A lot of pundits and so-called football experts have been composing what are tantamount to eulogies and obituaries. Well, let me tell you, the rum old bugger is not dead yet and, even though his successor, David Moyes, might wish it so, it’s never far from the boardroom to the manager’s office. I’m not going to bore you with one more inventorial itemization of the honors he’s won. If you need stats and facts go to your search engine. What’s amazing to me is the way he outlasted all the other great ones. Of course, the ultimate swan song is dying on the job. like Jock Stein being stretchered off while managing Scotland with our young dearly beloved Fergie at his side as assistant. That was what I hoped wouldn’t happen to him, and didn’t. Jock Stein was 62, but it seems all of Fergie’s other influential elders and contemporaries jacked it in early. Matt Busby quit at 62, Bill Shankly at 60; fired by Everton at 60, Harry Catterick died an embittered geezer of 65; Bob Paisley killed by the stress of success at 64; Brian Clough, an alcoholic wreck of 58. Take a look at photographs of any of them after their pomp, and , like being the President of the United States, the stress of the job shows on their faces early. Being a manager then was hard. The money now is much bigger, but being a manager now is even more debilitating. Yet, at 71, despite carrying a pacemaker in his chest and a looming hip replacement, “Mr. Glaswegian hatchet-face” as journo James Richardson likes to call him, looks bloody good. Anyone who’s ever watched a United match knows that Ferguson could clearly be a nervous or angry man. Yet he always had a sort of zen-like gift of being able to compartmentalize his feelings in a manner the his aforementioned colleagues couldn’t.
I try to imagine these last few days before his final match as he drives into Old Trafford past his own statue and that of Sir Matt Busby. The Routine. 6:50 a.m. every morning. As regular and reliable as clockwork. I think it’s going to be a lot harder on him than us. And the temptation to be be like Sir Matt in dealing with McGuinness and O’Farrell. You can talk all the talk all you want about “my door is always open,” but all the well-meaning rhetoric in the world more often than not clashes with the reality of that old cliché that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Indeed, Mr. Moyes may leave his door wide open, but that doesn’t sincerely mean that he wants a visit from the Gaffer. So what will He do? Married to a job for that long and so bloody good at it. What will He do?
My cousin in Glasgow has already messaged me predicting the imminent resignation of wee Gordon Strachan. One last campaign looms, he insists, where, like William Wallace, the old general reunites the clans and having failed to qualify for the World Cup tournament in Brazil, leads his national team to glory in Qatar at 80 years-of-age. Nice idea if you’ve got the horses, of course, but I fear Scotland barely has the carts these days. Sad!
I think the picture of Sir Alex Ferguson that I want to keep in my head is the one of his sadness after losing to Real Madrid at Old Trafford in March. Never mind the ref being bent, or the lads desire disintegrating almost instantaneously after Luka Modric’s fabulous equalizer. What I see now in armchair retrospect is the disappointed loss of a defeated gambler, one who already knew that this was his very last game ever in European competition and that he’d have to settle for only winning it twice.
Goodbye Gaffer, but not farewell. Work on your golf swing and your French. Buy some more gee-gees! Count your dosh and then make some more. I’m going to miss you! And for the Haters. Those who didn’t like him because of his success or because he didn’t tolerate fools or maybe because he wasn’t the world’s nicest person or any of a thousand other reasons… You’re going to miss him! Indeed, I think you have no clue at all as to just how much youre going to miss him.