It’s Fergie’s Time

Sir Alex Ferguson


Published: 11th May 2013

Wednesday 8th May. A day in which the football world was rocked with the saddening news that the great Sir Alex Ferguson will never again be seen chewing on copious amounts of gum whilst bellowing out instructions to yet another triumphant group of Red Devils, or as a matter-of-fact, be seen ferociously twitching beside some poor fourth official like a paronoid schizophrenic who had come face-to-face with an unforgiving Time Lord, eager for him to clock up those infamous Fergie time minutes.

On Sunday May 19th the Scotsman will take charge of his last ever match as Manchester United manager, away at The Hawthorns, home of West Bromwich Albion.

In his 26 years at Old Trafford, Sir Alex notched up an astonishing haul of 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League Titles, five FA Cups and a couple of European Cups – a record that will likely never be rivalled.

Now I’ve finished kissing SAF’s arse…

As regular readers of my work will be well aware already; I’m someone who doesn’t like to write about a subject, or an event, in the same routine morbid manner as others, particularly when I’m writing about the subject closest to my heart. Football.

And so with that in mind I extend my ramblings to a wider and more neutral view point, and summarise the real reasons as to why Manchester United Football Club have dominated English football for the past two decades. Surely this isn’t just down to a solitary Glaswegian fella’, is it?

For me there are two title wins that I would rank as Sir Alex’s most significant. The 1992/93 season marked a whole new dawn for English football. It kick-started a wealthy era, playing football in a league that gained maximum exposure worldwide, and in winning that first ever Premier League trophy Manchester United set the benchmark, and with it their popularity blossomed. And naturally, with popularity further riches will follow.

You will never again see anything like United’s 1995/96 “you can’t win anything with kids” title winning team. For a football club to be so blessed and grace such a talented, highly motivated and driven young crop of [prodominently English] players is simply once in a lifetime. The Neville brothers, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and David Beckham. Add those names to the Welsh wizardry of Ryan Giggs, King Eric and arguably the best goalkeeper ever to live, Peter Schmeichel, and you had one hell of team. At the seasons close Manchester United had chalked up a third Premier League trophy out of a possible four – and we’d seen the glory hunting masses switch from the red of Liverpool to the red of Manchester.

Paul Scholes

Paul Scholes

What really does grate on me, is that, there is still an army of United supporters who bring up the age old argument that if they can win a title with a side that was mostly built up of young English talent, rather than buy the title, then why can’t others? Fair point – people with absolutely zip football knowledge would think. But back then the Premier League player roster was made up of  just over 15% of foreign players anyhow [excluding British players and those from the Republic of Ireland]. And although money was beginning to play more of an influential  role in football, the cost of players and their wages hadn’t quite reached the insane levels that we saw in future years. This particular year was when Newcastle United paid Wimbledon £4 million for Warren Barton – a then record fee for a defender.

There are some United fans that may attempt to stop me in my tracks here and point out their 2012/13 title winning squad featured a whole host of English players. Let’s take a look at half-a-dozen exhibits; Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Ashley Young  and Wayne Rooney. Combined they cost the club in excess of £114m in transfer fees alone, not to mention fees of agents and player wages. And so that brings us perfectly onto the subject of money.

I saw a tweet posted a few days ago, on the 5th May by @ManUtdStuff, and it read, ‘Spend since inception of PL in ’92: Chelsea £842m – 3 titles, Man City £704m – 1 title, Liverpool £602m – 0 title, United £532m – 13 titles.’ When I last looked this tweet had been re-tweeted almost 5,000 times. It does really make you think; do people really know their football?

Ok – so these figures are probably correct. But my plan is to now break down into the discussion on finance that  little bit further.

If we cast our minds back to the pre-Abramovich era – which of course came long before Sheikh Mansour’s takeover at Manchester City – it was the hugely prosperous United that had shelled out the most monies on player purchases, and had the largest gap between spend-and-sell. Since the start of the Premier League in 1992/93, up until the end of 2002/03 United had spent a total of £165.9m, and having only recouped £77.74m in player sales, their overall deficit came in at £88.16m; marginally ahead of Liverpool who are a club famed for their overspend on players, and streets ahead of Chelsea and their near neighbours Manchester City. During that time United had won eight league titles and five other major honours, including a European Cup.

I found it somewhat amusing that this United account failed to mention Arsenal in its tweet. The Gunners may well be the butt of many a football joke seeing as eight years have now passed without them lifting a single trophy, but I think that Arsene Wenger deserves a huge amount of credit for the way he has ran the club since his arrival from Nagoya Grampus Eight in 1996.

In relation to the spending on and selling of players, in 17 years under the Frenchman, Arsenal’s deficit comes in at just under £13m. And during that time they’ve upgraded from a 38,419 seater stadium to The Emirates which has a capacity of over 60,000. They’ve won four FA Cups and three league titles, and Arsene have also achieved something that Ferguson never did, and that was to go the whole season unbeaten in the league – Wenger managed it with The Invincibles of 2003/04.

In previous articles that I’ve written I have been very open and in turn, very damning,  with my opinions on foreign ownership in football; it isn’t good for the game, and regardless of rules and santions, should things go tits up then it can really screw up a football club. Ask Pompey.

The makers of competitiveness?

The makers of competitiveness?

With all this money in football my main concern is more towards the potential drowning of young English talent as clubs look to bring in stars from oversees, and how that may seriously effect the Three Lions chances of winning an international tournament in my lifetime.

There has and will only ever be one single positive effect that foreign ownership, and the crazy dosh that these tycoons throw around like Monopoly money, and that is that they have increased the competitive edge at the top of the table.

What United fans must understand is that when you have the sort of standing that their club has in the beautiful game as the biggest club in world football, premium revenue streams from gate receipts, worldwide sponsorships and shirt sales, TV revenue and all the rest that other clubs could only ever dream of. Then without these billionaire’s using clubs almost as play things, then the Premier League would be even less competitive than it was pre-2003 – in the 90s United just ran riot. If things had have continued to follow along the same footpath then our top flight may well have become Manchester United + 19 no-hopers. That was the way things were heading; and so why should their supporters begrudge other teams putting up half a fight? Immoral, unfair or otherwise.

The most amusing part of all this, is that despite all of the success that Manchester United have had, particularly under the reign of Sir Alex, along with their breathtaking appeal and global following; since 2005 the club have been under American control themselves, with the Glazer family at the helm. It is disturbing that a football club of United’s size is operating at a debt of at least £367 million (this figure is post re-finance).

My conclusion is that the success of Manchester United over the past 26 years has been mostly down to spending power.  But that’s not to take anything away from Fergie’s accomplishments. As I pointed out earlier on, his main achievement is the manner in which he catapulted the club onto this trail of glory which shows no sign of letting up, and that despite other recent emerging forces and rivalries.

The Treble

United’s treble winning season in 1998/99 will be the one season that stands out for most. When my Villa team aren’t in action I always find it very difficult to get truly stuck into a game as a neutral, but that night when they saw off Bayern Munich in such dramatic fashion was one of very, very few occasions that I felt a little glow inside for a team other than my own.

The arrival of David Moyes

On Thursday afternoon Manchester United confirmed the appointment of David Moyes as their new manager on a six-year deal. Similar to the way in which I evoked praise onto Arsene Wenger earlier, Moyes is another of few managers that you will only ever find me speaking or writing fondly of. If you consider the budgetary constraint that he has had to work under for the past eleven years at Everton, with relative success, I don’t think I will ever find it within myself to utter a bad word about him.

And yet despite all his hard work, and having such an overwhelming steely determination to succeed, there are still some United fans who begrudge him this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because they hold concerns that he hasn’t won a trophy at Everton, he has never previously managed a club in the Champions League and are also uneasy that he may not possess a willingness, nor be able to attract the big names that Sir Alex could, as highlighted in a tweet posted by @mufcshirts recently, ‘SAF out Moyes in, Rooney out, Rio out, Nani out, Anderson out, Scholes out, Chicha out. Who in? Not looking forward to this summer.’

Let me stop you right there.

David Moyes is a man who has shown that he is more than able to find top class players, with a gritty resolve about them, at more than reasonable prices:- Tim Cahill (£1.5m), Mikel Arteta (£2m), Tim Howard (£3m), Leighton Baines (£6m), Sylvain Distin (£4m) and most recently Kevin Mirallas (£6m).

The only real ‘treat’ that he was able to splash out on in his tenure at Goodison Park was Marouane Fellani (£15m), but it’s fair to say that Afroman has more than lived up to his price tag.

New Manchester United boss, David Moyes

New Manchester United boss, David Moyes

I have little doubt that Moyes will look to bring in two of his prized assets from Everton, Fellani and Baines, with any further signings this summer still anyone’s guess. But let me tell you, it isn’t so much the manager name that attracts players in this day and age – despite what players may say, or what you read in the paper – it’s the pedigree of the club and the wage packets that they can offer that attract the heavy talent.

I’m no football manager (although I do like to try and pretend that I am), but I’ll tell you something for nothing, it’s much, much tougher to manage a club with little or no money than it is a top four club. Similar to Ferguson, Moyes’ working class background will stand him in good stead at United. To follow in Fergie’s footsteps is one heck of an ask, but the United faithful can breathe easy because David Moyes is the right man for the job.

End of discussion.

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