It is improbable anyone would wrongly identify the chief executive David Gill as Howling Mad Murdock, or in a crowded room mistake Malcolm Glazer for the rampaging BA Baracus. But this week, the club’s vice-chairman, Ed Woodward, made a bold attempt to cast himself as the game’s Colonel Hannibal Smith.
The A Team leader, it might be recalled, was a stickler for preparation: “I love it when a plan comes together,” he would smirk from aboard his helicopter as his team-mates unleashed anarchy and destruction down below him.
Well, this week Woodward, in perhaps an attempt no longer to be confused with his namesake as the star of The Wicker Man, insisted that he too had a plan. A very good one, he added.
Woodward’s plan concerns the inevitable retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and who is going to replace him. Although Ferguson appears still to be in rude health and close to the peak of his powers, for the club hierarchy this is by far the most pressing business issue on their agenda.
Never mind trawling the world in search of official marine diesel engine
partners or launching a range of
It is, quite simply, down to Ferguson that Woodward could brag this week of his organisation’s rapidly expanding commercial portfolio.
Were it not for the success on the field the manager has delivered over the past two decades, it is unlikely many of the 44 regional telecommunications businesses around the globe who now boast of such association would have attached themselves to the United brand. Finding the right man to maintain such success is self-evidently the single most important future corporate decision.
The trouble is, whatever Woodward might claim, it is not something that can be easily planned for. Looking back over Ferguson’s quarter of a century at Old Trafford, it is almost comical to recall who has been seriously tipped to be his successor.
When he was under pressure in his first few years, the incessant speculation was that either Howard Kendall or Lawrie McMenemy would be invited to take over. We can reasonably assume that if they had, neither one would still be in position at the club. Later, over the years names such as Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce and Roy Keane were routinely proposed. Their subsequent management failure suggests such an appointment might not have been that successful.
When Ferguson actually did announce his retirement in 2002, the club hierarchy
pursued Sven-Goran Eriksson. At the time they thought it a reasonable
choice: the Swede was doing well with
The problem with trying to plan for these things is that managerial fashion is fickle. Stars quickly extinguish themselves. Just look at Owen Coyle, who appeared to be on such a rapid upward trajectory a couple of seasons ago, some even touted him as a future United boss.
Not now they don’t. Equally Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – apparently just now sought by every club in the country with a vacancy – might well, by the time United finally need to replace their institution, have been found wanting.
Deciding on a suitable candidate so far ahead of the event is, therefore, almost pointless. Especially as Ferguson seems to outpace them all.
To be fair, Woodward claims he and his team have identified not so much a name as the type of manager they want. Well, yes. We can assume they want someone with experience who knows how to create a winning team.
But just who can fulfil that brief depends on when the vacancy comes up. Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho – the two most immediately obvious possibilities – might well not be available when United come calling. They might have other ambitions, other ideas, other directions.
To insist that the succession can be planned suggests one of two things. Either Woodward shares the common delusion of the bureaucrat that procedure can control the most uncontrollable of events. Or he knows something he is not telling about Ferguson’s immediate future.
That is the more intriguing possibility. Maybe the grand old man of the game has already marked his employers’ cards and is off at the end of this season.
But having learnt his lesson from the last occasion he went public about
retiring, this time he is keeping quiet about it. In which case, if it is
indeed that imminent, United supporters will hope those in charge of the
club have done the sensible thing and have already opened negotiations with
Right now, David Moyes – with Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville as his assistants – is surely the man most likely to succeed. But then what do we know? We are not the ones who are bragging, Hannibal Smith fashion, about a plan coming together.
SPEND OLYMPIC SURPLUS ON SPORT FOR ALL
Through the fug generated by an alphabet spaghetti of organisations – Locog,
BOA, ODA – one thing is clear about the triumphant London
Sure, the budget has grown somewhat over the seven years of their gestation. Nonetheless it seems, after the final sums have been calculated, there is a £377 million surplus to hand.
Inevitably, everyone concerned – particularly the Treasury – reckons they should have first dibs on the cash.
But it seems pretty obvious what should happen to it: if we are serious about a proper Olympic legacy it should be spent immediately on grassroots sporting infrastructure: £377 million would buy more than 600 floodlit 3G artificial multisport pitches, more than doubling the nation’s stock overnight.
It would pay for a dozen 50-metre swimming pools, 22 Eton Dorney-scale rowing lakes or 150 new gymnastics centres.
This is indeed enough to make a difference. It was earmarked to be spent on sport. So let’s spend it on sport; sport for all.