by Mike Njoroge
The departing master left one final instruction. As Sir Alex Ferguson held the microphone and addressed the Manchester United community in his last game at Old Trafford, he gave them one final command. The words that echoed provided a truism to his retirement. He commanded that now, everyone had to stand by the next United manager.
Of course by then, he had already known that David Moyes would be that man. Ferguson had already rang up the former Everton manager, invited him to his house and told him what his immediate future was. Further confirmation would prove it. That, alongside Jose Mourinho to Chelsea, Carlo Ancelotti to Real Madrid and Gareth Bale’s world record transfer would compete for 2013’s version of football’s worst kept secret.
As such, the chosen apprentice now finds himself in the shadow of the irreplaceable master. For a long time, the thought of Ferguson departing Manchester United had seemed false. A whole generation has grown up knowing nothing other. His influence reached mythological proportions that seemed to create a false sense of eternity. He is most definitely gone now.
And nothing proves this more than the surreal uncertainty that his absence now provides. The Manchester United community finds itself in a state of never before experienced dubiety. Ferguson had enough triumphs behind him to mask any blips. He continued to provide triumphs that justified his supposed mistakes. Trophies were won because of him. Challenges were overcome in spite of him. Despite anything, Ferguson occasioned the wins.
Ferguson’s imperialistic manner means Moyes has a near impossible act to follow. As Mourinho once said, Ferguson’s whisper makes the whole Premier League shiver in fear. Such a statement now quantifies a past that has now ended. A new era has begun.
Robert Greene’s 41st Law of the 48 Laws of Power speaks of the avoidance of stepping into a great man’s shoes. If such is the case, then Moyes finds himself in the shoes of more than just a man, but an icon who was massively influential. But Moyes would hypothetically counter Greene’s advice with a question of his own – what was he meant to do when an opportunity of such grand stature as managing United presented itself?
Indeed, Moyes never ticked all the boxes, but he ticked enough that Ferguson himself was willing to recommend him as his successor. A recommendation that was very well a decisive stamp of approval. In turn, it provides Moyes with further quest for ambition. An ambition to grow his managerial career and make a name of it.
That means that he must now further follow Greene’s advice. If one finds himself following a great man, they must not get lost in that shadow or remain stuck in that glorious past. One must establish their own name and build up their own identity. The best way of doing this is slaying the overbearing father, disparaging his legacy and shining on your own.
If this is the case, then a horrible transfer period has done little to work towards that. Missing out on targets with the public nature not usually accustomed to has put a glaring dent into Moyes’s already difficult start. As such, it has also put a dent to the reputation and aura of a post-Ferguson Manchester United.
All the misgivings are of course not of Moyes’s sole doing but in a football world where constantly the buck stops with the manager, they will be held as such. An indifferent start to the Premier League season also points to this further perceived ineptness.
Because a win against Swansea City, a draw with Chelsea and a loss to Liverpool point to only four points being registered. As such, the underlying question has been – ‘if it were Ferguson…’ Yet, it was Ferguson whom in those same games last season oversaw a loss to Chelsea at Old Trafford, a draw to Swansea at the Liberty Stadium and a win against Liverpool at Anfield. The same four points from the same four games mirrors itself. But even though the contexts of those seasons are entirely different, the difference will relate as much with the times as they will with who was the manager at those different times.
That shows that the overbearing absolute faith placed in Ferguson has been lost with his departure. In place, a shaking incertitude has replaced it. As such, questions are bound to always arise as the impossible attempt at comparing the two manager’s reigns inevitably continues. Ferguson’s incomparable shadow will — unless Moyes steadies the ship very quickly and delivers a trophy; and until he finally departs – forever linger above the new man’s head.
For whereas Ferguson’s presence provided guarantees and sureties – his absence opens doors of uncertainty. It is this, more than anything else that Moyes will have to battle against most.
Mike Njoroge writes FutbolTriangle