For those of you have been lurking in the nooks and crannies of Toby’s Place in Blanchardville, Wisconsin. Or for those of you at the Firehouse Bar & Grill in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, where my words flow like a waterfall ((just try and stop a waterfall….you can’t)) and have not been paying attention ((though sometimes I can’t say that I blame you)). Or those of you who are simply butthurt dwellers, or Not involved in Education, Employment or Training, let me make it crystal clear for all of you: Sir Alex Ferguson, longest serving and winning-est coach in the English Premier League, the coach of Manchester United for the past 26 years, is retiring at the end of this season. And whether you are fond of the man or not ((I’m not, to be honest)), or whether you like Manchester United or not ((I don’t…y’all know that I do not like ManU(re)!! )), you have to respect the man and applaud his accomplishments over the years ((I do!)) as he steps away from the game as perhaps one of the best coaches of all-time in any sport you care to name.
Today, as I begin this little essay, was Fergie’s final home match at Old Trafford. And no, I did not watch it. Perhaps I should have. But it’s ManU(re) after all…and to be honest, I had no desire to see the celebration and hype and emotion that surged through Old Trafford today. I did not need to see them lift the Premier League trophy with one final tilt to go in the season (next Sunday, May 19th, at West Brom). Chelsea and Norwich City are my teams, not Manchester United. ((And no, I didn’t see Norwich City’s 4-0 trompage of the aforementioned West Brom this morning either as I had to take a friend to the bus station in Madison)). Suffice it to say that at his final match at Old Trafford today, Sir Alex Ferguson can walk away a winner. The final was 2-1 over Swansea. His old stalwart defender Rio Ferdinand got him the winner at the 87th minute. Chicharito had opened the scoring at the 25th minute. 4 minutes into the 2nd half, Michu equalized for Swansea. But Rio Ferdinand ((who I absolutely despise these days and probably shouldn’t, but I do)) rose to the occasion as one of the best in the game should do, and delivered the winner.
And while a lot of his opponents and their fans are glad to finally see him go, and you can count me in on that one, on a certain level, we’re going to miss the old bastard. It won’t be the same not seeing him on the touchline. It’s a curious conundrum….you’re glad to see him go, and yet you hate to see him go. A vital part of the game will be missing…it will be a void that will never be filled, no matter what greatness his successor David Moyes achieves over the years. In soccer, we’ll never see the likes of an Alex Ferguson again.
1. A Ride On The Hatredcopter
Like it or not, hatred is a vital part of sports rivalries. And as long it doesn’t get out of hand or taken too far, it can be a good and cathartic thing.
There are some natural rivalries in sports that will always be ferocious regardless of who the coaches are. The Packers/Bears or the Packers/Vike-Queens rivalry. Auburn/Alabama. Ohio State/Michigan. Yankees/Red Sox. Jets/Patriots. ManU(re) and Citeh. Duke/UNC. And so on. Newcastle/Sunderland. You get the idea. No matter were you are in the world, no matter what sport or at what level of competition, there is some sporting rival who, on general principle alone, is simply the epitome of pure evil.
Teams aside, there are coaches who engender that same polarizing effect by the simple fact of:
- Their existence
- Their demeanor and personality (or the lack thereof)
- Their teams are too fucking good (and you probably already hate their team anyway)
- As coaches, they also too fucking good despite all the other reasons to hate them
Coaches of this sort, and Fergie was definitely one of them, bring out the hatred even among neutrals. Here in the States, Bill Belichek and Coach K would be top of that heap. Their demeanor is anything but endearing, and a lot of people hate them and their teams because of that.
I know a lot of people who absolute hate Duke basketball because they win (almost) all the time because of Coach K. A lot of these people have no idea bout the long-standing Duke/UNC rivalry and couldn’t pick the beloved UNC coach Dean Smith out of a line up. Nor could they name the coach of Duke before Coach K. ((That would be Bill Foster for those of you keeping score at Marcine’s in wonderful downtown Mt. Vernon, Wisconsin.))
And the Hoodie’s robotic un-personality is one of many reasons why a lot of people can’t stand him and the New England Patriots. He is simply not likeable and many suspect that he’s the same way in real life as well. He makes y’all forget that before Bill Belichick, there actually was a team called the New England Patriots. They’ve been around since 1959 ((as the Boston Patriots until 1971)), the year Vince Lombardi took over as coach of the Green Bay Packers. And yes, they had a coach before the Hoodie seemingly arrived from either outer space or a Unibomber cave. That coach was…..wait for it…..you might have heard of this guy…..drumroll please…….wait for it………PETE CARROLL!!! See how easy the Hoodie has made us forget??
Fergie, however tops them all. Not just on the scale of longevity, but the grander scale of the international stage. Tiffs with the press? Fergie tops The Hoodie hand down. Mind games, badgering officials, and sheer pugnaciousness? Fergie trumps Coach K and he did it with more style and charm ((for lack of a better word…..if you can think of a better word, bust me a comment or an email)). That he could do it with a smile on his face made it all the worse, all the more confounding, and all the better. Duke is not Duke. Manchester United is Duke.
2. Winning Isn’t Everything….
Manchester United 1 Real Madrid 2
Philadelphia Eagles 17 Green Bay Packers 10
It’s not always the scoreboard that tells all about the greatness of a coach. No coach of any sort of longevity and greatness has a perfect record. Sir Alex will go down as one of the greatest of all time, but like another great coach, he didn’t win it all every single time.
Vince Lombardi lost his first NFL Championship game to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1960 before leading the Packers on to greatness. Sir Alex led Manchester United to greatness for 26 seasons before losing his final post-season Champions League match to 1-2 at Old Trafford to Real Madrid with his former charge Christiano Ronaldo sticking the dagger in his old gaffer’s heart at the 69th minute.
The true measure of greatness has much more to do with how you deal with defeat, how you get your team to rise above. Sir Alex was a master of that, especially in this, his final season with a squad that was not up to his usual standard, and/or beset by injury. His favorite prodigal son, Wayne Rooney kicked to the curb by newcomer Robin Van Persie….his skipper Nemanja Vidic out with more injuries again. Giggs finally getting old (but still playing better that lot of lads ½ his age). Others like Nani and Ashley Young were confoundingly underperforming. Phil Jones, Johnny Evans merely average at times ((but perhaps at the end of the day this is what or who they are.)) And the less said about Rio Ferdninand, the better. In any case, Sir Alex was still able to make a lot out of an average (by Man U standards) squad this season and won the Premier League. Like Vince Lombardi at the Packers, he gets to go out on top.
Great coaches bring the best out of great players, and both Lombardi and Fergie fielded teams that were a veritable murderer’s row of greatness. My Wisconsin readers might not need me to drop any Packers names on ’em ((Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung, Willie Wood, Ray Nitschke, Jim Ringo, Henry Jordan….ad infinitum)) any more than ManU(re) fans need me to drop Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, David Beckham, Cristiano Renaldo, Edwin Van der Saar, and so on on them. So I won’t. I won’t even mention Robin van Persie, We all have the names always readily at hand. That is why we have smartphones.
Winning isn’t everything. It’s MORE than everything.
3. At The End Of The Day
John Wooden won as many trophies as Sir Alex….perhaps a few more. As a role model for how to coach a team and build a team, and enhance the lives of those around you, John Wooden was, is, and always will be light years ahead of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Dean Smith’s 36 year tenure at North Carolina makes Sir Alex’s tenure at Man U seem like the blink of an eye.
Wooden and Smith were far more beloved and more likeable over the years. They weren’t as polarizing as Sir Alex, though I will admit that not many liked Dean Smith’s 4-corners offense strategy of slowing down the game….Dean Smith and his Tarheel teams were single-handedly responsible for instituting the time-clock in college basketball in 1985. And speaking of time….well Fergie is responsible for bringing the football world squeaky-bum time, and, of course Fergie Time!
So can Sir Alex stand in their company?
With Wooden, I’ll have to say no. I say that with that cavaet that no coach can stand in Wooden’s company. With Dean Smith my answer is yes…I think Fergie belongs. What I mean is if all three were on the podium at the Olympics, it would be Wooden for Gold, Smith for Silver, and Sir Alex taking home the bronze. It would be like that.
4. Football!! Bloody Hell!!
When Sir Alex Ferguson dies and goes to heaven ((and no, he’s not going to hell despite the wishes of many)), I’m firmly convinced the guy he’s more likely to hang out with up there is the late, great Red Auerbach. Fergie and Auerbach, who I’m quite sure never ever met, are coaching men cut from the same cloth. I’m firmly convinced they would have liked each other.
And with that little nugget ((glean from it what you will)), it’s time to bid farewell to Sir Alex.
As I finally wrap this up, his final match with West Bromwich Albion has just teed off at The Hawthorns. And since I don’t have Fox Soccer, I wont be watching it. Ipso facto, I won’t be watching Chelsea’s final match of the season with Everton at The Bridge either. Well…yes I will watch that, as soon I stop typing, since I can watch that on my laptop. And now I’ve it got it on and Chelsea are up 1-0 on Mata’s goal at the 7th minute.
Also in the past final week of Fergie Time since I started working on this, Chelsea became Champions of Europa as well as Champions of Europe. Their 2-1 defeat of Benfica at Amsterdam put Chelsea in hallowed company as one of only 4 teams to win both the Europa League and the Champions League—Ajax, Juventus, and Bayern München are the others.
And one of Fergie’s Fledglings called time on his illustrious career. David Beckham bid a tearful farewell to his PSG fans in Paris yesterday in a 3-1 defeat of Brest at Parc de Princes. His final match will be next Saturday at Lorient. Fergie was gracious in his praise of Beckham when Becks announced his retirement. The boot-kicking incident apparently long forgotten.
So there it is. Fergie Time will be over in 45 minutes + Fergie Time as I wrap this up. This is the first and only time I actually want Manchester United to win. And good luck with THAT ever happening again. Man U leads 3-1 at halftime. Fergie should bow out with a win. Looks like he will.
And with that, the whistle blows for time. And Fergie is out of here. And so am I.