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May 092013

143252584 1876000 Changing Tracks at Old Trafford

After spending two hours drafting an article on Manchester United last night I thought I had a good bead on the team’s emotions and where it would be going after the season. I had felt that this season that they were a tad too businesslike, that the shine of winning the Premier League had lost its luster. The reaction of the team and its fans at the end of the Aston Villa match was subdued, nowhere near the same level of hysteria that I had seen in previous years. I was going to write at length about how the team had almost grown beyond the Premier League, that only Champions League glory would satisfy Sir Alex Ferguson and the squad. That of course all went out the window yesterday morning with the retirement of Sir Alex. While it would be easy to say that Manchester United will simply hire one of world football’s top managers and keep on trucking, it is not that simple. The Manchester United that we have all come to know and love (and some of us hate) is gone. It is now David Moyes turn to run the Red Devils and his ability to cope with the expectations and history of this club will dictate their ability to move on from the era of Sir Alex.

The closest thing that I can remember for a lion of the game retiring was when Michael Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls in 1994 and in 1998. When a team loses such a staple there are only two options: try to replace the piece and keep pushing or rebuild. During Jordan’s first retirement, the Bulls made a go of it making it to the Eastern Conference Finals before finally losing to the Knicks. After his second retirement, which also saw their Head Coach Phil Jackson and future Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen also leave, ownership decided to rebuild and the team finished with a record of 13-37, one of the worst in NBA history. This is the price of success. While Manchester United has been able to cycle through players through the years and rebuild when it is necessary, it was always done under Sir Alex’s watch.

Although I do not think that Manchester United will see a drop-off of the level of the Chicago Bulls, the fact of the matter is that there will be a drop-off. No one can do what Sir Alex Ferguson did for 27 years. Managing the demands of an ownership group like the Glazer family, while dealing with the expectations of a storied club like Manchester United is difficult. When you add in the egos of players who earn tens of thousands of dollars a week, it can be almost unbearable. Finding someone who can meet all of these challenges is difficult. It requires a certain type of personality. I may loathe the New York Yankees, but I have always thought that Joe Torre was probably the best baseball manager I have ever seen. It takes a certain sort of personality to manage a team like the New York Yankees or Manchester United. You have to be cool under pressure, able to work with difficult personalities that do not always mesh, and deal with ungodly expectations. These are billion dollar franchises that have fans in every continent that expect championships. Not a winning season, championships. Joe Torre knew this, Sir Alex Ferguson knew this. Does David Moyes know this? Time will tell.

While this club has too much talent to not finish in the top four next year, and probably the year after that, it is their long-term future that is in question. Moyes’ relationship with the Glazers will be critical in how this team evolves. This is a team whose core is aging in all of the wrong places. Patrice Evra is 31. Nemanja Vidic is 31 and has been devastated by injuries. Rio Ferdinand is 34. Ryan Giggs is 39. Paul Scholes is 38. In the coming years, United will have to replace all of these players through their youth system or through transfers. But how does one replace Ryan Giggs? How do you find playing minutes for all of your veteran players? Is Tom Cleverley the future for Manchester United at midfield? These are the types of questions that the next manager will have to answer.

The other question is how much time will the next manager be given to create their own system within Manchester United? Most managers that coach a club like Manchester United work on a very short leash, and can be fired on a coach’s whim. During Sir Alex’s time with the club, Real Madrid has had 24 managers, Inter Milan has had 19, Chelsea has had 14, Bayern Munich has had 14, and AC Milan has had 14. Every decision that the next manager makes will be compared to Sir Alex Ferguson and what he would have done. It appears based off of the Glazers history with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers (only four coaches in 16 years) that they do show patience with their managers and allow them some time to implement their system. But this is still a results-driven sport and whomever takes over will not only have the expectations of the fans and ownership to contend with, but the legacy of one of, if not the, greatest coach in professional sports history. Moyes was given a lot of time to develop his vision of Everton Football club and managed a team that had far lower expectations.

With Manchester Unite, David Moyes is going to have the opportunity to coach some of the best players in the world and will have access to infinite resources to win titles both in England and Europe. They will also have to contend with tremendous egos and a fanbase that expects a victory during every match. Replacing Sir Alex Ferguson as a person is easy. Replacing his history and his C/V is another story.

Sean Maslin

Writer for Global Football Today and Blatter's Blotter. Lifetime D.C. United, Newcastle United, and Washington Warthog fan. Can be reached at @SeanMaslin on twitter or at

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