Monday, March 30, 2009

Sir Alex Ferguson's Possible Successors

Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson reversed his decision to retire at the age of 60, there has been a relentless tide of speculation as to exactly when the Manchester United manager will decide to call it a day. Numbers-wise, Ferguson has been incredibly successful since taking over the Red Devils in November 1986. There are those who believe Jock Stein, Bob Paisley, Brian Clough, Bill Shankly, or Ferguson’s mighty predecessor, Sir Matt Busby were better coaches, but the statistics say otherwise. Ferguson's shoes are big ones to fill. And we would all profit by remembering that there were four managers who failed miserably to succeed the club's beloved Sir Matt Busby before the board got it right and hired the Gaffer.

Now there is feverish gossip concerning who is likely to succeed the Scotsman. After taking three Scottish Premier League Championships and a European Cup Winners Cup for Aberdeen, Ferguson carried on the magic in England. Having won 10 Premier League Championships, 5 F.A. Cups, 3 League cups, 2 European Champions Cups, 2 FIFA World Club Cups and a European Cup Winners Cup, there are, literally, no worlds left for the man to conquer. Well... no! Actually there is one. Historically speaking, Liverpool have won eighteen championships and cups. United, having won only seventeen, are neck- and-neck with the Scousers for their equalizing eighteenth or Liverpool’s nineteenth. Consequently, it has been the opinion of many pundits of the game that Ferguson will, if he wins the premiership this season, choose to continue at Old Trafford only until the end of next season,. And, yesterday, this point of view was given a new impetus by the Gaffer's son, Darren. The Peterborough manager is of the opinion that his father wants to take United to two more league titles, surpassing Liverpool. Once that is completed, Darren explained, the United manager will likely stand down.

"His health is fine and he's building a new team," Darren said. "If they win [the Premier League] this year then they catch Liverpool in terms of titles won. I can see him doing this year and next – and then that might be it for him."

So, the next question is: What does Gilly think? David Gill, United’s chief executive, has, no doubt, got some ideas of his own. Indeed, it will be his job to advise the Glazer family, alongside Ferguson himself, on who to chose as successor. The bottom line, of course, will be what Joel Glazer has to say. Thus far,Glazer has interfered in very little club business--’If it ain’t broke,don’t fix it!’ is an American maxim. I’m certain he’ll listen carefully to what Gilly and the Gaffer have to say.

Here are the 15 very good candidates. I placed them in the order I think is appropriate. Please tell me what you think:

1. Marcello Lippi: Age: 60
Lippi has both the ability, enthusiasm and experience required to take over United. Currently manager of the Italian national side, he has won the ECC with Juventus and revolutionized the formerly stodgy Inter Milan. Having won the World Cup with Italy in 2006, Lippi has pretty awesome club credentials at both domestic, European and international levels. He is also, I’m told, great friends with Ferguson. His difficulty with the English language at press conferences, means that many Brit journos have written him off, but I’m not so sure. I don’t think the Gaffer’s Italian is too swift, either. So how do they communicate? I believe that Fabio Capello’s massive success thus far with England shows that an Italian coach can adjust to English sensibilities, and that, Lippi, just like Capello, is a very, very intelligent man.. Finally, if Lippi is hired at the advanced age of 60, it would give ample time for someone at the club already, say Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or Gary Neville, to learn the ropes under him.

2. Carlos Queiroz: Age: 56
Ferguson has often endorsed his former assistant's credentials for the role, and the five years years he spent at the club will surely mean a lot. Indeed, he may be the only assistant who has ever walked away from a senior coaching to manage elsewhere and then been allowed to return home. A golden career as a youth coach saw him bring home 3 FIFA World Youth Championships to Portugal. Unfortunately, his record managing at the senior level for Sporting Lisbon and Japan's Nagoya Grampus was not quite so successful. His ten months in charge at Real Madrid, twice as manager of Portugal’s national team and with South Africa’s national team have shown that, despite his innate tactical genius and an eagle eye for spotting young talent, Queiroz is a repeated failure as a man-manager of adults. If he were willing to become a kind of amalgamation, acting as both a General Manager and assistant to a dynamic young boss like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or Gary Neville, I think United would do well out of it. At the same time, I believe he will insist on being in charge, which I can’t see Fergie, Gill or Joel Glazer would let happen.

3. David Moyes: Age: 45
Everton’s crafty young manager is seen as the most suitable eligible British outsider candidate for his fellow Scot's job. With very limited resources, Davie Moyes gets his players to perform way beyond the best of their abilities, much as Ferguson once did with Aberdeen. Moyes has also shown a lot of moxy in the transfer market by signing the likes of Mikel Arteta, and Timmy Cahill. Clearly, the dour Scot deserves a lot of respect. Everton have repeatedly been on the cusp of the top four. Despite having fallen out with Wayne Rooney, Moyes has shown a clear ability to nurture young talent. At 45, Moyes has definitely gone as far as he can with Everton,. Having done a lot of business with United, bringing in Phil Neville and Louis Saha at fire-sale bargain prices, Moyes obviously has a good relationship with Ferguson already! Would he get along with Wazza? A better question might be: Would Wayne Rooney get along with him?

4. Jose Mourinho: Age: 46
I put the big-headed little Portuguese at #4 because of his record of success. Everybody knows he wants the job because he never stops canvassing for it. Mourinho proved himself by winning the Champions League with Porto and then with two premiership championships at Chelsea in England. Mourinho is also an inspirational man-manager. He's a psyche master who knows how to deal with the big names on United's massive squad. Ferguson and Mourinho may like each other, but the main problem may lie in tactics. Mourinho's cynical, tactical approach will never connect with United’s traditional commitment to entertainment for the crowd. Whether Mourinho would agree to have his team play attacking football is a huge question.

5. Martin O'Neill: Age 57
The Aston Villa manager was has been considered the heir apparent by many. A fine midfielder for Brian Clough's European Cup winning Nottingham Forest in both 1979 and 1980, the soft-spoken O'Neill seems to have learned a lot from 'Ol Big 'Ead', albeit in a far lower-key way. O’Neill worked his way up through the ranks as a manager  at Wycombe Wanderers and Leicester City, and won championships repeatedly in Scottish football with Glasgow Celtic. A genuinely nice educated, sensitive man, O’Neill owns Ferguson’s knack for distilling the maximum from his players. He also owns a great eye for talent if his bargain purchases of Ashley Young, Curtis Davies and Martin Petrov are anything to go by. He is definitely ambitious enough. Blessed with a rich patient owner at Aston Villa, however, O’Neill might be reticent to leave a perfect coaching situation where he has absolute power for one where the pressure for instantaneous success would be enormous.

6. Fabio Capello: Age: 62
Capello's current contract as England manager runs for another two-and-a-half years. It would expire at exactly the right time, if Darren Ferguson is right. The Italian has managed at AC Milan, Roma, Juventus and Real Madrid, winning the Champions League and every domestic honour five times with three different clubs in Italy. He is, in deed, the only living coach whose record rivals that of SAF! However. the Football Association would be loath to let him go. Still, United have deep pockets and their paying more than his current salary of £6m per annum is in no way out of the question. Older than Lippi, at 62, one would have to question how long he would want to stay in charge if he accepted the job. Capello has been a success simply everywhere he has coached. It might be a very tempting proposition for United’s bigwigs to go get the old geezer.

7. Carlo Ancelotti: Age: 49
Very very laid-back, thoughtful, resourceful and quiet, Ancelotti has won the Champions League twice with A.C. Milan, in 2003 and 2007, and Serie A in 2004. He is very loyal to the club’s wealthy capricious owner, Silvio Berlusconi, and savagely protective of his ever aging squad. Chelsea couldn’t lure him to Stamford Bridge last year, but, as Berlusconi wants to clean house, and sell many members of Milan’s aging squad, he may also decide to remove Ancelotti simply with a view toward a total cleaning of house. As with O’Neill, Ancelotti’s weakness may be his reluctance when it comes to confronting negative influences in the dressing room.

8. Steve Bruce: Age: 48
Bruce is the manager of the likely lads at Wigan Athletic. He heads a fantastic scouting networks that finds cheap players in Africa as well as South and Central America. Having brought in Maynor Figuroa and Wilson Palacios from the Honduras, Luis Valencia from Ecuador and the high-scoring Amir Zaki from Egypt, Bruce has repeatedly proven that he has a brilliant eye. Atypically, he brought Palacios in for less than £200,00 and sold him to Spurs for £15M, which is brilliant business acumen. Highly regarded at Old Trafford from his years at the club as a player and captain, he deserves consideration for steering his charges away from the relegation zone and turning them into a consistent contender. The question as to whether his dues-paying time with Birmingham City and Wigan has been enough preparation him for the big time looms large.

9. Mark Hughes: Age: 45
Hughes did well internationally with Wales and domestically with Blackburn Rovers. Indeed, he was on the cusp of taking over at Chelsea when Mourinho was fired, but the owner Roman Abramowicz interfered just before Peter Kenyon was about to announce his signing and hired Avram Grant instead. A former United striker, he is another one known to be shrewd in the transfer window. His time at Manchester City has been difficult. His having had to deal with the vast egos of the immature but brilliant likes of Elano, Robinho, Ireland and Richards and failed in each case can not bode well if he is expected to take charge of the volatile likes of Wazza Rooney, Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo. Worse, he crossed the city divide from the red part of town to the ugly sky-blue of our oldest enemies, Man Shitty. This is unforgivable. He is very clearly a mercenary with no sense of loyalty to his old club whatsoever! I wouldn’t give him a job as a boot boy. Maybe as a fluffer!

10. Laurent Blanc: Age: 43
A fine professional for Girondins Bordeaux, Inter-Milan and Manchester United, Blanc was definitely the ruthless defensive heart of France's World Cup winning team in 1998 and European Nations Cup winners in 2000. Now in his second season as coach at Bordeaux, Blanc has inspired his low budget club into a season-long neck -and-neck race with the rich, sassy eight-time French champion, Olympique Lyonnais. He has also done a fantastic job of resuscitating the stalled careers of ex-United wingerDavid Bellion and Yoan Gourcuff, so that they're both being chased by bigger clubs again. Blanc has a very good relationship with the Gaffer. He could be a very good surprise outsider candidate.

11. Gary Neville: Age: 34
Still a part of the United squad, Gary Neville seems to spend most of his time injured and studying for his coaching badges these days. Very much attached to the club, the city and his working class roots and once team captain, Neville's has always bled bright red. Gaz is passionate, but a lot more calm and less abrasive than Roy Keane. Part of the greatest generation of young English players to rise from the academy since the days of the Busby Babes, Neville has won everything a player can win at a club level. Next to a veteran coach like Carlos Queiroz or Mike Duxbury, Neville might prove to be the surprise players' choice ahead of Keano or Solskjaer.

12. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: 36
Beloved of United fans, the baby-faced Norwegian bandit, a brilliant ex-striker, is now coach of the club's youth academy and the reserves, along with Paul McGuinness, Ole still looks exactly like he did when he arrived at the club fifteen years ago. Calm, perhaps too calm, though Ole is, he enjoys a good relationship with United's other youth academy director, René Muelersteen and the Gaffer. Solskjaer seems to fit the shoes and profile of United's old academy director and assistant, Brian Kidd. Would the Glazers allow Solskjaer and Malmunsteen, or Solskjaer and Queiroz to take over the club? Doubtful, to be sure, but he may yet prove to be the very best bet in the long run.

13. Mike Duxbury: Age 48
As a player, Duxbury was a John O'Shea-type of jack-of-all-trades substitute for United during Ferguson's early days at the club. Duxbury has proven himself to be a very astute defencive coach for United's first-team defence this season. Ferguson surprised a lot of the so-called pundits and 'experts' when he was hired from within to take over from Carlos Queiroz. Clubs like Bolton Wanderers, Cardiff City and Queens Park Rangers have already put out feelers about Duxbury becoming their manager next season. Very very close to Ferguson, Duxbury could end up co-coaching with Neville or Solskjaer.

14. Didier Deschamps: Age: 40
The captain of France's European Nations Cup and World Cup-winning teams in 1998 and 2000, Didi D always played and still coaches like the little engine that could. Having taken A.S. Monaco to the European Champions Cup final in 2006, he then took over a scandal-plagued Juventus and led his old club back to the promised land of Serie A. Very much like Keane in his on-field temperament, Deschamps seems to enjoy a fine nurturing relationship with his players but have a difficult time dealing with any club's senior executives. One doubts that he would get along with the Glazer family.

15. Roy Keane: Age 37
Once described by Ferguson as his chosen successor, United's old captain is still AWOL from the current leaderless team as a player. Although he would demand and receive serious respect in the Manchester United dressing room asa manager–the apt question would be: For how long? Keane did a fantastic job of bringing Sunderland up from the bottom of the Championship Division to the Premier League in a single season. Unfortunately, things did not work out in the P.L. Lacking experience, he seems to have relied on only the goon tactics rarely perpetrated by his mentors, Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson, but without the accompaniment of nurturing and respectfulness the two geniuses used to temper their abrasiveness with. Stories persist that certain players would regularly break into his locker and shit into his shoes. Indeed, the day after Niall Quinn showed him the door, the Sunderland players held a post-training party to celebrate his departure. His viciously acrimonious arguments with Ferguson prior to his departure to Celtic surely still rankle the old man. Still, if his coaching job at Benfica works out, we might still one day see the passionate one take over in the long run.

1 comment:

swoozie said...

#15 (16) is #1 with me!

Yours, Swoozie