OF ALL the present and former greats who paid tribute to Sir Alex Ferguson following yesterday’s announcement that he is stepping down after 26 years at Manchester United, few have Fergie in their hearts as much as United legend Denis Law.
As a lifelong Aberdeen fan, Law still remembers fondly how Fergie broke the Celtic-Rangers stranglehold on Scottish football and led the Dons to European Cup Winners’ Cup glory by beating mighty Real Madrid 30 years ago this weekend.
“I knew when he came to Aberdeen, my home city, that he was an ex-Rangers player but what he did in breaking the monopoly, I also realised there must be something special about the guy,” said Law. “To win in Europe was an extraordinary achievement at that particular time. When he came south things didn’t start well but they kept faith with him and the rest is history.”
Law was as shocked as anyone by Fergie’s decision to finally call it a day after winning 38 major trophies. “I saw him only last week and he didn’t breathe a word. He will be recognised as one of the greatest managers of all time. Like Matt Busby, he loved young players coming through and going on to represent their country. He was also conscious of playing attractive football to give value to people who pay good money. He comes from a hard-working part of the world and wanted to give people entertainment.”
Law is confident that whoever takes over at Old Trafford – and the heavy betting last night was on Everton boss David Moyes – will be given time, just as Ferguson was despite not winning a trophy for the first three-and-a-half years of his tenure.
“When he first arrived, he might have been given the sack but they didn’t do that and the new guy will benefit from the people upstairs recognising that success doesn’t always come straight away,” said Law. “They will be very reluctant, unless whoever it is does extremely badly, to get rid of him.”
Jose Mourinho is seemingly the only other genuine contender but Law isn’t sure the charismatic Real Madrid manager, who likes to do things very much his own way, would be the right replacement in terms of style. Not surprisingly, he would prefer to see Moyes, another of his own compatriots, follow in Fergie’s footsteps after a decade at Goodison Park.
Even if Moyes’ tenure has been trophyless, Law sees him as the perfect fit in terms of another hungry Scottish manager eager to succeed. “What David Moyes has done on relatively little money is achieve a certain status. People think very highly of him. We’re a small country and there’s a burning passion that we want to compete with Big Brother down south. Jose Mourinho has got the pedigree but would he be suitable for Manchester United? I don’t know. I have a feeling a foreign manager wouldn’t work but I have never been a manager so I don’t have any special insight.”
Although he is revered at Old Trafford, where he spent 13 years and was nicknamed “The King” for his goalscoring and creative exploits, it is often forgotten that Law also played for the blue half of Manchester and believes City, who have again played second fiddle to United having clinched the league last season, will be pleased to see the back of 71-year-old Ferguson. “It was only a matter of time before City, with all their resources, won the title but they haven’t been at their best in the league this season and now he’s retired they will feel a wee bit better,” said Law. “When a new guy comes into any new job with his own ways sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but what Fergie has left is a very solid foundation team-wise, financially and so much stuff behind the scenes that people don’t see.”
Law, 73, was speaking at the launch of Royal Mail’s Football Heroes stamps, celebrating 11 of the greatest players ever from the four home nations. “This has to be one of the finest honours you could ever get, to be one of 11 on a postage stamp,” he said. “It must have been so hard to choose 11 players. Jimmy Johnstone, Jim Baxter, Billy Bremner, Kenny Dalglish – all great Scottish players who weren’t selected. I’m lucky to have been chosen and very proud.”