Sir Alex Ferguson Conundrum: Where Would Manchester United Be with Him Now?

Chris Winterburn@Chriswin4Featured ColumnistOctober 16, 2014

Manchester United former manager Alex Ferguson applauds supporters before the team's English Premier League soccer match against  Everton at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday Oct. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Jon Super/Associated Press

As part of the preparations for the release of his updated autobiography, Sir Alex Ferguson gave an interview to MUTV earlier this week in which he discussed the disappointments of the 2013-14 campaign as well as the start of Louis van Gaal's time in charge at Old Trafford.

Manchester United's most successful manager admitted that the big influx of players brought in during the summer was needed although there was still the heavy suggestion that Ferguson himself would have gone nowhere near the transfer fees paid out this past summer.

Speaking to Jim Rosenthal, Ferguson commented on Di Maria's arrival:

I think when you can identify ability like that needed by Manchester United, they have the resources to do that.

They are fees I never quite equalled but nonetheless they were needing quite a big injection this year.

They brought in some good quality. It was really important as you need quality at Manchester United, you need the best players. It’s the rebuilding of the team.

The interesting take-home quote from that answer for me was, "They are fees I never quite equalled."

It is easy to recognise that the current forward line Manchester United possesses is quite clearly the best the club has had to offer since the glorious 2007-08 campaign when Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and one Carlos Tevez ran both England and Europe ragged on a regular basis. However, had Sir Alex not retired at the end of the 2012-13 season, would United have brought in such quality?

There can be no doubting the fact that the disastrous season under David Moyes' stewardship accelerated the need for major reinforcements, maybe even complete reconstructive surgery in a footballing sense. However, let's not forget there were still significant problems within the United squad that Sir Alex left behind.

Manchester United supporters long bemoaned the lack of a midfield signing, with the gap between significant signings in the middle of the park stretching from Owen Hargreaves' arrival in the summer of 2007, right through to Marouane Fellaini's signature in August 2013.

In those six years, United were the most successful English club, winning four league titles and a European Cup, despite supporters' recognition that the midfield was an area on constant decline in the latter stages of the time frame. Performances in certain matches, such as the 6-1 defeat to Manchester City and the 4-4 draw at home to Everton in the same season, highlighted this.

The Telegraph's Mark Ogden detailed the "value in the market" policy adopted by Manchester United from 2009 onwards and just how it had set the club up to struggle as soon as there was a change of manager.

We'll never know for definite whether Ferguson had his hands tied in the transfer market by forces beyond his control, although we have a pretty good idea, with David Conn of The Guardian presenting a financial overview of United since the Glazer takeover in 2005. This aside, however, there are a lot of reasons to suggest United would not have been as competitive in the transfer market this summer had Ferguson still been at the helm, but would they have needed to?

One of the Glaswegian's greatest successes was getting the absolute best out of players. The work he did with Darren Fletcher after the long injury lay-off he suffered in the 2002-03 season was fantastic. People forget Fletcher was somewhat of a scapegoat for supporters, as Tom Cleverley has been for the past two seasons, yet the Scotsman was trusted by Ferguson and ended up being United's most crucial player in the club's run to the 2009 European Cup final, only to miss the game itself through suspension. Place however much influence that had on the overall result as you wish.

For this reason, United could just about afford to miss out on the likes of Eden Hazard, as Jeremy Wilson of The Telegraph indicates, and Wesley Sneijder, as the team remained successful on the pitch. It was always one of the great veils to the Glazer ownership, the success on the field hid a lot of problems and potentially halted the anti-Glazer movement from supporters which really picked up pace between 2009 and 2010.   

How can you possibly justify to the average football supporter who turns up every week just to watch events unfold on the pitch that they should be protesting and forcing change when the club keeps winning title after title? Whether this is right or wrong is debatable, but that was the reality of the situation at Old Trafford.

When Arsene Wenger first arrived at Arsenal, Paul Merson claimed that he had given the players "unbelievable belief" as The Independent's 1996-97 season review details. Ferguson had the same impact at United, perhaps to an even greater degree, and it was only after his departure that we saw players lose belief and confidence.

Had Sir Alex not retired in 2013, there is very little doubt in my mind that the club would have challenged for the title in the 2013-14 season. Players would have been brought in during the summer of 2013 to improve the squad, Ezequiel Garay was a deal thought to have been pre-arranged before Moyes' arrival, something the player alludes to, as the Daily Mail's John Drayton reported.

However the money spent by Louis van Gaal this past summer would almost certainly not have been. The value in the market policy would have continued and would United have paid so much more than £30 million for a single player, as was the case with Angel Di Maria's £59.7million transfer? I'm not so sure.

Ferguson has always been one of the great champions of assessing how football was changing and evolving himself to ensure he could stay at the top. However as the spending of clubs like Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City skyrocketed, Sir Alex never took the final step and attempt not necessarily to match the spending of other clubs, but at least compete with them in the market.

United would have remained successful had Sir Alex not retired, but the decline would have always occurred once he had left. Of course the damage could have been limited with a different managerial appointment or a slight squad rejuvenation but the slight decline from Ferguson's levels was inevitable. The club are in a much stronger position now having gone through that period.

The club's spending in the transfer market, at least for now, is parallel to the financial might of the organisation as a whole for the first time in years and there is a manager in place who knows top-level football, has evolved with it but also keeps to the ethos of the club in developing young talent, something which hasn't gone amiss with Ferguson himself,

What has pleased me with Louis is he’s given seven young kids their debuts this year and that falls into line with the history of our club.

I think the supporters particularly respond very, very well when a young player gets his opportunity. Young people have to be given an opportunity, particularly if they’ve got ability.

If you wait too long, they just stagnate and you lose them. 

In short, the point I'm making is that Manchester United in footballing terms would probably be in far better shape now had Ferguson not retired in 2013, but having seen what we have in the year since, would that have been best for the long-term future of the club? Probably not.

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