE COULD HAVE SEEN THAT HE’D BE SHITE THERE! AND THAT SCHOLES WAS PAST IT, AND THAT FLETCHER WAS RUBBISH, ETC. JUST MY OPINION.

    Surely you cannot plan for 6 midfielders being injured at the same time?

    EVEN IF EVERYONE WAS FIT SEASON – AS THEY WERE FOR MUCH OF THE CL CAMPAIGN – WE STILL COULDN’T SCORE A GOAL

    Ideally we could have brought in someone else instead of Park last summer (but we needed to plan for Giggs leaving), or a midfielder instead of Evra (we had no left-back with heinze injured and Silvestre needed in the centre of defence). Injuries were a major problem for United last season, yet all people can think about is that we are in a crisis and don’t have any players.

    I DON’T THINK UNITED SUFFERED FROM INJURIES MUCH MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE: ROONEY AND RIO, FOR EXAMPLE, HARDLY MISSED A GAME.

    The crisis came and went last season. We survived it, and are stronger as a result (despite the loss of Ruud).

    I HOPE SO – AND I THINK THE LOSS OF RUUD IS A GOOD THING – BUT I DOUBT IT.

    Some valid points were raised about Ferguson, but the author chose to barrack him with baseless accusations instead of listing concerns truthfully. I’ve already covered most of them in this article, so go read that.

    The second point was how the writer compared the current crop of players to the ‘men’ of the 90s – Robson, Cantona, Keane. All the talk about Ferguson being from a different era (especially if you throw in Strachan’s rant about how Ferguson didnt treat him right at United) is justified, but are you fuckin’ kidding me? This guy would turn at the drop of a hat and call Cantona a cheating, kicking, flying maniac and talk about all the deliberate tackles Keano made if you gave him the right context. Now he’s singing their praises.

    I DON’T KNOW ABOUT THAT: KEANE IS MY FAVOURITE PLAYER OF ALL TIME. I DEFINITELY PREFERRED PLAYERS FROM THAT ERA.

    I don’t like Ferguson for the way he’s treated some of our best players, but the fact is that he’s what we’ve got (just like Glazer is what we have) and at the end of the day, we have to make do with what we have.

    If the old man knock Chelsea off their fuckin’ perch (as he did to Liverpool), I’ll be the first to bitch-slap every piss-taking United-hater that I see for one whole year.

    AND I’LL TAKE THE DESERVED BITCH SLAP IF WE DO

    I’m out.

  6. Nothing but Red says:

    Rob Who?

  7. Amy says:

    The man is paid to venture an opinion. It was a lot more interesting article for the un-tentative, un-afraid approach. If the man had said ‘Ah well United will probably do okay, even through the challenges of Glazer ownership and Fergie running off two people who would have followed him to the ends of the planet just a year ago’ who would be interested in reading it? I know Ye Olde Republik wouldn’t be blogging about it right now.

    Far rather see a venturesome piece thanks. As well, he was willing to discuss it with soccerlens which is more than you’ll get from most newspaper folks.

    No reason to insult him – as Fergie would rather have our players out there taking risks, I’d rather see writers otu there taking risks as well.

  8. Joseph Steinberger says:

    It’s your duty my friend to get hold of this Mother Trucker and interview him now and get the Bastard to apologise to SAF.
    Find the Bastard and F ing grill him.

  9. Neil says:

    would love to throw this one in his face – “turned Ronaldo from the world’s most thrilling off-the-wall talent into a run-of-the-mill winger when he plays for United”

  10. Joel says:

    I do agree with one thing he says though… about a particular Portugese coach.

  11. james pickering says:

    that was a fantastic read thanks for posting it.ive never known someone to get something so so so wrong…and on a side note what did evra and duff do last season

  12. Ahmed Bilal says:

    I read the piece at the time, and wrote the following reply:

    Everyone wants to kick United.

    :)

  13. United on Fire says:

    Brimming over with wrongability. Makes “you can’t win anything with kids” sound like a sensible and thoughtout prediction.

    I do like the “liverpool are getting stronger” bit. A year and a half later, they are still “getting stronger”, just very very slowly.

  14. m haydar says:

    HAHAHAHAHAHA reading this made my day, although at the time, right before last season i wasn’t too optimistic, most of us united fans feared for the worst no? I even called in all my comments to sell ronaldo and buy another good winger and maybe another player with all the money we’d get out of him.
    I also wrote how carrick being our main target last season worried me about our ambitions, thinking that i was wrong, cariick has proved me right in every way this season.. shame

  15. BELIEVE says:

    6 years later and it feels ever SO SWEET reading this! Rob Smyth, you sir, are a complete and utter GENIUS :D

    un-believable .

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