It was unexpected, quick and most suitable.
Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t need a cavalcade of fanfare as he announced his retirement today after twenty-seven years as manager of Manchester United, but a simple celebration befitting an uncomplicated man. Rather than engendering endless speculation by pre-empting his retirement or embarking upon a final series of signature mind games, Sir Alex has chosen a dignified departure.
Though it has emerged that Everton’s David Moyes will almost certainly take over as the Red Devils’ boss – a move marked clearly with Sir Alex’s fingerprints – today isn’t a day to fete the new, but to remember the older – a man who was quite simply the best. Despite battles lost, the war was an overwhelming triumph choreographed by a director gifted so supremely with vision, flexibility of thought and strength of character.
These adjectives will be three of the thousands used to describe him today, such is his renown and ability. He is the defining character in the history of the English Premier League, a league which owes its popularity in large part to the inexorable United sides that accumulated thirteen titles from twenty-one.
It’s odd to think that perhaps his greatest strength was that flexibility. Over his tenure, Sir Alex earned a reputation for uncompromising forthrightness, a character trait that hardly suggests a man given to adaptability. However, his pile-driving outward manner masked a communicator not only able to relate effectively to players born across six decades, but to spur – or cajole – whatever greatness lay within. The sport bears little resemblance to the one he himself played north of the Wall; the circus surrounding it even less, but he has been ever-present – a man defying time and tempering.
His longevity pays ultimate tribute to a pragmatic tactical flexibility. Over the course of his reign, Sir Alex has not only replenished United’s stocks but also regenerated from within. The most recent revival saw the dour Champions of 2011 moulded into a collection of title-winning freewheelers. Neither was “vintage”, but both were utterly effective.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s legacy will include two Champions League wins, thirteen Premiership titles (and sixteen overall), a European Cup Winners’ Cup and five FA Cups. It is inconceivable in the disposable culture of today’s football that these accomplishments could be surpassed by one man and a team crafted, refined and re-refined.
However, it is unfair that he will be measured by quantifiable achievements. The past twenty-seven years have been his greatest bequest: the Fledglings, a magical evening at the Nou Camp and an inherent confidence that triumph lay only ninety minutes away.
None are more impressive than the figures who dominate our formative years; they linger in memory having immortalized deeds never to be surpassed. Sir Alex Ferguson is the only manager that most living Manchester United – and football – fans have ever known. For anyone aged under thirty-five, he will forever prowl the sidelines at Old Trafford as his bronzed likeness glares down from a pedestal fronting Old Trafford’s entry gates. Flickering shadows will replace him, some of whom will succeed. But none will match the deeds, or be remembered as fondly, as Sir Alex Ferguson.