Friday, May 10, 2013

The Reddest Devil: Thoughts On SAF's Retirement

If you're a regular reader of the blog, and you're wondering, "Where on God's green earth has this guy been?", I offer my sincerest apologies and also suggest you check out Soccer Newsday and Cottagers Confidential for some of my thoughts on Indianapolis's new NASL team and Fulham Football Club respectively. I'm juggling three balls here (no jokes!) and am realizing that for a writer, even a modicum of recognition comes with a whole slew of deadlines, restrictions, and editors who do not believe in the Oxford comma. Heathens.

On to the good stuff...

Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement as manager of Manchester United earlier this week after nearly three decades at the helm of arguably the world's most iconic club. I had to slow clap the man from across the Atlantic as the timing of his announcement managed to make a pivotal London derby between Chelsea and Tottenham look positively inconsequential and transformed a decidedly pedestrian title winning campaign into the construction of a glorious, gilded arched gateway with "exit"inscribed in some legendary as-yet-uncreated font above it. In short, SAF dropped the mic and marched backstage to gulp red wine from the myriad trophies he probably sets his table with.

Another massive wine goblet. Legendary. 
That may sound like hyperbole, but that's what we're dealing with here. Ferguson has been a legend in his own time; a force of nature for whom conventional wisdom, mores, and rules of engagement do not apply. Other managers have seen the entire arc of their career play out as a blip on Ferguson's geologic timeline and have often rightly asked themselves, "Well, how does he get away with it?" We don't know.

In the wake of SAF's announcement, breathless paeans to the man written by even more breathless writers sprung up like hatching east coast cicadas and attempted to encapsulate The Man's greatness; to pinpoint his final ranking in the pantheon of all time greats. We may look back on this week and remember it as the precise moment when the "Living Obituary" genre of writing was created.

His time in charge. His trophies won. The staggering volume of legends who played for him. His gum chewing and wine drinking. His (in)famous timekeeping. His thinly veiled disdain for the media, transfer fees, and players who crossed him. All of these Fergieisms have been cited in recent days, and rightly so, but they're only pieces of the Ferguson Myth and don't cut to the heart of the matter. It's like describing Wedge, Grimlock, Heavy Loader, and Hightower and failing to convey that, although they're all awesome individually, together they're so much more badass as Landfill. That's a Gestalt Transformer reference. Feel free to Google it. I'll wait.

What sets Ferguson apart is that through the force of all those Fergieisms - all of that excellence, prickliness, temper, toil, and constancy - he was Manchester United incarnate. The Reddest Devil. He was the architect of all those trophy campaigns and the blesser of every transfer in and out, the redeemer of the Busby Babes. He was both the arrogance and excellence of every Manchester United vintage since 1986 and the judge, jury, and executioner of every erstwhile star who forgot it.

The problem for David Moyes is that he still is, if not in practice then certainly in truth. No one wants to be the man who follows a legend. Better to be the man who follows the man who follows the legend. In this case, the legend and the club are synonymous and it may take an actual obituary to separate the two again.

Well played, Sir. Well played.          

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