When talking about the world’s greatest ever manager to have ever lived, two names spring to mind in a split second. Sir Alex Ferguson and Rinus Michels. Two icons of the touchline. Two of the biggest influences of management in their own right. Two managers with such differing legacies that comparing them to pick the best almost feels criminal in its act.
Both of them have had different impacts at their respective clubs in which they made their name, with Michels more attached to inculcating the first phase of a tactical system which would go on to be commonly known as Total Football to the present generation. It wasn’t Johann Cruyff who orchestrated that system but did adapt and enhance a lot of it from an already existing system he himself played in under Michels.
Ferguson wasn’t a tactical genius, nor a revolutionary coach in comparison to his contemporary compatriots such as Sacchi, Cruyff or Van Gaal, or the younger coaches such as Guardiola or Mourinho. He was a Scottish lad with a split association with the big two in his early life but would go on to manage arguably the third biggest club in Scotland and earn a fair bit of silverware along the way. That club was Aberdeen.
What Ferguson was as a coach is something that you wouldn’t associate at all in today’s climate given, he was put in the current scenario at any top club. He demanded loyalty, a good work ethic, an excellent posture, a certain poise in presenting yourself publicly, humility and never say die attitude. Most of all, he demanded a give it all of it or none of it mindset from each and every single one of his players in this 26-year career at Old Trafford.
In no manner or way was he the most loved personality across his life, with a fair few former players, opposing coaches, and even board members not seeing eye to eye to him. There was a certain aura around him that would never stop growing and improving, with which everyone around him would be elevated as well just by experiencing things differently with him.
At one point in his early years, he was even on the ends of the wrath of the United faithful as they would call for his sack because of the scenario in those times. Once things settled and he started to shape the teams’ image in his own way, it wasn’t long before the wins, the titles, the trophies and the glory started flowing United’s way.
Why the first three weren’t a proper fit for United’s hot seat
David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. The last three managers before Ole Gunnar took on the job. All of them had something going for them, with Moyes handpicked by Fergie himself to succeed him after over 10 successful years at the blue half of Merseyside; sustaining, shaping and transforming an Everton team who were striving to find a way out of the shadows of their next-door rivals/neighbours. Louis Van Gaal, a believer and advocate of playing football the right way, the beautiful way, as he had displayed in his stints at Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern, the Oranje and AZ. Finally, Jose, the special one, a serial winner, with trophies and titles everywhere he went, with FC Porto, Chelsea (twice), Inter and Real Madrid on his CV. Jose had an illustrious career even before his managerial bow, which took him to different places as a coaching staff before he took on the top job himself.
This was a pick based off of the emotional, and sentimental values of SAF, in hindsight, not one of his best decisions. A fellow Scot who showed loyalty to his club, and shared most of the same values as him, on paper, it felt like an emotional appointment but one that would most certainly reap the same rewards as the man he was replacing on the hot seat.
There are a lot of reasons why it can certainly be claimed that Moyes was dismissed prematurely, getting the axe just 10 months into United job. the decisions that he made are certainly compelling when looking at his time in the job, with many fans claiming that he was taking on the job thinking it would be another Everton job, where a fight would suffice to retain his position. At a club that has seen players come through the door such as Van Nistlerooy, Rooney, Cantona and Veron, a former Toffee and trusted Moyes player, Marouane Fellaini, joined for an inflated price, as well as a midseason arrival of Juan Mata. Neither player could be classified as a steal or piece of transfer brilliance. Both players had a relatively successful career at the club, but never truly established themselves as a fan favourite, partly down to their association with David Moyes.
He did need time, which unfairly he got not a lot of. With a majority of the squad approaching the end of their United stint and the club in transition, his sacking put in place a cycle which till recently hasn’t been effectively been put behind the club and still lingering in the present. Players like Vidic, Carrick, Ferdinand, Evra were already 30+ and the young core was quite inexperience with just Rooney, and Van Persie and a few others who could be classified as a notable player who was almost guaranteed a place in the team sheet. He had brought in his own backroom staff, unfamiliar with the United setup; it was another reason why there was always felt that the players and the manager had a bridge that wasn’t covered.
Unfortunately for Moyes, there were just certain things that wouldn’t change and ultimately what ensued in his 10 month at Old Trafford was that the job was too big for him. He complicated things for himself, the fans didn’t give him enough time, the results on the pitch didn’t match their expectations, the playing style felt beneath the club. Despite looking like a solid candidate on paper, Moyes just wasn’t the right man, or rather, he was the right man at the wrong time.
The first of two of big-name appointments. Louis Van Gaal was a successful manager in every right. His illustrious managerial career has seen him take charge of some of the biggest clubs there are. His attributes sit fairly well with the club’s ambitions, desires, and capabilities. A match that was better than the previous marriage.
A tactically astute coach with a big focus on using young, hungry players together with experienced players to extract the best of the raw desire and technical flair. He wanted the team to play his way, and would not care about your reputation as long as you gave him what he wanted. This was famously evidenced as RVP was moved on in his second year in charge, with a young future golden boy winner arriving the same window. His transfer dealings on one end were endearing, but at the other end would get you to scratch your head. He brought in Di Maria in his first window but moved him on 12 months on. In the summer of 2015, he brought in an ageing Schweinsteiger, a hot but relatively unproven prospect in Memphis Depay, sold Jonny Evans without signing a replacement, bought another full-back in Matteo Darmian after he had already brought in Luke Shaw the year before.
He was trying to rebuild this side after it was shaken up by his predecessor and was now in a position where he felt he needed to spend money every summer, just because he couldn’t find the right fit. Yes, he brought Marcus Rashford into the first-team fold, along with a plethora of youngsters such as Fosu-Mensah and Borthwick-Jackson to name a few, but the board felt that he wasn’t treating the job with the utmost respect. He was relieved of his duties just after winning the FA Cup.
His time at the club wasn’t successful in terms of the output on the pitch, but he did give his successor a better crop of youngsters to work with .
Jose Mourinho is one of those few men who gave coaching an edge only a few have ever mastered over the years. He burst onto the scene with FC Porto and guided them to successive European glory, first in the UEFA Cup in 2003, then the ultimate club competition by winning the Champions League with an underdog Porto in 2004. He then went onto manage Chelsea, revolutionising English football; Inter, whom he guided to the unlikeliest of trebles in 2010; Real Madrid, with whom he seemingly underperformed but did deliver a title in his second season, outwitting his direct rival in Pep Guardiola and FC Barcelona by securing 100 points in 11/12; then came back to Chelsea delivering another title in his second season in charge. He got the axe halfway through the season as he had ran himself out of town due to his unorthodox and blunt words in the dugout.
His time at the club might be regarded as arguably the best since Fergie left the job in 2013, but he did take over a rebuild job left incomplete by his predecessor, meaning that he was to start his own. He spent huge sums bringing in big-name stars and breaking the world record fee when he resigned Paul Pogba, with whom he grew to have a strenuous relationship over his time in charge, but we’ll pick it up again in a while. He spent over £360 million in outlays and recorded a net spend of over 280 million pounds in his time in charge at United. For context, that is more than the two managers combined in both spectrums.
He delivered a Carabao Cup and a Europa League in his first season in charge, and also the Community Shield. In his second season, he finished second in the league, 19 points behind the eventual “centurion” champions and noisy neighbours, Manchester City. Manchester United also lost the FA Cup final to Chelsea. He was fired halfway through his third season in charge, as the club atmosphere was so negative and toxic, that something had to give.
The players were growing tired of Mourinho’s antics, with the manager constantly in a war of words against someone or the other, be it his players or someone from the boardroom. It has been clear from the start, Mourinho has always been a vocal man and he would never shy away from making his discomfort or discontent clear. Manchester United have been a club who never make such public comments or hang someone out to dry. The players were against his way of singling out players, and, despite his somewhat successful spell, no one remembers him much apart from his title charge in 17/18 and the two cup wins in 16/17. The rest of the memory around him is just about how harshly critical he would be of his players in public, and the war he would engage against the media.
The club and manager, both are winners, serial winners, even, but his playing style, his management style, his blunt and straightforward nature, never truly settled in despite all the fanfare that gathered around the club when his appointment was announced. They just weren’t meant to be the long-lasting couple who would go on to win and win and win.
Mourinho once said, that the 2nd place finish with that United team was his greatest ever achievement, as time would progress, how much gravity that would gain, could only ever be expressed by the biggest of understatements.
Why Ole Gunnar Solskjær can and has what it takes to be the man to take United back to glory days
Ole Gunnar Solskjær, was a fantastic player in his day, a legend for Manchester United. He was the one who clinched the treble back in ’99, a consistent performer whenever called upon. He understood what it meant to play for Manchester United, he understood what the badge stood for, stands for. He was one of those few players that have always been trusted and favoured and relied upon by Fergie whenever he needed a performance. He wasn’t always a starter, coming off the bench more often than not under Ferguson, but he accepted his grace and trusted his manager, and would go on to win numerous trophies and almost everything there is to win at club level with titles and cups and European glory all in his trophy cabinet.
He resembles his old boss and mentor in a lot of ways, as he brought back in a lot of the old staff, and retained much of the already existing staff who know the club and have worked for years and years. With many familiar faces for the players, despite a change of manager and shift in ideologies and tactical styles and setups, the players found it relatively easy to adapt to him as he didn’t take much time to get his ideas and methods across to the players, and they performed in his first season, albeit temporary charge up until the announcement that he will take over permanently.
The fans were loving the game, the fans were loving football, the fans were loving that their star players were gaining excellent forms in a crucial stage, as OGS would pull off one of the all-time great comebacks when his side overturned a 2-0 home deficit to knock PSG out 3-1 on away goals in Paris. With wins against PSG, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, and a draw to the rampant Reds at home, he didn’t have too much more to convince everyone that he has the grit to turn the mess that United had become by the summer of 2019, around.
Then came the critics and the unimpressed fans who wanted Pochettino, Zidane or Allegri, anyone but him in the job. His first season was a season of two halves, which can be split into before Bruno Fernandes and after him. United struggled for consistency and was always an injury over what the team could sufficiently cope with. Once Bruno came, he uplifted this side and pushed everyone to another level as United finished 3rd come the end of the season, when once they were languishing in midtable at a certain stage with losses never far away from a decent run of form.
His transfer business has been arguably the best since Ferguson himself, as he is consistently and patiently addressing every issue in the squad, with the mixing of signings of young and experienced players who can either develop into world-class players or are already at the stage where they don’t need much to reach the greatness. A vivid and conspicuous attention to youth development, he in every sense, has gone back to the roots of the club and has started to shape and adjust and revamp this side to match the super clubs without losing their identity. He moved on a lot of players who didn’t match his ambitions and work rate. He has been clearing the club of the deadwood players who have received bumper contracts for subpar performances and has brought in players with that hunger, that drive, that gritty attitude to make it work despite what the world might say. He has brought in players who will fight for him, and give him his all. He has brought in players who will bleed for the badge.
Attacking Football. Youth Development. Building for glory. Competitive Nature. Rebranding themselves. Solskjær may divide a lot of opinions, but there are few things that he has done wrong since he has gone back to the club. The manager may be very far from completely assembling his first team, but the decisions he has made, seem to be better than the ones who succeeded Fergie.
A lot of things still need to be achieved and changed and done, but he has done more right than all of the managers before him in the job. Maybe Ole is the man for the job, maybe he isn’t. everyone has the right to their opinion, but he is the best fit for the club since Ferguson himself.