“Today’s the day, tomorrow’s the big day”, is among Sir Alex Ferguson’s favoured maxims. At a time when his daily schedule is saturated by celebratory dinners, congratulatory messages and incessant interview requests, that axiom carries special resonance.
Because he doesn’t especially want this. Any of it. He doesn’t want the star-studded assembly of tributes, the dewy-eyed tale of how Manchester United was hauled out of its own shadow or the unending debate about his greatest ever team. Standard practice at Old Trafford is to reward employees who reach 25 years of service with an engraved watch. That would suit Sir Alex just fine. For a man who has only looked forward, even the most fleeting glance backward is an unsteadying exercise.
So what we are currently amid is a celebration because of him, but in spite of him. Note that there is no exclusive interview with Sir Alex anywhere. All media – internal and external, domestic and international – have so far been rebuffed in their requests for the inside tale on how it feels to batten down one of the most pressurised jobs in football for quarter of a century.
Which is fair enough. The existing points deficit between United and the league summit won’t diminish without hard work. In the meantime, behind his back, we all salute the greatest restoration job since Michelangelo touched up the Sistine Chapel.
The Manchester United that Alex Ferguson found in 1986 was a club undergoing an identity crisis; divorced from the prestige and romance which first enticed him to the job. Amid two decades of cumulative pain and frustration without a league title, the sporadic relief of FA Cup successes represented dilution of the standards set by Sir Matt Busby.
Wilf McGuinness, Frank O’Farrell, Tommy Docherty, Dave Sexton and Ron Atkinson all endeavoured, yet never managed, to build on Busby’s foundations. By the time the latter was dismissed in November 1986, United’s scouting and youth systems were in disrepair, while the senior setup was hampered by a social drinking culture and a lack of physical aptitude.
You know how the story goes from there. Wrongs were righted, the millstone made way for myriad milestones and, moreover, United’s identity was reinstated and enhanced. Alex Ferguson was awarded not only a ‘Sir’ prefix for his troubles, but also entombment in a glory which spans football.
He has established a place in the hearts of millions who have never even met him, yet have never lived without him. I turned 30 this year and have no recollection of anybody else helming Manchester United. All the historic United moments synonymous with our own lives are traceable to his perpetual wringing of excellence from his every resource, and the debt felt by Reds across the globe goes beyond the reams of tributes you will read in the coming days.
Don’t expect Sir Alex to join in the revelry, though. While we thank him for all the yesterdays, he will focus firmly on today and many more tomorrows.
“For a man who has only looked forward, even the most fleeting glance backward is an unsteadying exercise.”
Long live Sir Alex Ferguson!