For those of you who were hoping I had something to say about the gyrating curves of Stacy Ann Ferguson, aka “Fergie” of the Black Eyed Peas, my apologies, but you’ve got the wrong Fergie.
You may know very little about soccer abroad, or at home. It may even bother you that most of the world calls soccer “football”, not to be confused with the kind that just engulfed our entire Sundays for months. But chances are you know that Manchester United is arguably the biggest sports club on the planet.
Bigger than the Green Bay Packers, bigger than the LA Lakers, bigger than the Chicago Bulls in Michael Jordan’s heyday and bigger than any hockey team, even with Wayne Gretzky. Their supporters are everywhere across the world, their reach stretching farther than Ohio State Football crazies and probably Catholic missionaries too. Only the New York Yankees venture to come even close.
Regardless, it’s important to notice that besides the millions of fans, fame, money, 20 Premier League championships, and a few world titles, there is one solid factor that has remained a constant in the 26 years of success for Man United. That is their coach and manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. Ferguson finally announced his retirement today, after almost thirty years at the helm and countless achievements in running history's most successful sports organization.
A coach with a 25-plus year stint at any organization is a rarity in big money sports.
In college basketball, Jim Boheim has stayed at the controls at Syracuse almost as long since the late 1980s, along with Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. But in pro sports Phil Jackson’s six championships and total dominance of the NBA in eight years bought him nothing more than a open door leading outward from the Chicago Bulls. Even Billy Martin’s spotty decade with the Yankees didn't occur without Martin getting fired several times.
United has hosted some of the world’s biggest soccer legends, both acquired and home grown, often watching them excel to greater heights after leaving. Legends like Paul Ince, Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham have all come and gone, while others like Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney have stayed. Like it or not however, no player, no matter how famous, is bigger than the club and its manager.
Nonetheless, United’s training academy continues to perfect crafty 13 year olds toward becoming world class players; and the coffers are rife with money to acquire new talent from other clubs bent on cashing in on United’s check writing skills.
While the on-field talent has remained constant, many of United’s past legends such as Mark Hughes and Steve Bruce have had marginal success in managing clubs. Meanwhile, other legends like Roy Keane and Bryan Robson have had, at best, short and rocky careers running clubs into the ground. None of them are likely --despite their relationship with Man United-- to have a shot at filling Ferguson's huge shoes.
My joke about this is that former United stars share one common coaching skill: the ability to drive a busload of footballers downhill, fast.
But Fergie's retirement, or the talk of it by pundits has been a long time in the making. Previous to United he took a provincial Scottish club, Aberdeen, and made them an unlikely powerhouse. Since his appointment at United long ago in 1986, he has restored the once faltering Manchester United name, making it what it is today. Haters, of course, hope his departure will herald United's eventual demise.
About two and a half years ago I got to talk with Denis Irwin, the old United fullback. Irwin is known as one of the club's best all-time players and he was in Chicago at The Globe to talk with fans face-to-face and promote United's summer tour and game against the Chicago Fire. At the time Irwin hinted at what was also the conventional wisdom of 2010: That fellow United alum and French coach Laurent Blanc aka "Larry White" as they were calling him, was likely to be the next United manager.
Moyes, the right man for the big, big job.
David Moyes, pictured above, has done wonders at Everton with scant money and fair talent. He's basically a younger version of Sir Alex Ferguson. Same steel reserve, same combination of drive, discipline, and uncanny ability to eschew criticism of naysayers. I've been saying for years that Moyes would be the best successor to Ferguson; and of course --not being the flashiest pick-- no one believed me.
But with United's reputation, past success, and large sums of money, it would be hard to think that the juggernaut would make a careless choice in putting in place the next manager of the world’s biggest club.
Andy Frye writes about sports and life here and tweets throughout the day on Twitter at @MySportsComplex.