First off, please consider this chart of Manchester United League final league position and the assistant manager during the season.
Year Finish Assistant
1987 11 Archie Knox
1988 02 Archie Knox
1989 11 Archie Knox
1990 13 Archie Knox
1991 06 Archie Knox
1992 02 Brian Kidd
1993 01 Brian Kidd
1994 01 Brian Kidd
1995 02 Brian Kidd
1996 01 Brian Kidd
1997 01 Brian Kidd
1998 02 Brian Kidd
1999 01 Brian Kidd / Steve McClaren
2000 01 Steve McClaren
2001 01 Steve McClaren / Jim Ryan
2002 03 Jim Ryan
2003 01 Carlos Queiroz
2004 03 (no asst. manager; Walter Smith for 3 months)
2005 03 Carlos Queiroz
2006 02 Carlos Queiroz
2007 01 Carlos Queiroz
2008 01 Carlos Queiroz
2009 ?? Mike Phelan
Sir Alex Ferguson will freely admit that success in Europe has not mirrored success at home. United on many occasions have fallen short of expectations when they played in Europe, as the team has been unable to transfer their dominance in the Premiership to Europe.
The success of last season was in part due to the more tactically astute Carlos Queiroz, who had Ronaldo playing up front against Barcelona and Rooney playing often on the wing.
United scored just seven goals in the knockout stages last season but ended up eventual winners.
Under Ferguson, United have never been a team that could do well in Europe if they were doing poorly in the league, nor vice versa. It was either full steam ahead on both fronts or nothing.
Is it coincidence that, by his own admission, Ferguson's two worst errors in judgement occurred in 2001, when he sold Jaap Stam to Lazio and bought Veron from the same club during a period when Jim Ryan was his assistant manager?
Ryan was promoted from reserve team coach but soon vacated the assistant position when Carlos Queiroz joined in June 2002.
For the 2003-04 season, United did not have an assistant manager, and that resulted in perhaps Ferguson's worst year of transfer dealings. He signed Eric Djemba Djemba, Kleberson, and David Bellion. He did sign Howard, who did have a great first season, but he was never able to overcome the setback of his mistake in the final moments of the European tie against Porto in which he let Costinha score.
The periods of under-performance and bad signings have all coincided with the times when Ferguson has either not had an assistant manager or has had one that he had promoted from within. This makes sense, as when he has no someone less likely to challenge his decisions (or no one to question them at all) he is obviously more likely to trip up.
So is it then any surprise that Ferguson has signed Berbatov in circumstances similar to those he was in when he signed Veron? He seems to think that players of this sort can change the way the whole club plays.
This season, United have played too open in matches against the "Premierhsip Big Four," and that's resulted in just one win in five matches.
Last season, Queiroz was better at setting the team up against top sides by playing more defensively. This season, Ferguson has made some major errors in tactics, especially against Fulham and Porto.
If Ferguson is true to form, I expect him to play an open game with a team selection that many will not have considered. Ferguson will take a big gamble tonight.