Well SAF checked that watch one final time this morning and decided to call time on his career as manager of the great Manchester United. After 26 years and 38 trophies, it really does look like there’ll be no more extra minutes for the great intimidated referee in the sky to add on this time.
It was certainly a surprise announcement but was it such a shock given the way certain things have panned out in recent weeks? I’m not so sure. First off of course was the reclaiming of the Premiership crown from noisy neighbours Man City proving once again his resilience and determination to create a team to see off the most imposing Premiership adversaries, just as he’d done previously with Chelsea and before them Arsenal and before them Liverpool. Some say that his achievement this year was possibly the most impressive given the spending power of the Abu Dhabi-based City owners and the lack of world-class quality in the United first team. But a deep squad, an inspired signing in Van Persie and some astute management has seen the Red Devils coast to the title. So mission accomplished yet again. Was the appetite to repeat the challenge still there in the light of some anticipated blockbuster spending by the light blues this summer, the likely return of the Special One to Chelsea (and a welcome home present Jose of one or two world class players no doubt) and an under-pressure Arsene Wenger armed with something like £100m in this summer’s transfer kitty. Now SAF isn’t one to shirk a challenge but even he must have been dismayed by the statement just this week from the new CEO at Old Trafford, Ed Woodward, that the squad was big enough and no major transfer expenditure would be necessary. Now that would be fine if Man U didn’t have a crying need to find world-class midfield replacements for Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes and to plug the gaps left by the likely departures of Nani, Anderson and possibly Evra and even Wayne Rooney. Surely Woodward wasn’t expecting SAF to find unpolished jewels in the youth team for all these positions was he?
I’ve a strong hunch that the departure of old ally and confidant David Gill in the CEO role was a major blow to SAF as many people suspected that it was Gill, a survivor from the previous regime, who backed the manager’s judgement on transfer policy and spend with the American owners. Woodward is a Glazer appointee and more likely to back the owners’ wishes on transfer spend going forward. I reckon one conversation with Woodward would have told SAF whether he had the cajones to go and bang the boardroom table and demand £65m to re-sign Cristiano Ronaldo. I think we can both guess the outcome.
Quite apart from the politics however was the rather odd statement a couple of days ago that SAF would probably miss the start of next season as he would be recuperating from a planned hip replacement operation in August. Something about this is odd to me. It’s not like SAF has to wait until his name comes up on the NHS waiting list is it? A man as wealthy/important to the club as he would have private medical cover and could schedule an operation for next week if it was necessary, giving him plenty of time to get ready for the pre-season schedule let alone the full kick-off in August. There’s more to this than meets the eye. Could it possibly mask a bigger health issue? Who could blame SAF if for once he was putting his own well-being and his family first?
So putting two and two together I can see why SAF may feel that the timing was right to make his exit especially as the two men most likely to be vying to be his replacement, Jose Mourinho and David Moyes, both look like they are coming to the end of their tenures at Real and Everton respectively. It makes sense to make the overtures now before they are both committed to other competing clubs of course.
Would there be any regrets for SAF? Well only that he didn’t achieve more Champions League success I guess. Two wins under his aegis is pretty damn good but he badly wanted to match and overtake Bob Paisley’s 3 trophies and to exceed Liverpool’s 5 successes overall. That controversial defeat to Real Madrid in the QF’s desperately hurt you suspect and he probably thought the new coming of German footballing power and the inexorable spending power of Man City and PSG might just put the 3rd trophy out of touch for him. And he might have expected to have won a few more FA cups – it’s almost 10 years since I saw them trounce Millwall in the 2004 Final. But hey if you’re going to bow out what better way than to do it on his own terms with the accolades of this country’s greatest ever club manager ringing in his ears.
Well done SAF and thank you for giving we Reds many happy moments. His best signing? No brainer; Cantona – sublime skills, unforgettable goals, beautifully arrogant goal celebration, charismatic presence and a profound influence on other players. He was the footballing catalyst that allowed the great period of success to follow and SAF paid just £1m for him. Genius. I’ll overlook Djemba Djemba.
It’s going to be odd not seeing SAF berating officials, the media, Spanish managers, Italian managers, England managers, Brazilian dying swans, the FA and countless others next season. The band of grumpy old brothers just lost a valued member.
ps Great line from my mate Simon this morning who said that first Thatcher dies, then Ferguson retires…..somewhere there’s a Scouser with a lamp and one wish left. B’dum tisch!