Pat STANTON was at Sir Alex Ferguson’s right hand as he set out on a road which was to be paved with gold and laden with trophy after trophy – but the Hibs legend missed out on the glory years as he quit Pittodrie to become boss of Cowdenbeath.
Today, as he digested the news that Sir Alex’s reign of 27 years at Manchester United has finally come to an end, the Hibs legend admitted he’s reflected from time to time of what might have been had he remained by his side, although, he insisted, he doesn’t linger long on such thoughts.
Stanton said: “I’d played against Alex often enough, but I got to know him when I was doing my coaching courses down at Largs. You got to meet people socially there, guys you had spent Saturday afternoons trying to kick and then discovering they were nice people once you got to know them.
“He’s been a friend of mine since, I still speak to him and I was down in Manchester for his 25th anniversary bash. I get on well with him. He has that image on the telly of being a bit gruff, but while he isn’t a great lover of daft questions, in his own company he is fine. He might come over as being a bit dour, but he is a bright man. He likes reading, his interests are quite diverse and he’s a clever individual.”
Stanton’s friendship with then plain-old Fergie led to him being asked to become his assistant at Aberdeen, Ferguson having moved on from St Mirren where he’d won the First Division title. He was, of course, to transform the Dons into a formidable force at home and abroad, but Stanton had left Pittodrie before the silverware, including the European Cup Winner’s Cup, began to arrive.
He said: “I think if you are second-in-command to him, then somewhere down the line he likes you to try and go for it yourself rather than live in his shadow. He’s had quite a few assistants over the years and if you feel you want to try to go on your own, then he might not like you leaving, but he understands you have that bit of ambition. It has crossed my mind as to what might have been had I stayed with Sir Alex, but not to any great extent. You make your own choices in life.”
Stanton does recall, though, the words of advice offered by Sir Alex. He said: “We were talking about going to other teams and he said to remember the players you’d be dealing with, and no disrespect to them, won’t be the same as you’ve been used to at Pittodrie.
“It was true. You could say something to the likes of Gordon Strachan, Willie Miller or Alex McLeish and they knew exactly what you meant. You didn’t have to get the drawing board out.”
Although Ferguson’s Old Trafford career didn’t get off to a flying start, United’s patience has paid off in style although Stanton wonders if today he’d be granted the time to turn things around. But, he insisted, Sir Alex’s strength lay in his ability not just to deal with big names and egos, but to rebuild a team time and again.
David Moyes, the current Everton manager, is expected to be appointed as Ferguson’s successor at Old Trafford.