Alex Ferguson has largely refrained from commenting on any serious matters concerning his former club. But the news that he has publically called for fans to be patient with current manager, Louis van Gaal, is the action of a man who has nailed his colours to the mast. It seems that his opinion is that Van Gaal should be allowed to see out the remainder of his three-year contract which ends in the summer of 2017.
Fans have reacted in a variety of ways to this news. The Manchester Evening News reported that some fans have accused Fergie of being “anti-Mourinho” while others have accused him of attempting to interfere with the club to promote his own agenda.
Other fans have not been so forthright with their opinions, but the truly surprising factor in this story is that Ferguson has, as a club director, backed Van Gaal at a time when his future at the club beyond this summer is uncertain.
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The very suggestion that Manchester United are not a sacking club is misguided and deluded. Aside from the legendary duo of Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson, Manchester United have gone through managers like any other club.
After Busby resigned in 1969, having guided United to the European Cup in 1968, the club were managed by: Wilf McGuinness (1969-1970), Busby again (temporarily from 1970-71), Frank O’Farrell (1971-72), Tommy Docherty (1972-77), Dave Sexton (1977-81) and Ron Atkinson (1981-86).
The times that followed Busby’s sensational era, in which he rebuilt United after the tragedy of the Munich air crash, were filled with stories that Busby still had a significant influence at the club and within the squad.
Jonathan Wilson, writing in The Guardian, points out that, for the managers who immediately followed Busby (particularly McGuinness and O’Farrell) ‘…the process of establishing a sense of authority was made far harder by the constant presence of Busby, who had a seat on the board, had the final say over transfers and played golf with a group of senior players.’
Admittedly, Ferguson has not interfered within the club anywhere near as much as Busby is said to have done. But there is always a danger that when a figure as significant as Ferguson calls for fans to be patient with a manager, those words will be interpreted as interference and will, ultimately, lead to a split in opinion between fans.
It is widely believed to be the case that Jose Mourinho will become the next Manchester United manager, but there is still a slim chance that United could still stick with Van Gaal before looking to replace him with a different candidate in 2017.
Some fans will be satisfied with the former decision if it is taken. Others will be horrified at the thought of having van Gaal at the club for another season after he has failed to live up to expectations, spending £250 million on new signings along the way.
Mourinho is a man who divides opinion and it is understood that while Ferguson and fellow club legend and director, Bobby Charlton admire the Portuguese manager, it is believed that they are both of the opinion that he would be a very risky appointment for the club who are looking to promote youth players and keep their image as positive as possible.
The major decision is in the hands of Ed Woodward and the Glazers and they must make a decision based on the future of the club, not the past.
Busby and Ferguson are managers who may never be surpassed at Manchester United for their longevity, influence and success. However, it is naïve and futile to believe that giving every manager time will benefit the club in the long run.
Van Gaal has been able to deliver some excellent results during his tenure at United, but there have been too many backward steps for a club that is desperate to return to the summit of English and European football.
There is an uncertain future for Manchester United and the decision that will be made in the next month (stick or twist), could well be another significant moment in the club’s history.
By seemingly backing Van Gaal with his recent comments, Ferguson has risked creating a split at the club on all levels between those who want immediate change and those who don’t (or those who want Mourinho and those who don’t).
United must find a manager who can bring unity throughout the club and who can take the club onwards and upwards in an ever competitive and challenging footballing world. Whether the people in power believe that individual is Van Gaal, Mourinho or another, remains to be seen.
Whatever decisions are made, the summer of 2016 is guaranteed to be a fascinating one at Old Trafford.