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Sir Alex Ferguson: Replacing the irreplaceable

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The statue of Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson stands in front of the stadium at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England on May 8, 2013 on the day that current manager Alex Ferguson announced his resignation
The statue of Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson stands in front of the stadium at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England on May 8, 2013 on the day that current manager Alex Ferguson announced his resignation

Past and present, friends and foes, players and pundits have all begun dishing out their two cents on the breaking news of the last 24 hours as Sir Alex Ferguson announced that he was finally stepping down and retiring from football management at the end of the current season.

Maybe it’s because he’s brought arguably the best striker in the Premier League to Old Trafford and has been able to exorcise the demons of losing the Premier League crown to the ‘noisy neighbours’ Manchester City. Maybe it’s because the greatest manager to grace the Premier League has realised that achieving that third European title would be impossible after witnessing just what Bayern Munich has done in both the Bundesliga and the Champions League this year.  Whatever was the final straw for the Scotsman, Manchester United’s players will be unlikely to face the infamous ‘hair dryer’ of Sir Alex again.

The Glasgow born manager has an unrivalled trophy cabinet that no manager in English football can compete with.  13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups, 10 Charity Shields and two European Cups make up the major European and domestic trophies the club has won under his reign, many of which are some of the most memorable victories in football.

He denied Chelsea a Champions League final win in the year of the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster, he was the supposed mental mastermind that lead to the breakdown of Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle side – not to mention the breakdown of Keegan himself – in the 1996 Premier League title race, the dramatic jumping celebrations of he and Brian Kidd against Sheffield Wednesday, as the pair celebrated two late Steve Bruce headers that put United two points clear of Aston Villa with five games left to play on the road to their first Premier League title. And wasn’t there a treble thrown in there somewhere too? These iconic moments in English football are so typically ‘Fergie’ and will forever be engrained in the hearts and minds of those who both love and loath Manchester United in the era of it’s greatest manager.

The silverware, though, is only half the achievement as Sir Alex has found unrivalled, consistent, success in a time where football in England has been anything but. European football’s face has been forever changing since United has been under his rule, when the stature and importance of some of football’s greatest competitions has risen and fallen, when million pound players are sold once a day rather then once a decade, one thing in English football has remained the same. Manchester United have always been there or there abouts at the top of the Premier League and it is that consistency that has lead to the other half of Sir Alex’s legacy, the global brand of Manchester United.

Look at Leeds United, Division 1 Champions in 1992, or Newcastle United, runners up to United in the 1995/96 Premier League, both huge clubs of English football who have been forced to face the bitter taste of relegation, financial struggle and long arduous seasons fighting for survival during the period of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign. 

Aston Villa, who United piped to their first Premier League crown have spent the last two seasons making the club financially stable and flirting with relegation, while Arsenal, a side who United were once duelling with for title crowns, are now a team happy to settle with a fourth place finish and the assurance of Champions League football.

Sir Alex has ensured United have stayed at the top of English football during the League’s healthiest financial period, making the brand Manchester United the most valuable brand in football between 2007-2012, toppled only by the great Real Madrid this year. The $3.165 billion that the club is worth today (according to Forbes’ rich list) ensures it’s stature as a powerhouse in English football and that has cemented its future and title prospects for years to come.

The next man to take the reigns at United – David Moyes is expected to be named as Fergie’s successor in the next 24 hours – will walk into a pressure cooker like no other. A job where success is a must and where the man’s shoes they’re trying to fill is the man whose statue sits outside your office and whose name hangs above the largest stand in the ground. It is a man who was more vital then any player to building a clubs pedigree, both on and off the pitch, and it is a club where many of the fans may not remember a time or manager before your predecessor.

Jose Mourinho, David Moyes or whoever takes the Manchester Untied job has an impossible task ahead of them because being ‘the new Alex Ferguson’ is something that cannot be done. You don’t go on stage after Elvis, you don’t tell a joke after Richard Prior and you don’t follow Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester Untied.