The Ferguson Shadow

Ferguson

For all of the florid tributes that have been paid to Sir Alex Ferguson since his abrupt retirement, there is one poetic symbol that has stood above all others, dominating the reams of column inches and internet discussion since the subsequent appointment of David Moyes. The looming inevitability of Ferguson’s Shadow is expected to stalk the corridors of power at Old Trafford long after the man himself has cleared his desk, and is expected to smother the new man in charge. Moyes will have much to adjust to in his new role, but common opinion has it that the most daunting task for him will be trying to find fresh life within the dark confines of that shadow. The true test for Moyes will be in seeing whether he can make the shadow work for him, and use it to his advantage.

It seems that Moyes has been given the job as much for his character as for his professional credentials, as being “cut from the same cloth” as his predecessors is not something you can necessarily quantify on a CV. He will be expected to ‘get’ Manchester United, and use that understanding accordingly, as Ferguson has done so frequently throughout the years. Summoning the almighty power of the Manchester United name would be difficult for anyone replacing a man of 26 years’ stewardship at the club, let alone Moyes, a man unfamiliar with being a heavyweight.

The malingering presence of Ferguson will sustain that mythic quality, the irresistible accumulation of forged history. How better for Moyes to immerse himself in the legacy of the club than by engaging with a man who has built as much of it as anyone? In one of many eulogies given by those that knew him best, David Beckham was asked by Sky Sports News for his thoughts on Ferguson, only to tell a story instead of walking through the Old Trafford corridors for the first time and smelling the distinct odour of Sir Matt Busby’s pipe. If anybody knows how to thrive in another man’s shadow, it’s Alex Ferguson, and, well, it didn’t do him all that badly did it?

Ferguson has spoken in the past of his morning routine: the 6am start, the slice of toast and the mountain of paperwork to see to before he can get to work with his players. Perhaps this routine, the perfunctory admin and necessary mundanities will be as hard for Ferguson to extricate himself from as it will be for Moyes to adopt as his own. If one of the key reservations about Moyes – the relative lack of big player experience – holds any weight, then he will need to fix it and quickly. He will need to spend time with his players, maybe more even than Ferguson himself may have been used to on a daily basis, if his new charges are to readjust to a different regime.

Moyes

While it is one problem entirely to replace the monolithic presence of Ferguson, there are two other issues that will trouble Moyes. Manchester City’s disastrous attempts at retaining the Premier League title all but guarantee some major tooling up in the transfer market this summer. Elsewhere, Chelsea look certain to re-hire Jose Mourinho, a man for whom the phrase ‘guaranteed trophies’ may as well be printed on his business cards. We can be sure that the title race will be fought much more closely next season (that is to say, it will be fought over at all), which will only increase the pressure on United’s new manager. This is where the dubious distinction of living in the Ferguson Shadow can be deployed to good effect; if United fail to retain the trophy, there’s a ready-made excuse to hand, and one which you imagine Ferguson himself would have no problem invoking in order to buy the new man more time.

There will be some United fans who will be too used to success, and too aware of the capriciousness of the modern chairman’s wrath, to grant Moyes much time to adjust. Much has been made of the infamous banner calling for Ferguson’s head in 1989, deploring “3 years of excuses and it’s still crap”. The most startling thing about that banner isn’t the retrospective irony, but that it took three years for such a banner to be displayed at all. That’s a startling amount of time for a new manager to be given that simply doesn’t happen at big clubs these days. Ferguson has seen for himself the virtues of patience, and the six-year contract that Moyes has signed suggests that the previous incumbent will do what he can to make sure that the new guy will be afforded a similar privilege.

Some United fans may even be relishing the prospect of a younger manager coming in, having acknowledged Ferguson’s flaws in recent years. His recent reluctance to sign a central midfielder has added fresh momentum to rumours of Marouane Fellaini joining his former manager at Old Trafford. His recent track record in the transfer market has prompted further updates (Bebe, Gabriel Obertan) to the semi-legendary list of failed buys (Massimo Taibi, Kleberson, you know the rest). Some have also identified a worrying trend for alienating promising youngsters that have gone on to thrive elsewhere in Europe, such as Gerard Pique, Guiseppe Rossi and Paul Pogba. These flaws certainly won’t form his legacy – the 49 trophies will probably just about see to that – but they will, at the very least, afford Moyes some room for manoeuvre. If he were to bring Fellaini with him, for example, or give more playing time to someone such as Nick Powell, then he might go some way to impressing some of the more sceptical supporters early in his tenure.

After Ferguson’s final home game, we heard him rally the troops one final time, exhorting the club’s fans to show the new manager the same support they showed him at the start of his reign. He was met with a rapturous response, as they chanted just one word: not Ferguson, not Moyes, but United. With that one simple command to the supporters to ease the transition from old to new, he summoned a little brightness on his own shadow to alleviate the gathering gloom. And with that, the weight of expectation may prove to be less of a shadow, and more of a light to illuminate the way.

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The Merseyside Derby – As It Happened

After the pioneering minute-by-minute review of last year’s Old Firm derby, Ruud Gullit Sitting On A Shed has further journalistic ground to break, in time for tonight’s Merseyside derby at Anfield. Evoking the spirit of Liverpool’s number-crunching moneyball ethos, we have spared no expense in developing the newest technology that will provide state-of-the-art commentary of tonight’s game against Everton. Let Steve Jobs’s demise be not in vain, as computers continue to improve our lives beyond measure.

Introducing ScouseBot3000

Made with the latest ClicheChip microtechnology and calibrated with the trimmed moustache debris of Terry McDermott, it is ready to report in the most deadly accurate manner on tonight’s game. There may be a few teething problems, but we’re sure you’ll be delighted with the results – unlike the supporters of whichever side doesn’t win tonight!!! Funny stuff, but we’ll leave the rest of the jokes to ScouseBot

1 minute –  <Running ‘mawkish symbolism of Liver bird’ sequence….OK>

2 minutesScouseBot3000 notices that it is David Moyes’s 10th birthday. An e-card has been sent to the e-mail address ‘Moyesy@hotmail.co.uk’ with the theme ‘Justin Bieber’.

7 minutes – Jordan Henderson has a shot blocked by Jack Rodwell after good work by Luis Suarez. Failed to initiate ‘Henderson Celebration’ sequence. This program has been inactive for some time. Open Control Panel to uninstall.

10 minutes – Leighton Baines cuts the ball back on the left to Steven Pienaar, who shoots over from inside the box. ‘Operation Pienaar Reboot’ 62% complete. Please restart.

22 minutes – Jordan Henderson misplaces a simple pass. ScouseBot3000 calculates that, with the money Liverpool stand to make from their new kit deal, they could afford to buy Jordan Henderson again. ScouseBot3000 advises against this. Would you like to run Jordan Henderson’s season 2011/2012 statistics? <ERROR – Forced closedown>

<run ScouseBot3000 restart>

<Load Merseyside derby minute-by-minute report>

<Load The Beatles reference macro>

<ScouseBot3000 – continue from previous session>

34 minutesGOAL! Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard curls in a lob from the edge of the box. Pop band The Beatles came from Liverpool.

39 minutes – A Leighton Baines cross is met by the head of Denis Stracqualursi ten yards out, but Pepe Reina saves. The Beatles were known as ‘The Fab Four’, due to being both fabulous and fourbulous.

45 minutes – The half-time score is Liverpool 1 Everton 0. <end first half>

Half-time – Initiating geographical cliché program – Goodison Park and Anfield are a stone’s throw apart from each other. DERBYFACT: Comedian Stan Boardman once attempted to prove this during ITV’s 1992 Telethon, but could not find a stone. Angry viewers rescinded their charitable donations, and the event was subsequently scrapped, owing thousands of pounds to the nation’s impoverished.

46 minutes – End hibernation mode. Commence second half.

51 minutes – GOAL! Steven Gerrard scores his second goal of the game after driving the ball home from ten yards. Steven Gerrard’s favourite Beatle is Steve McManaman. The Liverpools are from Beatle.

62 minutes – Everton deploy ‘Desperate Triple Substitution’ sequence – Seamus Coleman, Denis Stacqualursi and Victor Anichebe off, Leon Osman, Nikica Jelavic and Royston Drenthe on.

70 minutes – Scandal magnet Luis Suarez latches on to an Andy Carroll through-ball, but squanders the chance. That shot was as bad as Your 30-day trial of Metaphorio has expired. Please visit our website to renew your subscription.

78 minutes – Suarez is involved again, chasing a Stewart Downing pass, before being hauled down by Leighton Baines. Suarez reacts graciously. Input formula ‘=SPORTSMANSHIP, LUIS SUAREZ + ANYONE’ – formula error, unknown script.

93 minutes – GOAL! Steven Gerrard breaks from the half-way line, before playing a one-two with Luis Suarez in the box, resulting in an easy finish to seal his hat-trick. Would you like to run the file Phil Collins – Against All Odds.mp3?

<ERROR – no soundcard installed>

Full time – Liverpool beat Everton 3-0. Running ‘Liverpool celebration’ sequence…

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An Open Letter to David Moyes

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I DECLARE THIS LETTER OPEN

David/Moyesy,

I can’t help but notice that your club, Everton Football Club, has no strikers. Since Louis Saha’s untimely death, and Victor Anichebe’s untimely birth, you’ve clearly struggled up front. Thankfully, I know a thing or two about football (see previous sentence, wherein I correctly spell the names of two notable football figures), and have devised some revolutionary concepts designed to overcome this notable handicap.

  • Firstly, are you absolutely certain that you’ve looked everywhere? And I mean ‘everywhere’? These things turn up in unexpected places, ie, the back of the sofa, cupboards etc. James Beattie hasn’t been seen in a while, is it possible that he might not be knocking around somewhere, in the room where the Lucozade is kept, perhaps?
  • Why not take two defenders from your youth team and get one to sit on the other’s shoulders, whilst wearing a fake moustache and an extra-large Everton shirt with a number nine on it? I know what you’re thinking: why take two child defenders when I could just take two child strikers? This is a good idea, but no. Their wages would be prohibitively expensive, especially given the added overhead of novelty moustaches and comically oversized football shirts.
  • Inquire as to the availability of Ray Winstone’s monolithic, floating head from the Bet365 adverts:
  1. Pros: Good in air; low injury risk; very low financial outlay required on boots, socks, etc; surprisingly deft touch for a massive animated head.
  2. Cons: Unproven at top level; tremendous strain on computer animator’s wrists.
  • Just act like it isn’t true that you have no strikers. Flood post-match interviews, programme notes and so forth with even more empty cliché than usual. Say things like: “It’s no secret that the competition up front is fierce, but it’s a nice problem to have”, “It’s hard keeping so many strikers happy, but goals win games, so it’s a nice problem to have”, and so on. Like Father Ted kicking Bishop Brennan up the arse, the football world will be totally nonplussed by your ignorance of the whole thing, and it will be absorbed by the football community thanks to the twin wonders of received opinion and ignorance.
  • Ask your groundsman to install a moveable halfway line, which can be manipulated via a system of pulleys. Depending on the half, move it closer to the defending goal so the attacking half appears bigger, thus making it easier for defenders and midfielders to flood the box. Supporters will barely notice that you have no forwards.
  • Male porn stars shave their balls and pubis in order to create the illusion that their penis is bigger; shave Marouane Fellaini’s head?

Pictured: one enormous striker