Ferguson must go, not Rooney

United are mired in a miserable, mediocre season characterised by flashes of attacking excellence from Berbatov, Chicharito and (sometimes) Nani undermined by late-game defensive frailty and widespread poor form. There is no defensive midfield to speak of, putting huge pressure on the defence itself (which has been in poor form), and the captaincy is still an ongoing problem.

Alex Ferguson has directly contributed to the decline of the club in three main ways: his use of the transfer market; his consistently poor team selection; and his dreadful man-management skills (or, rather, his view that his tyrannical whims are more important than the creation and maintenance of the best possible squad). While these faults have not prevented him from steering United to great successes during his tenure as manager, I would argue that since the 1999 Treble, Ferguson’s influence has been a net negative, and has seen a decline in the quality and depth of the first team squad. Spikes of success contrary to this decline have been caused by wonderful individual player performances – particularly the 07-09 run which was dependent on otherworldly contributions from Ronaldo, who carried the team for long periods, but cannot be attributed to Ferguson at all.

His arrogant, vain and capricious man-management ‘skills’ have cost the club time and again. His fractious relationship with Beckham saw the latter leave in a hurried and underpriced manner. While admittedly most would have instinctively sided with Ferguson at that stage, in hindsight Beckham could have been a great contributor at United for at least another three years. Mark Hughes and Jaap Stam suffered similar fates. Worse still was his treatment of Roy Keane, arguably the single most important player in the last forty years of United history, and a player who was not afraid to point out the increasingly obvious frailties and absurdities in the club set up – which, as captain, he was within his rights to do. Keane was forced out, though, then Van Nisterooy (the greatest pure striker in club history, whose gaudy stats are still jaw-dropping) was shuffled out at least a year or two early, and Ferguson was left with a tabula rasa with which to (supposedly) create his next great side.

What happened, though, was the formation of a good-but-not-great squad bloated by underperforming and overpaid players, dragged to success largely by the timely goals of Cristiano Ronaldo. Instead of progressing from the solid base of 1999, the team had returned to the mid-1990s when Eric Cantona single-handedly pulled a decent group of players on to the next level. The difference here was that there was no progress – Ronaldo never had a positive effect on his team-mates, being neither a teacher nor a leader (where Cantona was often both). When Ronaldo left in 2009, his role of right-winger was adequately filled by Antonio Valencia, but his goalscoring contribution was never addressed by Ferguson, who placed the entire responsibility on the shoulders of Rooney.

While Rooney had a good season last year, it was clear as early as January that he was being overused (mostly, I contend, because of Ferguson’s refusal to play Berbatov in a two striker system while resting Rooney). He broke down as the title race climaxed and hasn’t yet regained full fitness or form. I don’t doubt that he will be great once again, but his position at United is now, incredibly, in doubt. If this is coming down to a choice between Ferguson and Rooney, it is no choice. Rooney, used properly, could be a wonderful contributor for United for at least another five or six years. Ferguson continues to oversee decline, blindly lashing out at anyone who dares question his dogmatic decisions and utterly failing to maximise the talents of available players.

Hughes, Stam, Beckham, Keane, Van Nistelrooy. I’d be sad to see Rooney added to that list. While some of those players never truly won over the United fans, it is clear that by forcing players out earlier than their form would suggest, Ferguson consistently puts his whims ahead of footballing considerations. He has demonstrated that he won’t tolerate the slightest level of independent thought in his players, let alone dissent. The comedy act that is Shop Steward Gary Neville is perhaps the greatest testament to this. It’s time for Ferguson to go, and I’m afraid that if he does, his ten years of trampling on a potentially all-time-greatest legacy mean that I won’t be inclined to applaud him on the way out.

Published in: on October 18, 2010 at 8:50 am  Leave a Comment  

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