FINDING someone to fill such big boots isn’t easy. More than a dozen Aberdeen managers will vouch for that. During his time at Pittodrie, Alex Ferguson won three league titles, four Scottish Cups, the European Cup Winners’ Cup, the European Super Cup and one League Cup.
That was in seven years, but in the period since they have not won a single league title, failed to flourish in Europe and silverware of any kind has been scarce.
Now it is Manchester United who must fill the managerial void. His former captain, Willie Miller, one of those who followed in his coaching wake at Pittodrie, knows what it is like to manage in the shadow of a gaffer he insists is the best ever, but he believes the situation at Old Trafford is completely different to the problems faced during the post-Fergie era at Aberdeen.
“It won’t be the same hangover,” he said. “It’s completely different. He left Aberdeen and there was a revolution called Rangers that happened soon after, where they swamped Scottish football with the finances they had and brought in some of the best players in Britain and even in Europe at the time, and then Celtic got their act together and did the same thing. So, the Aberdeen situation was different to the situation Manchester United are in. The new manager at Manchester United will have the same spending power that Sir Alex had. But it’s going to be difficult, because whoever comes in is going to be judged by comparison and, let’s face it, he’s not going to do better. All he can hope for is that he can continue the work that Sir Alex has done and if he manages a percentage of that success he will be doing extremely well.”
The secret to that success remains too complex to manufacture and bottle, says Miller. The components are plentiful and while many other managers possess some of them few like Ferguson had the perfect blend.
“I think the thing people don’t really know is that he has a marvellous work ethic. The amount of time he puts into it, the total focus, his will to succeed. He puts everything he has got into managing. That’s the way he was at Aberdeen and he still does it all these years later. If you add that to his knowledge of the game, tactical know-how, man-management skills and his ability to spot a good player and work out how they fit into his team, then it’s a formidable package.”
It was the personalities as much as the talent that mattered to Ferguson.
“There are lots of good players out there, but where Sir Alex succeeds is that he identifies their character and he figures out how they will blend in at the club,” said Miller. “That’s been important in putting together so many successful teams. He always wanted players who will play for the team. He has maybe had one or two mavericks but he has always been able to surround them with very solid players, players he can trust with fine character. He puts his trust in his players and they put their trust in him, it’s a two-way process. If he can’t trust a player then they don’t last long. He can be very ferocious and very ruthless when it comes to moving that player on.”
For Ferguson it is always about living up to the high standards he sets.
“One memory that is typical of him but maybe not the fondest memory is of him blasting us after we won the Scottish Cup final, the one just after we had won the Cup Winners’ Cup as well. Although we beat Rangers in the Scottish Cup final most of the team got a verbal lashing from him for not rising to the standards he had set! That for me sums him up. Taking a provincial club and taking them to victories on the Scottish and European stage and still not being totally satisfied.”
His successor will have to live up to those standards but unlike the post-Fergie years at Pittodrie, at least at Manchester United the new man will have Sir Alex in the boardroom for guidance and a pot full of cash to aid the process.