Talk about longevity; talk about loyalty; talk about a man who values the club and you have the knight from Govan. Yesterday I managed to finally get my hands on Sir Alex Ferguson’s full length interview with Sir David Frost [for those who haven’t seen it yet, here’s the Megaupload link. Download it before it eventually gets yanked off]. Watching it made me realise — not for the first time, though — how blessed our club is, and we as fans are.
Let’s get the superlatives out of the way first, lest it come in the way of bigger things: he is the greatest British manager ever. Even the thickest scouser will acknowledge that; not that their approval counts for anything. But he is to us the greatest ever, with all due respect to Sir Matt Busby.
On the interview, there wasn’t much, by way of actual content, that wasn’t already available to us — thanks to excerpts already published in the dailies one day prior. But there is only so much picture written words can convey in comparison to actually seeing them being spoken. [The closest analogy I can think of would be watching a match on television versus watching it in the stadium; the former restricts your view to the scope of the camera missing the nuances one can pick up by doing the latter — not to mention, the role of the former in increasing the chances of a commentator influencing your ability to form an independent opinion.] Watching Fergie speak, exposed you to his demeanour; the way he went about answering the questions put to him; the shrug; the twinkle in his eye as he spoke about his matriarchal grandmother — one could even see a bit of the child in him as he spoke. For someone with a keen interest in knowing a great manager, watching interviews like these are priceless.
He had the relaxed air of someone who knows he’s achieved what he set out to. And yet, the hunger to succeed is very much there. In hindsight it’s easy to say what I am about to say now, but I’ll say it anyway: I had doubts in my mind at various stages in the season, more so in the closing stages (after Chelsea beat us). I was chewing away at my nails ferociously, when I saw the pre-match conference of the Champions’ League semi-final against Barca. The relaxed vibe that Fergie generated when many a great man might have mumbled a few words in nervousness, calmed my nerves instantly. Cut to the speech he gave following the West Ham win. If you saw it — and I emphasise this, if you saw it as against read it in the papers — you instantly knew, here was a man who knew he had the Premier League firmly in his grasp.
The interview I saw was another such glorious moment.
Which is why another contradictory feeling crept in my mind: one of dread. Here was a man, who has been running the club for well over two decades and has, for all practical purposes, held the club through his sheer will. Not only has he been a symbol of continuity, he has used this continuity to bring about change like no other club has been able to that could survive the vicissitudes of time.
Which is why the day — perhaps two or three years down the road — he decides he’s had enough would be the day David Gill and the directors would face the biggest challenge of their lives. It’s an unenviable situation, to have to make such a big decision, and an unenviable situation for the succeeding manager. How will he run (or change) a setup that has been in motion like a well-oiled machine for over twenty years. How odd would it be for some of the staff (or the players, or the OT regular) to see a new face take his seat in the dugout that was the preserve of the Scot. But then let’s not make this a debate on who should succeed him. [That has already been done before.]
The club has endured hardships of the worst kind and always emerged stronger. They say no one is bigger than the club, and it certainly is true of Manchester United. But if there could be someone big enough to come close, it is Sir Alex Ferguson. For my generation of United fans, Ferguson is Manchester United. The club won’t die if he leaves — far from it. But for a few years, it might seem unfamiliar — like an almost completed jigsaw puzzle of a thousand pieces with one piece missing from the corner; it looks good, but not quite the same as all pieces fitting.
Yes, he may not be the same raging socialist, son of the soil person that he was before. He may have made mistakes along the way (some of which he has admitted), but the glint in the eye, the nod to his roots were all there and unchanged from the days [that I’ve seen of him]; only better and more relaxed.
It’s not everyday that I feel the urge to thank Sky for having made this interview possible [although a big part of me revolts]. But thank heavens we’ve had the opportunity of seeing such greatness unfold before our eyes — the extent of which we’ll only fathom when we recount tales of these glory years to our grandchildren.
Thank you Fergie, for all these years. And thank you for inspiring me to write all this, in the first place.