It looked pertinent in more ways than one that Sir Alex Ferguson took to a London stage alongside the bulk of Europe’s latest, victorious Ryder Cup team last week.
Ferguson had played an apparently significant role in the victory at Gleneagles with nuggets of advice to the captain Paul McGinley and the players. But there was a subliminal point not even directly relating to golf; one which the onlooking Darren Clarke most likely didn’t miss.
Ferguson’s successor at Old Trafford, David Moyes, may have been doomed for failure simply because of whom he was succeeding. Ferguson was impossible to emulate. The level of adulation bestowed, still, on McGinley carries its own intriguing subtext: what can Clarke possibly do, or be expected to do, better?
McGinley is perfectly worthy of all the praise that came his way – he appeared to do nothing wrong – but in this age of immediate comparison it could prove detrimental to Clarke, which clearly would be unfair.
The theory that precisely the same again will do Europe perfectly well, thanks very much, in September 2016 at Hazeltine does not entirely stack up. Clarke’s Europe are playing away from home, for starters. They will face a USA team in which a youthful but hungry, already battle-hardened, and continually impressive group will compete.
Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka are evidence of that. It seems virtually impossible Clarke could benefit from the background chaos that epitomised Tom Watson’s USA stint, a matter which came to a head so publicly on a Sunday evening in Perthshire. Davis Love III will be far more in tune with his team.
It may be that Europe is about to enter a transitional phase, where Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood can no longer be relied on as automatic qualifiers or picks. And on a basic level the more success Europe has, the more pressure builds not to be the captain to suffer defeat.
In short, Clarke will have a far stiffer task and because of a multitude of factors. It is actually made tougher still when McGinley’s tenure is as a constant reference point, that juncture being the Ryder Cup immediately before. Europe has had precious few supposedly bad captains in recent times, a nod to something deeper which has been working well or, perhaps, the Americans have been doing poorly.
To his credit, when speaking this week, Clarke played down any necessity to impose himself at any available opportunity. He has retained precisely the same European qualifying criteria as pre-2014, which backs up this point.
It must be remembered that constant message of McGinley himself was about developing templates rather than re-inventing wheels. Clarke has duly retained precisely the same qualifying criteria and process as for 2014.
Clarke said: “This Ryder Cup and Hazeltine, it’s not about me. This is about for the European Tour. We are going there as a European Tour team. You know, all I’m trying to do is enable us to have the strongest possible team. It is a very valid point, do I want to make my own mark on it, I will in a few different ways. But I want to be able to be in the position along with the European Tour to select the strongest possible team.
“So this is not one that I need to stamp any of my little bit on at all. We need the strongest team; we are going to need it whenever we get there, because they are going to be strong. They are going to be baying for blood and trying to win it back, and rightly so, but that’s what’s going to make it such an exciting event.”
On potential vice-captains, some of whom he has sounded out already, Clarke maintained the theme. “All I would say regarding that is if you take a look at the form that we’ve had in recent Ryder Cups, most of the guys have been involved at some stage or another, prospective captains have been involved behind the scenes,” Clarke said. “Again, I wouldn’t imagine myself moving too much, too far away from that formula.”
The notion Clarke could not possibly analyse as much as McGinley did before making key decisions would be unfair. Clarke has been a thinker all of his career, by his own admission occasionally to the detriment of his golf. The Ryder Cup has far too much of an attachment to Clarke for him to possible treat this role lightly or underestimate what lies in front of him.
Hopefully the wider and inevitable debate, relating to how good or otherwise the 2011 Open champion is when seeking another European Ryder Cup defence, takes appropriate heed of context. That means taking far more than McGinley into account; a point Sir Alex would undoubtedly acknowledge.
This article was written by Ewan Murray, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 27th May 2015 14.40 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010