Butler: Fergie's ghost past looms large for Man United

Noel Butler
12/13/2013 3:23:49 PM
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The last time a Scotsman made headline news like this was back in 1776. That time, Adam Smith and something about an Invisible Hand ruled the waves.

This time around, it's Sir Alex Ferguson and his phantom presence in the Manchester United dressing room.

With the mid-May words of the wise, old sage still reverberating around Old Trafford from the speech he gave following his final game in charge, he urged the crowd to give the new manager time to bed in.

Never one to do things in half measures, Ferguson was also likely sending a warning to the media. If the Barclays Premier League holders get off to the slow start, they should back off Moyes and instead  reflect on how many seasons it took Ferguson spent to deliver his first piece of silverware to his new club.

That pot-less run for Ferguson extended from fall 1986 to spring 1990, when in May of that year, Manchester United beat Crystal Palace in the FA Cup Final.

Even with Ferguson still at the helm, United could not have hoped, wished or expected to replicate the form and results of last season. One in which they seemed to collect points from a losing position for fun.

When Ferguson informed David Moyes and then the world that the ex-Everton man would be the next United manager, I immediately put my money where my big mouth was and said it would start - and end - in tears. 

Moyes has started, as I mean him to go on.

By that, I didn't think for a moment that by inheriting Sir Alex's comfy office chair, he would also mimic the champ. What was young David thinking when banging on in the close season about BPL conspiracy theories and his perceived unkind fixture list?

Makes you think that Fergie left not a bottle of fine red wine for Moyes in the top drawer, but a memo on official club letterhead from season's past.

Reverting back to the father of the free market (Adam Smith and economic need for mathematical correlation), Manchester United's calamitous performances and results through 15 matches are almost in keeping with Moyes' repetitive faux-pas self.

Keep a lid on it, David. Instead, replay all of Lord Ferg's pre-match pressers over the past quarter of a century.

I bet you can count - on one slippery hand - the amount of times Ferguson used the word 'hopefully' when referring to a desperate and urgent need to improve league form or top a champions league group.

Moyes used the word twice in two straight sentences when setting up Tuesday's Matchday 6 encounter at Old Trafford. Jeepers creepers, hopefully the fresh-faced 50-year-old didn't use it again when setting up Sunday lunchtime's encounter at Villa Park.

Roy Keane sticking his paddle in (it used to be a magnificent MUFC oar) during the week is right up there with Kevin Keegan losing the Fergie plot. A live 90-second TV rant which has now entered the BPL folklore annals, until King Kev opened his gob, it seemed certain Newcastle would win the title back in 1996. And guess who won it?

The seeds of Moyes' fall can be traced back to late February of this year, when MUFC CEO David Gill popped round Ferguson's house one Sunday afternoon to advise the Knight he would be leaving OT at season's end.

Ferguson admitted that he attempted to convince Gill to stay. And one of football's most decorated and highly-respected administrators was having none of it. Proving empirically who ruled the MUFC roost, Gill politely turned Ferguson's overtures. 

In this column back in February I outlined Gill's vast importance and significance to the Manchester United cause.

Manchester United losing their manager and CEO in the same breath is unheard of. Perhaps Fergie mistakenly left Gill's direct line office number for Moyes in that top drawer.

This can be the only rational explanation for United's pre-season form in the transfer market.

Even Will Ferrell couldn't have invented a funnier screenplay.

Danny Devito destined to be the leader of them, three less-than-wise Spanish men who are alleged to have shown up at the Madrid based LFP offices to conclude the Ander Herrera deal.

The man who replaced Gill - Ed Woodward - was so off-MUFC script funny, no one could deny him opportunity to portray himself.

There's no denying that just like when a global musical icon passes away do we get to fully understand their true legacy and place in history. That said, there has to be a significant, indirect correlation with Ferguson's retirement and the immediate rebuilding of Liverpool and Arsenal's perches this season.

Arsene Wenger and Brendan Rodgers' teams are playing with a greater freedom. A breath of football fresh air surrounds the Emirates and Anfield so far this season. No other clubs have played so expressively and enthusiastically; little Luis getting his MUFC laughs on.

Simultaneously, a rather dark shadow pervades at Old Trafford. Stretching down from middle tier of the grandstand enveloping the directors box as it goes, its core matter runs right through the United bench to the edge of the technical area.

Poor Moyes has got his back to it.

Fergsuon could be at his French chateau, but the giant of a football man's shadow remains. As does the coaching calamity that followed at Old Trafford after Sir Matt Busby resigned.

We all know from our MUFC history books that Sir Matt felt a deep obligation to return - and did. Only time will be the determinant if Sir Alex does likewise.

Not rational, he does. But I ask you this - what has been rational down Old Trafford way since May 12, 2011?

In the meantime, I suggested back in November of 2011 that Sir Alex should be installed as MLS Honorary President. 

The elderly Scottish statesman is a huge believer and genuinely believes North America is football's final frontier.

Anyone got the commissioner's phone number?

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:

Aston Villa vs. Manchester United – live on TSN2, Sunday morning kick-off at 8:30am et/5:30am pt.

Noel Butler

Noel Butler

Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on You can follow him on Twitter at and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.


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