With Manchester United trailing Stoke City 1-2 (at Old Trafford!) more than three-fourths through the match, football journalists the world around were almost certainly reaching for the long, sharp knives.
Embattled United manager David Moyes looked more and more forlorn as United kept misplacing the keys to pick Stoke's locks.
All the while hovering over the proceedings like the living history he is, Sir Alex Ferguson watched and (presumably) hoped that Moyes' charges would rescue the match like so many of Ferguson's sides did.
"Presumably," because we are officially to the point where Sir Alex's seeming omnipresence post-retirement is doing both Moyes and his club far more harm than good.
Moyes is, of course, powerless to do anything about it. Especially given United's tenuous start, Moyes cannot permit himself to be viewed as looking over his shoulder or distracted by anything.
Could you blame him, though? History is littered with the corpses of the guy who followed "the guy."
This is especially daunting to Moyes considering the stature of the man he replaced, who somehow seems to be on television during United matches now as often as he was when he was still managing the team.
Give Fergie this: He has books to sell, and plastering his mug on your television during another uneven United performance will get him more exposure than he'll ever get sitting in a London bookstore signing a copy at a time.
But if Ferguson really wants United to succeed without him, he needs to let United be and recede gracefully out of the limelight.
Probably, Ferguson's refusal to just go away was to be expected. Anyone would have trouble managing one of the most successful and famous football clubs in the world for as long as he did then withdrawing outright.
Even giving him the benefit of every doubt, though, Ferguson has figuratively overstayed his welcome at Old Trafford as Moyes tries to graft his system onto Ferguson's players with predictable results.
Moyes' players gave him a momentary reprieve today, with two of Ferguson's familiar heroes (Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez) marking within minutes of each other to wrest all three points from Stoke's clutches.
Can you imagine the headlines in London and Manchester tomorrow if they hadn't?
Here is a hint for you: Two of the most-used words would have been "Moyes" and "Out."
And the clamor for Sir Alex to take over the reins again—you know, since he never really left or anything—would be deafening.
Across the pond on the same day as all this was going on, American college football's winningest coach in Football Bowl Subdivision history showed how a graceful departure is done. Bobby Bowden coached his last game at Florida State University on New Year's Day 2010.
Here is a tweet that speaks volumes:
There is no chance, none, that Sir Alex Ferguson could step that far away from Manchester United and Old Trafford.
Even a step or two back, though, would do wonders for David Moyes and a team trying to press forward with so many talons of the past holding them back.
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