Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Replacing the Special One: Sir Alex Ferguson makes a Moyes, I'm going for Sparky

IT'S been football's burning question for a decade. It befuddles the mind of every pundit: How do you replace the world's most special manager?

No, not the self-styled flash-in-the-pan Jose "Special One" Mourinho - he'll be staying in Italy after his Inter Milan took a 3-1 lead over Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final last night - we're talking about Sir Alex Ferguson, Europe's longest-serving top-flight manager.

The son of a Strathclyde dock worker took over at Manchester United in 1986, when the Red Devils were mired in hellish mediocrity. Then he was just plain Alexander Chapman Ferguson, aged 45. His qualifications? He'd scored 170 goals in 317 League games as an "unfussy centre forward" in Scotland, including 25 in 41 for mighty Rangers.

And as a coach? After taking St Mirren to the First Division title, he'd pushed Aberdeen - you won't have heard of them, they've reverted to being an average outfit just south of the Arctic cirle - right up with the Old Firm of Celtic and Rangers, even taking on the European superpowers.

Fergie, yet another attempt to fill the yawning chasm left after Sir Matt Busby's 26-year reign, didn't look like he was the answer either. For three years he struggled, losing 5-1 to neighbours Manchester City and struggling to break the dominance of arch-rivals Liverpool as fans and supporters demanded his replacement.

But he got there in the end, winning the FA Cup after the "dark days" of December 1989 and by the time England decided to create a Premier League in 1992, United were ready to become the dominant force in England - and twice in Europe - until the present day.

The full list of silverware cannot be matched by any other manager:

St Mirren:

1 Scottish First Division championship 1977


3 Scottish Premier League Titles 1980,1984,1985

4 Scottish F.A. Cups 1982,1983,1984,1986

1 Scottish League Cup 1986

1 European Cup Winners Cup 1983

1 European Super Cup 1983

Manchester United: 11 English Premier League Titles 1993,1994,1996,1997,1999,2000,2001,2003,2007,2008,2009

8 Charity/community Shields 1990,1993,1994,1996,1997,2003,2007,2008

5 English F.A. Cups 1990,1994,1996,1999,2004

4 English League Cups 1992,2006,2009,2010 2 European Cups 1999,2008

1 European Cup Winners Cup 1991

1 European Super Cup 1991

1 Intercontinental cup 1999

1 Fifa club World Cup 2008

Now though, after a series of attempts to reach for the pipe and slippers, Sir Alex, 68, is ready to retire "after one more season", six months before his 70th birthday.

This morning's Sun suggests he has picked out another Glaswegian, Everton's David Moyes, as his successor. Now 46, Moyes has done a reasonable job at Merseyside's second club. He's not hit the heights, though he is currently threatening the dominance of neighbours Liverpool.

Can he fill Fergie's boots? Hardly. A veteran of 535 games as a centre-half, Moyes can be tough. City boss Roberto Mancini found that out ion a touch-line scuffle a couple of weeks ago. And he can be astute - selling Wayne Rooney to Manchester United turned out to be less disastrous than most Toffeemen thought.

But he will have seen what's gone before when Sir Alex - knighted after his first Champions League success in 1999 - talks about quitting. A volcanic cloud of pretenders emgerges. Once there was talk of Sven Goran Eriksson and Arsene Wenger. Then former players Roy Keane and Steve Bruce. Now we'll see Mourinho, Big Phil Scolari and Guus Hiddink thrown into the pot with Moyes.

There is still no direct quote from Sir Alex available on the subject of Moyes. But me? I'd look no further than Mark Hughes. A former United striker who impressed wherever he played, Hughes has sharpened his managerial spurs with Wales, Blackburn and Manchester City.

His premature sacking by the Abu Dhabi billionaires who control Eastlands will be the perfect grudge to carry into the job next summer, after a period of acclimatisation next to Sir Alex.

Sure, Moyes will be the chosen one for a few weeks. Perhaps Sir Alex will even come out and say it. But I'm sticking with Sparky. And I'd be surprised if Fergie himself doesn't agree.

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