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Ferguson, Manchester United, and the Phantom Manager

Sir Alex Ferguson

What happens next at Manchester United? Are plans for Sir Alex Ferguson's successor already underway?

All empires eventually crumble, or do they? The Romans, an empire of which we are all probably most familiar with, imlploded, weakened by politics decadence and perhaps ultimately felled by complacency. They were not prepared for what was coming and so they withered and died. The end.

As footballing empires go, prior to the Ferguson epoch which ushered in two decades of unprecedented footballing success at Manchester Utd, we saw, the Liverpudlian regime who's influence was so vast that even today you will find Liverpool known throughout the world.

Teenagers and young adults living in Southern England, who have no modern reason or geographical resemblence to support Liverpool, are fans to this day. They've been moulded and shaped by the glistening and romantic memories and stories of the once great Liverpudlian empire. Rush, Molby, Dalglish, Crown Paints and the Kop. What we do in life echoes in eternity!

Like the Roman Empire, the once might Liverpool of the 70's and 80's had been unable to sustain it's reign with many believing the departure of Cesar Dalglish from the helm as the start of the rot. Enter the fall guy Souness, who was unable to transfer his on the field authority and grit onto the managerial stage. Liverpool choosing Souness to succeed Dalglish was an easy mistake to make. He was in the eyes of many the natural successor. When Emperors are succeeded they tend to be replaced from within the regime, usually a mainstay of the fold, respected, but Souness did not carry the burden well. Perhaps the enormity and importance of the job was wasted on him? His record and legacy seem to suggest this was perhaps the case. Certainly I have a dim view of him as a character myself.

With Alex Ferguson soon to surely retire, the dreadful thought on every Man Utd supporters mind is whether or not the club will go the same way as their red counterparts down the East Lancs road. Whoever succeeds Ferguson is not just tasked with managing one of the biggest footballing clubs on the planet, they also have to ensure the birth of a new epoch of success whilst playing attractive and entertaining football. Who can ensure such a seamless transition? Mourinho? Too negative. Moyes? What has he won? Giggs? Cantona? Noble, if nothing else.

It seems that Ferguson is quite irreplaceable. We all know of course that Ferguson can't last forever but perhaps one thing that all Man Utd supporters are forgetting is that the one person who knows this more than anyone is Ferguson himself. Ferguson is a winner we all know that, but perhaps we underestimate his capacity to plan for the future.

When Ron Atkinson was in charge at Old Trafford, United were a like a pub team in comparison to the tactically superior and classier Liverpool. There was no youth programme and the club was in limbo following the heady Busby era. Enter Ferguson and by the start of the nineties United blooded players like Butt, the Nevilles, Beckham and the mesmerising Giggs. The title, the first one in 26 years arrived in 1993 and many many more afterwards. Fergusons Empire has been the most powerful, bordering on omnipotent, in the history of the club and football. The emphasis on youth has been a notable aspect of the history of the club and one which Ferguson has tried hard to nurture, although we may never ever see a home grown player of the ilk of Giggs again. Also notable, and testament to Ferguson's man management skills has been his intolerance for players who lack discipline. The likes of Ince and Stam will testify to this, as would Beckham who bore the brunt of a hairdryer laced with a boot on on one occasion. The point being that as soon as Ferguson arrived he knew what he was doing, he had a plan and he executed it well. Youth and discipline.

Every United fan who understands Ferguson in this way then surely must know that right now he is already planning his exit from the club. The next part will stagger every United fan but when they think about it they will see there is every logical reason for my reaching this hypothesis. Wait for it............... the new manager has already been selected and is operating as a phantom manager in the background.

You're crazy I hear you say, but just before I reveal the identity of this manager let's look at two things. First, Man United won many domestic titles playing 4-4-2 but in Europe they were defeated in two finals to Barcelona in 2009 and 2011 - but they didn't just lose. They were beaten by a new brand of football that the 4-4-2 simply could not live with. It was a new footballing philosophy the like of which Man Utd has never encountered.

We saw Spain, who adopted the same footballing philosophy, take the World Cup in 2010 and the European Championships in 2012. Both Barcelona and Spain have reinvented football. It is a change that has made Ferguson sit up and take notice. Managers like Brendan Rodgers are already doing it. It is the reason why this season United are playing without wingers, the 4-4-2 seemingly abandoned. The short passing, Kagawa, 'the Asian Messi' orchestrating things in the hole. Valencia at right back so he can spring flank attacks like Dani Alves, and the lack of a traditional sturdy midfielder. A defensive midfielder is what Man U fans have been crying out for but if the aim is to play a fluid possession based passing game then you don't need a midfield enforcer. Do Barcelona have a midfield henchman? Xavi and Iniesta hardly fit the bill.

Ferguson is laying the groundwork for Man Utd to play the Barcelona way because he knows it's a sure winner. He is never wrong about these things. In Fergie We Trust right? Specifically, the only manager capable of picking up that baton will need to be an advocate of this footballing philosophy. The Man U board, with the support of Ferguson are priming the new Emperor in a business like way that is reminiscent of a corporate enterprise replacing it's CEO.

Planned obsolence they call it. A cold and dry term which describes something that is in decline and needs to be replaced with a newer, fresher model without compromising the end product and brand. Man Utd is big business, even more so when you've floated and gone public. Any changes in management will affect the share price and therefore such changes are planned in advance, but the public are not necessarily told about these movements. Ferguson is no stranger to the cold hard line of business. He used to run a pub in Govan, before venturing out in football management. He has and did buy into the idea, along with Messrs Gill and Glazer, that his replacement would need to be phased in and not just done on a whim when Ferguson feels like leaving.

There will be no advert for the role, no interviews for this process has already been done and completed. When the phantom manager emerges from the shadows, most United fans will naturally be surprised. I for one will not have been caught off my Guardiola!

image: © marcel sigg

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