Saturday, 30 April 2011

Where would United be without Fergie?

It's fair to say that the current Manchester United side will not go down in history as a "great" side. Well above average yes, but any team that contains Michael Carrick and Darron Gibson as first-team regulars, as many Red-nosed friends of mine will testify, is surely no match for the Busby Babes, or the 1999 treble winners?

I suppose it all depends on how you measure greatness. Based solely on star names, or flashy tricks, Man United boast the weakest bunch of the top 4. But all it takes is one great manager to elevate a side to more than the sum of it's parts. In the case of the Red Devils, the equation gets more and more impressive each year. Since the turn of the century they have managed to survive departures of Ronaldo, Beckham, Van Nistelrooy and Tevez. All world-class players that a lesser manager would've struggled to replace. Look at Arsene Wenger. Shorn of all his title-winning legends, his trophyless sequence stretches ever longer.

Of course, any side with the likes of Rooney, Nani, Hernandez, Berbatov, Ferdinand and Vidic can hardly be seen as weak in the wider context of the Premier League. Rooney in particular would stroll into most sides in the world. However, unlike many coaches, Alex Ferguson does not seem to care about stockpiling the best players in the world and letting them battle it out. Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid, I am looking at you. The team ethic and spirit is more important to Fergie.

This season alone, Man United stand on the verge of a Premiership and Champions League double that would rank, for me, as his best achievement. That night in Barcelona, Clive Tyldesley's go-to moment when conjuring up a dramatic memory, was indeed impressive. Yet at that time in Europe, there was no stand-out team. A midfield of Giggs, Keane, Scholes, and Beckham, supplying chances to Cole and Yorke was always going to be in contention. Two of that midfield, 12 years older, are still regulars in the United side. That takes supreme fitness and dedication of their own of course, but they have no right to be achieving the things they have this season. For Ferguson to have stuck by them (although Scholes' future looks in doubt after the red mist of Wembley) shows fantastic belief in even the empty shells of players he put on the map.

Should the expected United-Barca final transpire, and should United prevail, they would have beaten the unquestionably best side in the world at this point, and nullified the best player of a generation, and many before, in Lionel Messi. Few would blame Sir Alex if he decided he had achieved everything possible in management. One thing is for sure, the day he hangs up his hairdryer will be a sad one for football, and particularly Man United, as they would surely not sit top of the league right now without him.

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