Did they ever prepare for life without Sir Alex Ferguson, looking back on his last season in charge

Sir Alex managed in a strange way to get the results needed to be the manager that no one could touch, and in his last season at the helm Man Utd stayed top of the league from November until the final day of the season.

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Despite losing on three occasions at Old Trafford and two times away, no one complained. The season was a real disaster in the Champions League losing to Real Madrid as early as in the round of 16, but winning the group stages might have been enough to convince the fans.

Manchester United had to see defeats against Chelsea both in the EFL Cup and the FA Cup at an early stage, and in a way being helped by the fact that they didn’t have much disturbance going into the finals of the league and push for the one title that counts the most.

Manchester United have two titles in the Champions League from before, and to win it again would always be bonus, but in all not really important if you are out of the race in the Premier League. Sir Alex never faulted the Premier League, he either won it or ended runners-up in his final years.

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You need to be in the Premier League title race to be a manager at Manchester United, if not you are “finished”. That is the “song” written on the wall. To see Man Utd on top in the rivalry with Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, could also be enough, of course not dropping down to a 7th place as was the case for David Moyes.

Sir Alex had in his winning season a total of 50 players involved, with of 25 them appearing in Premier League action. Strangely only three players played more than 30 games, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick and Robin Van Persie. To win the league with so much rotation should not be possible, but it happened. Sir Alex even switched goalkeepers seeing understudy Anders Lindegaard playing 10 games while the first choice David De Gea had the gloves in 28. To see so many players involved in that achievement was just phenomenal.

Manchester United were also far of in the race for the title, winning on 89 points, 11 points in front of runners-up neighbor Manchester City. To see Liverpool down at 7th, 28 points behind, Chelsea ending 3rd and Arsenal 4th was of course total satisfaction for the fans, looking at it all as total domination.

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The way David Moyes went about and changed “too much”, “too fast” showed how his staff made in real Manchester United into Everton, ending 22 points behind Manchester City in the next season, and in one season all those fantastic years under Sir Alex had gone into a massive “dipper” and turned the club into a Premier League fiasco.

So how could that happen over night, how could a new manager not have a plan in his drawer that would enhance the work of Sir Alex, and just continue on a path that was drawn up, but as we all could see, David Moyes turned Manchester United into a farce in no time.

It’s not easy to copy big managers and no one has really managed to do so, some managers, such as Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte and Manuel Pellegrini did it themselves, and their own errors became the reason for them being sacked at the places they had earlier made great success.

They all made the mistake of ignoring Premier League activity so much that they found themselves in great trouble, that same thing happened to Brendan Rodgers while in charge of Liverpool. You cannot neglect the most important competition at no time if you would like to survive as a manager at those top clubs, then you are “finished”.

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If you look back in time, you have never seen much of success from people coming in at clubs after a legendary manager. In the 60’s and 70’s you had a great group of of them. Bill Shankly, Bertie Mee, Bill Nicholson, Sir Alf Ramsey, Don Revie, Sir Matt Busby, Harry Potts, Harry Catterick, Stan Cullis, Lawrie McMenemy, Ron Greenwood and Joe Mercer were all legends and long term in charge of their teams,  and only Liverpool can be said to have managed to keep it running at the same level in two decades after the great Bill Shankly had left, using the method of only recruting managers internally.

So what is the key to all of this, of course not to make too many changes too fast and adding players before you get to know the once you have. When Bob Paisley took over at Liverpool in 1974, he just carried on without making any big changes at all. The clubs strategy for recruitment was the same finding talent in the lower leagues, buy them cheap and galvanize them in the reserves a few years and let them into the first team when ready.

Sir Alex never chopped and changed much, not really in the days before winning the first Premier League trophy either, slotting in new players in a relatively slow tempo, not rocking the boat more than needed. It was never a full turnover or changes just for the change.

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The Manchester United fans do accept a defeat or two, if they have been fed correctly, and given the circus they like for a while, and of course to be entertained is a key factor. No one likes to go home from Old Trafford if the team have not put in the shift they should and at the same time getting what they pay for, to see Man Utd win.

For every manager that turns up at the door at Old Trafford it will become more and more difficult, but to see Ole Gunnar Solskjaer being the one turning this around, is not a picture you really believe in. Drawing up a list of 250 names, maybe more, you would not find OGS on that list a year ago. To use him as a caretaker, might have been a good idea, but to be fooled to believe that he could go all the way without any proof at all from a past in management, it’s a strange and clown acting strategy.

Manchester United going forward needs to look back at their winning formula, which had a number of key ingredients. A clear identity, a number of players that had great character and also had no other desire than to play for Manchester United, and if they pushed that button, they were sold. A boss that was ruthless and had the lead and final say, and of course the courage to make decisions few or no other would be doing.

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Sir Alex never pushed the “alarm clock” asking for unrealistic funds to buy players without knowing the value of that individual. He also had a vision and thought behind every transfer, and seldom had to buy a player to cover up for bad mistakes in the transfer market.

A problem for Sir Alex in some sense was to find the right goalkeeper, a big struggle in the early days. He managed to make three fantastic goalkeeper signings in Peter Schmeichel, David de Gea and Erwin van der Sar. The seasons before those three and the interim seasons between them became a struggle, with the likes of Les Sealey, Jim Leighton, Massimo Taibi, Marc Bosnich, Tim Howard, Roy Carroll, Fabian Barthez and Chris Turner all being involved.

The goalkeeper problem was a key reason for Sir Alex not winning the league title earlier as this uriaspost never was completely filled before the signing of Peter Schmeichel. Strangely good alternative goalkeepers weren’t found.

While the business of the club is healthier than ever the sporting life looks a bit “thin”, and a club like Manchester United cannot wait on results, that is like waving goodbye to it all as football is “here and now”. At Old Trafford fans should not wait, they should be entertained and see their team win and not find silly excuses if they are not. No fan of Manchester United should accept someone saying they should wait for good results and be patient. It’s like telling kids that this Christmas you will have to wait for presents, as they will not arrive before the next, maybe not then either, maybe sometime in the future there will be presents, but then Christmas isn’t what it should be.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer days at Manchester United looks numbered, despite the opposite said. The way forward is to find a manager that knows how to win trophies, and at the same time acts as he would be a long term alternative for the club.

 

 

 

 

 

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