May 7, 2011
Sir Alex endorses unpopular Mourinho
JAMES LAWTON, Special to QMI Agency
LONDON — When he was a mere 57, still almost a stripling in the sweep of his extraordinary career, many urged upon Sir Alex Ferguson an argument they considered utterly irresistible. As the winner of the historic treble of Premier League, FA Cup and the European Champions League, he would never have a more inviting chance to walk away from football the master of all that he had sought to achieve.
Now, in the year of his 70th birthday, with the Premier League again within his reach against Chelsea at Old Trafford today, and with his third European Cup final in four years due against Barcelona at Wembley later this month, the old question has inevitably re-surfaced: What football man would not say, “no, there could be no more perfect point of exit, no deeper validation of a career which has broken so many rules except the one that insists on winning?”
Almost all of them would say that except Ferguson.
Ferguson has been here before, nearly a decade ago, but he stepped back into the game soon after announcing his decision to retire in a state of some alarm. He hated that the furniture of his life might be so violently re-arranged.
Yet could this extraordinary re-statement of ferocious energy just be a signal of something other than an interminable love of battle? Might it just be evidence of release, a dawning of the fact that just as the aging Sir Matt Busby gave him his seal of approval as a natural-born successor, Ferguson also believes that his legacy can be placed in appropriate hands?
It was certainly not hugely hard to see an inkling of this in what seemed like an extraordinary endorsement of Jose Mourinho at a time when many have argued that his credentials for the United succession have been irreparably besmirched.
If Mourinho, ejected from the Champions League in the most shaming circumstances, attacked by Real Madrid’s legendary figure, Alfredo di Stefano, described as an ‘arrogant lout’ by Champions League double-winner Ottmar Hitzfeld, needed some psychological nourishment it was surely provided by Ferguson.
For some months now the word from Old Trafford has been that Mourinho’s arrival was locked down, that it merely awaited the word of Ferguson and a point of mutual convenience, and here was the manager, the creator of an era of unprecedented success, publicly installing the man some see as the enemy of football as a friend of Old Trafford; indeed, a working ally.
It is intriguing— and for some who believe that United, for all the problems of its ownership, represents something beyond the mere details of power and wealth and win and loss, also alarming.
Above all, these devotees would say, Manchester United is about a way of playing football, about reflecting in it a tradition shaped by the Busby Babes, Best, Charlton and Law and all those players, from Robson and Keane to Scholes and Giggs, who over the last two decades have said that it is a club which has celebrated more than anything the force of individual talent.
Mourinho, of course, has formidable assets, but could United’s following learn to love his often bitter, functional football? Perhaps it is more likely today than ever. Maybe the need to win, in any way possible, has never been more oppressive.
Maybe the only credential that Mourinho carries, the one that proclaims his ability to win, has become the only one that matters. We will see soon enough, of course. In the meantime, and whoever it is who one day attempts to follow in his footsteps, it shouldn’t be a hardship acknowledging the most extraordinary fact. It is that once again football’s oldest warrior has won the right to leave when he chooses.
James Lawton writes for