Manchester United: Top 10 Candidates to Replace Sir Alex Ferguson
All good things must end. A curtain falls on every Shakespeare performance. A crescendo ushers the hush of every symphony's orchestra. The end credits roll on every film.
And even the greatest manager in the modern era will call time on his career, and as the great man celebrates his 25th year at the club that made him a legend, we all know that the end is coming sooner rather than later. There are, after all, no precedents for UEFA Champions League-winning octogenarians.
But a managing career that has been at times a Shakespearean tale of intrigue and tragedies that has been symphonic in its triumphs and cinematic in its scope began more humbly than it can possibly end. Twenty-five years ago, a young Scotsman named Alex Ferguson arrived at Manchester United to find a team in disarray. But while said team was burdened with expectations it was incapable of reaching, the new manager had no such pressure.
Win, yes. But this was a team without a sniff of a chance at knocking Liverpool of its (bleeping) perch, and thus was Ferguson given an opportunity to craft his team, his vision, in relative peace. At first, anyway.
Twenty-five years later, the story at the club is completely different. The young Scotsman is now "Sir Alex," the giant colossus of English football who has left Liverpool's perch well and truly abandoned. He has created a mentality where winning everything is not only expected, it is a life philosophy. Manchester United is now a club poised for greatness each year as established talent cycles out to allow new blood into the fold, learning from each other in a symbiotic relationship of excellence.
It is an empire presided over by a man who has seen French, Portuguese and Spanish pretenders to the managerial throne come and go.
And it is into this man's shadow that the next United manager will have to begin his career.
The skyrocketing expectations, the history of winning, the new challenges of Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal...it will take a special man to succeed in this job with Sir Alex watching closely.
Here are my top 10 candidates to take on that challenge, with varying degrees of probability mixed with hopefulness, of course.
Continuity may be a key factor in this decision. Assuming Sir Alex manages at United for another three to five years or so, that means that important players like Wayne Rooney, Nani, Darren Fletcher and Ashley Young will all still be in the right side of 30, while young guns like Danny Welbek, Tom Cleverley, David De Gea and Javier Hernandez will just be hitting their primes.
This is a group who will have developed a chemistry and understanding built upon years of camaraderie at the senior level and, for some, the youth setup. This is a side poised for success, and it would have been formed by Sir Alex.
And Mike Phelan will have been right there with him, having had a hand in all of it.
The departure of Sir Alex will definitely have an effect on the team on multiple levels, but having Mike Phelan step in would mean a direct continuity of tactics and philosophy that would ease the transition. It may just be for a short while, for nobody knows if Phelan has what it takes to manage United for the long term, but it could be an important step in between Fergie and any other great manager who may have different ideas and tactics.
This is the gentleman in charge of what is, arguably, the single greatest team assembled in the modern era. He is also one of the very few managers to essentially out-manage Sir Alex in consecutive high-stake clashes. His grasp of tactics, discipline and integration of youth and experience makes him one of the most ideal choices for Sir Alex's successor.
The only problem is that I, and most other United fans, don't see him trading the Blaugrana for the Red and White any time soon. Perhaps some time down the line, he may be convinced to leave Spain, but until then the ideal man remains exactly that...an ideal.
Still, surprises may happen and no list of this nature would be complete without his name and the possibility, however slight, that Guardiola could come to Old Trafford.
There's a simple reason why Sir Alex wouldn't mind if one of the players he managed eventually succeeded him: They learned his style, believed it, lived it and practiced it. If they did well in their careers, it was usually, he believed, because they internalized it.
Mark "Sparky" Hughes was certainly one of the best players to ever run out onto Old Trafford for Sir Alex. His managerial career, while nowhere near as glittering as Sir Alex's, has seen some good years at Blackburn and Manchester City. Indeed, until he was replaced by Roberto Mancini, it looked like he could do some good things at the Eithad.
It certainly wouldn't take long for Hughes to get back into the Fergie-swing of things, and I think he would be worth a look at the Theater of Dreams.
A three-time League Manager's Association (LMA) Manager of the Year awardee, David Moyes has had to endure a career of small budgets as the top man at Everton. Having kept the Toffees competitive despite weathering the losses of such talents as Wayne Rooney and Mikael Arteta, it's no wonder that Moyes has long been linked to the United managerial position.
There is mutual respect between the two Scotsmen, and it hasn't gone unnoticed that there are similarities to their managerial styles; both demand strong physical defense, attractive attacking thrust and, as Wayne Rooney found out after the libel case regarding his autobiography, Moyes is every bit as strong in personality as Sir Alex.
It would be interesting to see what Moyes could do with a club that will actually let him develop his young talent and hold onto them rather than sell them off.
Vicente Del Bosque
The current manager of the Spanish National Team, there is no indication that Del Bosque wants to leave the position or would even consider a return to club football. But as the manager of one of the most successful teams in history, the 1999-2003 Real Madrid "Galacticos," it's hard to argue with the idea of courting the venerable Spaniard for the United managerial position.
No stranger to success, with La Liga championships to go with his World Cup and European Cup victories, Del Bosque is known for his strong tactical nous and, most importantly, his ability to control a locker room.
And, considering that most of Spain's starting XI are from Barcelona, the man may have an idea on how to negate the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Pique, Busquets, David Villa and Puyol.
The Dutch often produce some really pretty football (2010 World Cup final notwithstanding) and there is arguably no better Dutch manager out there than Guus Hidink. Sure, he hasn't won the Premier League, the World Cup or the Champions League, but Hidink has a reputation for squeezing as much success as possible from whatever resources he has available.
South Korea, Russia and Australia are all testaments to how he can push smaller teams to be more successful than they really should have been, and when given the reins at big teams like PSV Eindhoven and Chelsea, he showed that he could be unstoppable. In fact, had he managed Chelsea for a whole season rather than coming in with only a few months left to play as he did in 2009, that particular title race could have had a completely different outcome.
It would be interesting to see what Hidink could do with the young talent, experience and financial resources United have to offer. The only issue with Hidink would be that it seems like he has itchy feet, as he rarely stays at a post for more than a couple of years.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Of all of Fergie's former players, this one may yet be the best bet to take the top spot. Erudite and intelligent in all of his interviews throughout his career, you always got the sense that Solskjaer would make a fine manager after his playing days were done. Sure enough, the baby-faced assassin got his coaching badges and wasted no time in getting a managerial gig.
Tellingly, he didn't venture out and land a job just anywhere. Deciding to learn on the job at the best place to learn, Solskjaer's first gig was taking charge of the Manchester United Reserves. This is the decision, I think, that makes him the best former United player candidate, in the long term, to take the top spot.
Sir Alex's vision is one that filters down through every level of the club, and the reserves are no exception. And since a manager's first job is often formative, Solskjaer has been given an opportunity to mold his style according to the United way.
He has since gone on to succeed at Norwegian club Molde, although there will be pundits rightfully questioning whether he can make it in the big leagues. Given time, I think he will. I wouldn't be surprised if United installs a short-term successor to Sir Alex while Solskjaer learns, before eventually signing the baby-faced assassin to a long-term deal.
Now that he is the headman at Iran, Quieroz has been overlooked a bit as a potential successor to Sir Alex. That's a shame, because the man did spend some rather successful years as Sir Alex's right-hand man. He also has a keen eye for talent, as evidenced by the signings of Ronaldo, Nani and Anderson.
And although he was hampered by board interference (and board incompetence), he does have experience as the manager of a top club, having managed Real Madrid in the 2003-2004 season.
Impatience may have been his undoing at Chelsea. After winning a spectacular double of Premier League and FA Cup in his first year in London, the board sacked him following an uneven second season. It remains to be seen how successful Andre Villas-Boas will be, but sacking a man who has won two Champions Leagues, a Serie A title, an FA Cup and a Premier League title after just one year may have been a bit hasty.
Although Ancelotti's reigns at Milan and Chelsea may have ended ignominiously, he has always had the reputation of being a good communicator and master tactician. He's taking a year off for a well-deserved rest, but when he returns refreshed and rejuvenated, he should be right back in the running for Sir Alex's spot.
Most of the gentlemen on this list were chosen because of their similarities with Sir Alex, whether it be their tactics, philosophies or managerial styles. But perhaps the best way to replace Sir Alex is by going in a completely different direction, and there is no other (successful) manager more tactically different to Sir Alex than the Special One himself, Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho has been accused of negative football (he reduced Real Madrid to parking the bus against Barcelona), extreme arrogance (yes, he did in fact dub himself "The Special One") and manipulative mind games. But his closet-ful of Champions League, Serie A, Premier League, FA Cup, Coppa Italia and Copa Del Rey trophies speak of a man to whom winning is everything. He is obsessed with success in much the same way Sir Alex is.
The two men have a well-documented mutual respect for each other, and I don't think Sir Alex will mind one bit if Mourinho takes his spot and knocks just about everyone off their bleeping perches.
Replacing a legend like Sir Alex Ferguson is going to be a monumental task. The last time United had to perform a similar feat, it took decades before a suitable replacement for Sir Matt Busby was found. The trophy-less chasm that stretches between the Busby and Fergie eras is one that every United fan will hope won't be repeated.
I predict, maybe foolishly, that we will see an un-acknowledged interim manager take over from Sir Alex, someone with an established pedigree like Jose Mourinho or Carlo Ancelotti, for about five years or so. He, in turn, will probably be replaced by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who will have been given time to learn more about European football before coming back to United to bring back Sir Alex's managerial philosophy.