The interim manager stopped short of rolling up his sleeves. Nevertheless, on a sleety afternoon in Manchester, his refusal to grab a raincoat and instead stand in his shirt for almost the entirety of the match was sufficiently intimidating – and inspiring.
It was the opposite of Steve McClaren’s ill-fated decision to reach for a brolly. The time Ferguson stood on the touchline on a freezing December afternoon drenched to his skin will be celebrated by Evertonians, who are cherishing this renaissance under their folk hero.
It was also a throwback to the time he scored a memorable winner early in his Goodison Park career against the same side and celebrated by tearing off his shirt to display his milky white upper torso. He didn’t go quite as far on this occasion.
Still, he was a compelling presence as he prowled the edge of his technical area. He has always had magnetism. Sadly, it was often trouble he attracted. But forget Barlinnie and his Premier League record of eight red cards. Had Everton hung on to the lead they held here from late in the first half until United’s l77th minute eveller by 18-year-old substitute Mason Greenwood, pictured, it is very possible this might have served as Ferguson’s defining moment.
It could still prove a significant one. Ferguson blew kisses at Everton owner Farhad Moshiri at the end after an unusual television interview in the centre circle and having accepted the plaudits of the travelling support. The fans hailed him to the extent he was forced to point at Dominic Calvert-Lewin, one of Everton’s best performers on the day, as if to say: “Give him a cheer too.”
Ferguson is making it harder for those in authority at Goodison Park to look elsewhere. Four points from six against Chelsea and Manchester United is a return that would be considered miraculous had even Carlo Ancelotti, one of their reputed managerial targets, been in charge of the injury-ravaged side.
One must acknowledge some fortune. Everton’s opener after 37 minutes relied on two dollops of it. It was an own goal for a start, with substitute Leighton Baines’ corner having been missed by David De Gea before striking Victor Lindelof and crawling over the line. Ferguson sprung up in the air. The United ballboys kept their distance.
De Gea’s failure to get something on the ball was partly attributed to the close attention of two Everton forwards, with one, Calvert-Lewin, leading with his arm.
The expectation was VAR’s dread hand would intervene to rule it out. But Ferguson was sporting only a shirt by this time as the sleety rain swept in across the Pennines. He later said he “couldnae even remember” taking his jacket off. Would you have wanted to inform him the goal was being disallowed? It may well have stood in the days when Ferguson was barging into keepers on an almost weekly basis. However, to permit it now, after a second look, seemed completely out of keeping with the meticulous-to-a-fault officiating to date this season in the English Premier League.
Ferguson’s attire was an amusing distraction but shouldn’t deflect from further evidence of managerial know-how. At kick-off he told Mason Holgate, who was in fact deployed in midfield, to stand in the backline, which fooled everyone into thinking Everton were playing five at the back. “Well, everyone told me I should play five at the back,” he smiled.
An argument against giving Ferguson the manager’s job on a full-time basis is that he is too in-with-the bricks at Everton and overly close to the players. Well, he helped trash this notion with a cold-eyed decision straight out of his former manager Jim McLean’s book. Having taken little more than 18 minutes to conclude Moise Kean, who was sent on in the 70th minute, was more likely to cost his team than assist them, he hauled the 19-year-old off again.
Being subbed as a sub is the ultimate humiliation. Subbing a sub is something managers might do only a few times in their entire career. Ferguson has done it in only his second game.
He did seem to try to limit the youngster’s embarrassment afterwards, explaining that he was only “looking for some fresh legs”. He added: “It was one of them... I can see why he’s upset. But it’s about the team, isn’t it?” No one in the interview room was going to disagree.
Ferguson didn’t sound like he was going to rush to explain his reasons to Kean, whose time at Everton has been beset by apparent disciplinary issues. The player compounded his evident lack of effort by walking straight to the tunnel rather than take his seat on the bench. “I will probably see him tomorrow and will probably mention that to him,” said Ferguson. It sounds like Kean will probably regret his actions.
Asked whether he expects to be in charge this Wednesday night, when Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City come calling for a Carabao Cup quarter-final fixture, Ferguson said he did: “It’s a tight turnaround, isn’t it?” That’s presuming he hasn’t caught the death of cold.