As Sir Alex Ferguson, the man behind many soccer stars and Manchester United’s many victories retires, fans in the city tell Udhav Naig how they will miss his presence at the touch line
The announcement on Manchester United’s website that their most successful manager, 71-year-old Sir Alex Ferguson, will retire at the end of this season started an avalanche of responses from the world of football and fans alike. Needless to say, the red jersey fans in Chennai were gutted as they decided to stop their ‘Glory Glory Man United’ victory chant temporarily (Manchester United won their 20th English Premier League title barely a fortnight ago) to pay tribute to their manager who delivered 38 trophies in 26 years for the team.
As the media began dissecting his career and speculating about his possible successor, rival fans were rejoicing the fact that the wily old Scot known for his magical substitutions will no longer be seen at the touch line.
Diehard Manchester United fans, mostly young people, wore their team’s jerseys and held aloft their manager’s poster as they shared their sentiments about what Sir Alex’s retirement means for the club and for the fans themselves. How difficult is it to swallow their gaffer’s decision to step down? “My father has decided to stop watching football altogether,” says Karthik, who is in the merchant navy. “Most of the Indian fans have never seen a United team that has not been managed by Sir Alex, so I think we will miss his magic,” says Aravind Menon, a professional. “And we will miss the ‘Fergie’ time too,” insists Pravin referring to tense injury time winners United is famous for.
Throughout his career, Sir Alex was well known for turning young starlets into superstars. Predictably, the topic veered towards his best find. If they were to pick one player whose success can be attributed solely to Sir Alex, who would that be? “Simple. Cristiano Ronaldo,” says Pravin. The others agree to it as well. “He picked him up at such a young age and groomed him to what he is today,” says Ramkumar, a second year Viscom student. Apart from Ronaldo, the group also began challenging each other as they discussed players such as Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Roy Keane and Eric Cantona, who all shined under the Scot.
Ferguson’s retirement has not only hollowed out United’s soul, but has also disappointed many fans in the city who had nurtured dreams of going to Old Trafford to see Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils in action. “That will never come true now,” says Vivek. “I thought he would be there for another couple of years,” says Pravin. Srinivas, of course, has no such regrets as he has already seen a game live, “You guys should go at least once. It is an amazing experience,” he tells the group.
The group finally got talking about his possible replacement. I throw up names just to see whether they are ready to imagine a United team without Fergie. I start with Jose Mourinho. “No way,” the group unites in their disapproval. “But why not?”, I ask. “Mourinho is a firebrand, he tries to be bigger than the club,” says Ramkumar. Then who else do they want to fill Sir Alex’s shoes? “Klopp,” says someone, “David Moyes”, says another. And they settle for Everton’s manager David Moyes, who, like Sir Alex Ferguson, is a Scot. “We would like to keep the Scot connection going,” says Pravin. (News is out that David Moyes is Manchester United’s new boss for the next six years.)
As we slowly wind up the conversation which was filled with nostalgia, regret (of Sir Alex not winning more European cups), and hope for the future, I ask if they really thought that they stand a chance to win the league next season. “Why not? We will do it,” says the 14-year-old Umair. While Pravin, Ramkumar and Srinivas agree with his prediction, Menon and a few others remain sceptical and set the bar a bit low. “We are a team in transition. The new manager will be under a lot of pressure. I will be happy if we make it to the top four and qualify for the Champions League,” he says. The fans wouldn’t settle for fourth place if Sir Alex Ferguson was still running the show at Manchester United.