For two decades Manchester United fans have set out in August, more in expectation than in mere hope. We had an advantage, an extra ingredient that set us apart from the rest.
This isn’t just the view of someone born with pre-installed scarlet contact lenses; this was something a City fan said to me in March: “We can spend all the money in the world, but as long as you have Fergie – you’ll always have the upper hand”.
I agreed with him of course, in fact during the conversation I agreed with most things he said. If you can put your colours to one side (occasionally) you’ll find the view from ‘The Enemy’ quite interesting. I had a similar conversation with a Liverpool fan in June. Although he’d filled his ‘LFC conspiracy theory bingo card’ within the first 15 minutes – I did eventually get some sense out of him. He too admitted that having a man like ‘Alex Ferguson’ (“It’s SIR Alex mate!”) in charge for such a long time, meant that going into each season United knew what to expect.
Players and coaches have come and gone, but Sir Alex was the one constant. He acted as the ship’s rudder, guiding his charges through campaign after campaign with an unwavering belief and steely determination. There has always been a school of thought that he was a bit of a tyrant, getting the best out of his players by ruling with an iron fist – but if you listened to the tributes from his current and former players upon his retirement, that doesn’t always seem to have been the case.
Fergie (and his position within the game) demanded respect, but that respect was derived from a sense of mutual trust. His teams knew that if they listened to him and worked hard (not just for him, but for each other) that he’d stand by them and help them get every last drop out of their game.
When United eased the Premier League trophy from Man City’s feeble grip in April, a journalist asked him: “at what point were you certain that you’d win the league this season?”
With a wry smile, he replied “May 13th 2012” – he wasn’t joking either. That kind of single-mindedness ran from him straight into the team, and left the players with no doubts whatsoever as to what was expected of them. He convinced them that they were a team of champions, and knew that they’d learnt a harsh lesson from that day.
With all that in mind, should we be slightly worried going into this season?
As supporters the only thing that we have to worry about is the eleven players on the pitch, and whether or not it’ll make a difference to them. Surely their mentality (a mentality honed and programmed over a number of years) will remain the same. They’re proven winners who regularly talk about “challenging themselves” and being “hungry to win more”.
Those values may have been instilled in them by a different regime, but can you really see their mindset changing in such a short space of time?
I doubt it very much; in fact I think the exact opposite. Individuals will be reinvigorated by Moyes’s arrival, certain players will want to show what they can do, and even those with nothing to prove will try to impress the new manager because they themselves don’t want their own high standards to slip.
For the first time in the careers of some our players, places are up for grabs. The likes of Javier Hernandez and Jonny Evans will be convinced that they should start every week – so they’ll bust a gut to prove it, a more competitive edge within the squad and a little extra effort is hardly a bad thing is it? Then throw any ‘new arrivals’ into the mix along with some exciting youngsters and we have more cause to be excited than we do worried.
My only slight concern (with a tough start to the league campaign) would be if we didn’t hit the ground running. A good start under the new manager would diffuse any element of doubt and should see the ‘business as usual’ signs go up at Old Trafford. But a couple of poor results, the knives will be out and the press will have a field day at Moyes’s expense. Not that it would bother him, I have a feeling that some of our younger (or newer) players saw the softer side of Fergie in his last couple of years, working under Moyes might just come as a bit of a shock. Forget the hairdryer – I wouldn’t want to be on the other end of that glare.