Archive for May, 2013

More than a manager

Friday, May 10th, 2013 May 10th, 2013 Aabhas Sharma

It hasn’t sunk in yet and I don’t think it will till the next season of Premier League begins. The thought of Manchester United without Sir Alex Ferguson is scary, daunting and gut-wrenching for fans of the club. How do you deal with the idea of a man who was a constant for the last 27 years not being there in the manager’s dug out? 1,146 managers came and went in the top four divisions of English football since Sir Alex took over at Old Trafford on November 6, 1986. Take a moment and let that figure sink in.

What Sir Alex did at United will never be repeated. Forget the number of trophies he won or the fact that he knew the art of making good players into great ones better than anyone else, what United fans will miss most about him is just his mere presence.

It is difficult to describe the effect he had on an average United fan. People often wonder in amusement why watching a United game every week is so important for me. I tell them, is 90 minutes in a week where you completely forget about the daily drudgery of life and immerse yourself in something which genuinely makes you happy too much to ask? In those 90 minutes, Sir Alex was this great comforter, a man who you trusted to make everything alright. For any football fan, heartbreak and defeats are a part of the game. But what made it different for United fans was that the pain didn’t last long because Sir Alex was around.

One of his biggest strength was to rise in the face of adversity and that rubbed on to the fans as well. The bigger the challenge, the stronger he came back. The word impossible didn’t exist in his dictionary. Rival fans often say that United’s history of scoring late goals is down to luck, but the truth is it is anything but luck. You can be lucky once a year, twice or if lady luck is extremely pleased with you, then three times a year. United scored late goals because Sir Alex instilled the belief that no game was lost till the referee blew the final whistle.

He was once compared with Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, some even thought that the Arsenal man was better, especially around 2002-04. Wenger is undoubtedly a very good manager but never had one thing which Sir Alex had: the strength to adapt. Sir Alex saw football evolve multiple times during his tenure and every time he adapted himself and his team to rise to the challenge. Football, and more importantly for him, Manchester United weren’t this big a phenomenon when he took over. They were a world-famous club but not this juggernaut of a club they’ve become. There weren’t too many foreign players, not many clubs were owned by sheikhs and oligarchs and football certainly didn’t have this big an audience. The most remarkable thing about Sir Alex was that he always managed to adapt and mould his team to the required question. Whatever the question, Sir Alex was the answer.

Between 2004-06, Chelsea under Jose Mourinho threatened to monopolise the English Premier League, Sir Alex was patient and had faith in players like Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo to mature into world beaters. United won three consecutive titles and a Champions League in the next three years. Last year after narrowly missing out the title against Manchester City, there was talk about a power shift in Manchester and that City would upstage United. Sir Alex nipped this talk in the bud and won United’s 20th title with six games to spare. Managers are hailed geniuses for creating one winning team, like Wenger did with Arsenal in 2004. But Sir Alex created team after team and delivered results.

Like an old grandfather does it with his grand children, he has really spoilt United fans. I am not sure how many fans actually realize what a privilege it has been to watch United dominate during his reign. The last 27 years – 17 for me personally – suddenly feel like a long, dreamy ride. And what a ride it has been. One of the banners in Old Trafford’s Stretford End embodies his tenure as Manchester United manager: “The Impossible Dream – Made Possible”