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Manchester United: Could Sir Alex Ferguson Be Losing Control of His Team?

Paul MurphyCorrespondent IDecember 7, 2016

Manchester United: Could Sir Alex Ferguson Be Losing Control of His Team?

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    The longest serving and most successful manager in professional football will celebrate his 26th year in charge of Manchester United on the 6th of November 2012.

    His longevity is unprecedented in an era when chairmen change managers as often as they change their underwear.

    He has won 37 trophies in his time as manager and overseen the careers of some of the brightest talents to ever grace these shores.

    He has changed the club from top to bottom and his fingerprints are everywhere.

    His passion for the game is undeniable but could it be that Ferguson is beginning to lose control of the team he has ruled with an iron fist for the last 26 years.

    The following are examples which show that Ferguson might be losing his Midas touch.

Could We Be Nearing the End of the Ferguson Rein

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    As we near the end of every season the same question gets brought up. Will this be the year that Ferguson walks away?

    And with each passing season these voices grow louder.

    His passion for the game is still there. You only need to watch him on the sideline to see the excitement and joy he gets from the game of football.

    But could all these off-field issues be getting to him? Might he be thinking, in the words of Roger Murtaugh, that "he's too old for this s***"?

    One thing I know for sure is that he will do the same thing he has done for the last 26 years. He will do what he believes is best for the club.

    As stubborn as he is, he has never put himself before the club and if he feels like he is losing the team he will walk away.

    But all the speculation can't be good for the team. He has admitted that announcing his decision to retire at the end of the 2001-2002 season had an adverse effect on his ability to manage the team and on club morale. 

    Could all the speculation have a similar impact on the current group of players?

The Exodus of Youth Team Stars

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    For a club that has long prided itself on youth development, it has shocked fans that so many young stars have left the club at such a young age.

    Ferguson has always believed in the saying, "If you're good enough, you're old enough," and scoffed when Alan Hansen said he wouldn't win anything with kids.

    In his time he has unleashed some of the best players in world football at a young age. Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs all came through the clubs ranks and flourished.

    When Man Utd's Academy side won the FA Youth Cup in 2011 they were heralded as the next great generation.

    But now, less than 12 months later the club has said goodbye to three of the stars of that team.

    Zeki Fryers, Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison were all predicted to have bright futures at the club but now find themselves playing elsewhere.

    For a man once regarded as among the best at getting the best out of youngsters, it must hurt Ferguson to see such talent leave the club unfulfilled.

    Could it be that he is simply out of touch with the youth of today and that they no longer respect his style of management?

Social Media Mishaps

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    When Ferguson took over at Old Trafford, mobile phones (the term mobile was generous) were just on the market and the dawn of the Internet was almost 10 years away.

    Since then the world has changed immeasurably and so have the pitfalls that face professional footballers.

    Long gone are the days of burying stories and favourable journalism. If a player steps out of line then the story goes viral and is worldwide with the click of a button.  

    Football is in the midst of a Twitter revolution and some of the most entertaining and controversial users of the social media site play for Man Utd.

    Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney have both got themselves into trouble as a result of Twitter and Ferguson has spoke of his bemusement at their use of the site.

    Could it be that he is like most other pensioners out there, who struggle to come to terms with all the new technology that is released each year.

Transfer Market Weakness

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    His levels of persuasion were the stuff of legend. Many a player was robbed from under the nose of a rival thanks to a visit from the Scot.

    It used to be the case the Fergie always got his man (Shearer excluded) but now he finds himself in a position where he has to fight tooth and nail for every signing.

    Maybe the draw of playing for United isn't what it used to be, or maybe he just doesn't connect with the players like he did.

    It could just be that players aren't sold on committing to the club, given the uncertainty of the manager's position.

    Whatever it is, he has had issues attracting players to the club in recent years.

    Backing up his ability to recruit players was the club's financial muscle. Now, he finds himself in a position where the club might not be able to match his desire financially.

    This summer he hoped to sign Eden Hazard and then Lucas Moura, but came up short both times as the club was unable to match the players' financial demands.

Rooney Contract Saga

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    The mantra at United during Ferguson's rein has long been that no player is bigger than the club. As soon as a player started putting himself first he was gone.

    Jaap Stam criticised teammates and was swiftly sold. Beckham started courting celebrity life and hit the road. Paul Ince was sold after becoming a big-time Charlie.

    Now it would seem that the club no longer comes first—for one player, anyway.

    Wayne Rooney.

    Two years ago he handed in a transfer request, citing a lack of ambition on the club's behalf. It had nothing to do with wages.

    He might have had a point. The club had, after all, failed to reinvest most of the Ronaldo transfer fee.

    And I would have supported him had he not courted the interest of cross town rivals Manchester City and engineered a £100,000 a week wage increase.

    That's taking money the club could've used to match his supposed ambition, to line his own pockets.

    This remarkable bowing to pressure from the club showed that a) player power now ruled the day and b) that some players are bigger than the club.

    A few years earlier, Rooney would've been packing his bags.

Off-Field Issues

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    The Glazers are a lost cause. Despite all the good they have done for the club, their faults are too great and too widely reported.

    United fans have turned against them by the thousands and there is no going back.

    Ferguson's refusal to come out and publicly renounce their leadership has dampened many fans' opinion of him.

    I think he has acted with massive dignity in such a difficult time, but everyone is entitled to their opinion.

    His job is to run the football club. Coming out against the Glazers would undermine not only their position, but his own.

    That hasn't stopped the naysayers from demanding he publicly come out in defiance of the owners.

    A well-established fanzine Red Issue wrote an open letter almost demanding that he answer a list of questions.

    A hugely respected blogger (Andy Green) even came out and questioned Ferguson's role in the IPO. He has since been proven wrong. He withdrew his claim and apologised but the damage was done.

    With Ferguson now being questioned by part of his once-loyal fanbase it is possible that this distrust could trickle down into the players' lounge.

Field Generals Retiring

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    Ferguson has long had a core group of players that would follow him to hell and back.

    Players like Steve Bruce; Bryan Robson; Paul Scholes; Gary Neville; Ryan Giggs, and more were his eyes and ears.

    They believed in his mission and backed him 100 percent. Even Roy Keane, despite their many falling outs, would've run through a brick wall for Ferguson.

    But most of those players have come and gone. Only Scholes and Giggs remain and they are at the very end of their careers.

    Who are the men who are going to step up and become leaders on the training pitch and in the dressing room?

    Of the current squad I would only have faith in Nemanja Vidic. As the number of players with undying loyalty to Ferguson dwindle, his power will be further eroded.

    The retirement of Giggs and Scholes could see the end of his rein as the unquestioned ruler of Old Trafford.

Falling Behind Tactically

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    As long as I have been following United they have been proponents of the classic 4-4-2. Ferguson's tactics have been simple but brutally effective over the years.

    He favours attacking out wide, with overlapping fullbacks. He has long been a master of the counter attack.

    But given the way the football is being played on the continent at present, it may not be a winning tactic anymore.

    Possession is the buzz word on the continent these days, with fluidity of movement being more important than a rigid formation.

    Their two Champions League final defeats to Barcelona were humbling experiences, but that was to a great Barcelona side.

    What is more worrying is the struggles against the likes of Basel, Benfica and their humbling defeat to Athletic Bilbao.

    Ferguson, through his summer signings, has shown a willingness to adapt. It remains to be seen if he can do so effectively.

Conclusion

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    So after all that, do I believe Ferguson is in danger of losing his team?

    No, I don't.

    Over the course of the last 26 years, Sir Alex Ferguson has shown an unrivaled ability to adapt. There is no comparison between the game today and the game in 1986, but Ferguson remains at the very top of his profession.

    What I question is his hunger to adapt. It is no secret that his time is coming to an end and I wonder if he is willing to reinvent himself again.

    Football is a young man's game. Depending on how this season goes, he may decide that he's had enough.

    He will want to leave United on a high. If they win the League, I can see him leaving the team.

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