The list of eulogies has been long and lingering since Alex Ferguson finally relented and removed his foot from the throat of English football on Wednesday and among them was the lament that he would turn toward retirement as the last of the old-school managers.
Maybe so, maybe not.
Ferguson had, with his ability to reinvent team after championship-winning team at Old Trafford, a knack that was unequalled. He was, in truth, a sporting chameleon – one all too able to change colours to suit the unpredictable climate in the English game. His portfolio of achievements at the one club spanned a quarter century of change that all but bewildered most of his earlier contemporaries.
It’s worth noting that Fergie was older than 14 of the other 21 managers of then First Division clubs when he moved southwest from Aberdeen to Manchester to take over from Ron Atkinson in November 1986 and only one of those men is still in gainful employment at the head of a football club all these years later.
Take a bow then Graham Turner who is still in charge of Shrewsbury Town in League One this season, 26 years after his Aston Villa side finished bottom of the top tier. Yet how weird it is to think that Howard Kendall, whose Everton side were league champions that season, hasn’t sat in a dugout since he was relieved of his post by Greek side Ethnikos Piraeus in 1999.
And Kendall is five years younger than Ferguson.
Look at it like that and it may appear difficult to argue against the theory that an era has indeed ended with Ferguson’s exit from the stage and yet every indication emanating from Manchester United in recent days is suggestive of a club determined to ensure that David Moyes will be merely the latest regent in a royal line stretching back to Matt Busby rather than the progenitor of a brand new dynasty.
It isn’t just Moyes’ accent and birthplace that suggests he could be a fitting successor to his Scottish forebearers but also the words of the club’s chief executive David Gill who spoke about how both Busby and Ferguson had delivered success by involving themselves in all aspects of the institution from the academy to the A-listers.
It’s a fascinatingly old-fashioned approach from a club which has embraced modernity like no other in every other sphere through a pursuit of profit that has ignored no corner of the globe and one that even deemed it necessary to remove the sacred words ‘Football Club’ from the very crest that holds so much value to so many.
No Director of Football here. And no Jose Mourinho either. United’s refusal to ape others by going continental in their search for a new don is, in fact, a startling departure for the English Premier League in general and one that may only be truly appreciated when the tributes to Fergie are done with and people turn their attention from the past to the here and now and what may be to come.
Liverpool may have turned to Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers of late, Mark Hughes may have had a year-and-a-bit at Manchester City and Harry Redknapp a tad longer at Spurs but all those men were invited on board by clubs desperate to join or rejoin the coveted top four.
When Moyes signs his contract with the new league champions he will be the first British or Irish manager of the modern era to be handed the reigns of power at a club already established in the moneyed ranks of those sides competing in the Champions League and if you doubt how significant that is then ask Sam Allarydce.
The West Ham United manager has, like many of his British counterparts, lamented the perceived existence of a glass ceiling on managers born in these islands and Big Sam once said tongue-in-cheek that the reason he would never manage a top four side was that his name was Allardyce rather than Allardici.
“Unfortunately, they’re looking abroad for that and for people who have won European trophies,” Steve McClaren told CNN earlier this year. “They want people who have won leagues in Europe and have a background in winning. Unfortunately, our coaches and managers haven’t got the pedigree of winning things.”
Moyes among them, it must be said, and yet it would prove to be a comforting and deferential hat tip to the game’s storied traditions if Moyes could emulate men like him, Bill Shankly and Jock Stein by rising to the summit in the English league.
Now, how old-school would that be?