Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement has left a huge gap but also a massive opportunity for his successor – and his rivals – to be the Premiership’s main, made man. FOURFOURTWO examines how they might do it
Sir Alex Ferguson’s words, “not one of you can look me in the eye, because not one of you deserves to have a say”, could easily have come from fictional mobster Tony Soprano’s mouth.
For two decades, Sir Alex had reigned as the English Premiership’s Tony, the boss of bosses. Imperious, complex, occasionally volcanic, he had brushed aside challengers and whacked the occasional dissident within his own camp with ruthless calm.
More than a year on, both James Gandolfini, the man who played Tony in The Sopranos, and Ferguson are gone – the latter, happily, with less finality. Ferguson’s exit on May 8 recalled the moment when the Soprano family gathered in a diner, with Tony nervously eyeing the man in the Member’s Only jacket. When the screen went black, all everyone wanted to know was what happens next.
When, in the days that followed, Roberto Mancini left Manchester City and Rafael Benitez left Chelsea, it meant that for the first time in living memory, the league’s top three finishers would start a new season with new managers.
What appears to be definite is that the old Don, Ferguson, will never call the shots again and David Moyes feels secure enough that his predecessor will only watch United from the stands.
With Ferguson having a huge say in the appointment of his successor, something a small minority at the club are uneasy about, United have gone like-for-like with a determined, ultraprepared Scottish socialist not known for suffering fools or geniuses gladly.
Then there is the question of whether, once an initial burst of Malcolm Glazer largesse is over, Moyes will be able to attract the very best players. Even some current senior players are said to
be somewhat bemused that José Mourinho will not be in the dugout, though they admire Moyes and expect to be won over.
A standstill with no progress is a fair description of how it ended for the last man who attempted to take Ferguson down.
“Manuel Pellegrini has a fantastic reputation as a person and that is something City clearly wanted,” says seasoned football commentator Martin Tyler.
City believe that in Pellegrini they have a manager who can recapture the title and take them to glory. Yet there must be doubts about a man with no Premiership experience being thrown into its frantic pace and media glare, while the target of five trophies in five years contrasts sharply with a record of none in 11 years in Spain for “The Engineer”.
Trophies also eluded Mourinho in his final La Liga campaign, but then the former Real Madrid manager did win five in three seasons during his first Chelsea stint – that’s five more English trophies than either Pellegrini or Moyes possess.
Chelsea finished last season in great form, winning eight and drawing two of their final 11 league games, and between the sticks they have a revitalised Petr Cech who, according to our Stats Zone app, made eight saves in the crucial October win over Tottenham and the same number against Newcastle in February.
They also have the rebranded “Happy One”, Mourinho, no doubt eager to mess with the heads of his new rivals. What could possibly go wrong? If Mourinho, Pellegrini and Moyes remain the safe bets to possibly become the new Don, then what of Uncle Junior?
Arsene Wenger, shorn of power, has looked a peripheral figure in recent years and after the way his side struggled to shake off the post-Robin van Persie blues at the start of last season (their worst-ever opening to a Premier League campaign), a betting man would have lumped on Arsenal being the only one of the big four to start 2013/14 with a new manager.
Instead, Wenger remains the sole incumbent after his side won their final five away games to seal a 16th consecutive season in the Champions League.
An upturn in ambitions across north London is hardly good news for Tottenham, but despite another failure to overhaul the neighbours last time, Andre Villas-Boas’ stock remains high.
Oh, and they have Gareth Bale.
An assessment of Everton’s chances of remaining a threat depends on which way you read Roberto Martinez’s CV. On one hand, he’s the architect of the biggest FA Cup final upset in a quarter-century.
But on the other, he’s the man who was relegated a few days later, with his team conceding 73 goals, the most in the league.
By contrast, major progress is demanded at Anfield, where despite encouraging signs under Brendan Rodgers, the mood music is “not as overwhelmingly positive as it has been made out”, according to one close Liverpool observer, who adds there is “slight surprise that they didn’t do better last season”.
Until then, Rodgers must continue to find and improve young players as he did at Swansea, and carry on with inspired buys like Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge when he is backed, which the club intends to do.
Moyes has the job now, but as we head into the unknown, that is no guarantee he’ll have it for the long term – or that he’ll ever be the Don.
Perhaps these would-be Dons should heed the words of Tony: “All due respect, you got no f***ng idea what it’s like to be Number One. Every decision you make affects every facet of every other f***ing thing. It’s too much to deal with, almost. And in the end, you’re completely alone with it all.”
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