12 May 2013

The worst job in football?

by Andy McGowan

Today is the day every Manchester United fan has feared for years.

Today Alex Ferguson took charge of his last game at Old Trafford, a 2-1 win over Swansea, and now has only an away trip left as manager of Manchester United.

There are many people, myself included, who have never lived a day that Sir Alex Ferguson wasn’t manager of United. In 26 years he has achieved everything there is to achieve in club football. In fact, he’s achieved it twice. He’s broken more records than some premiership clubs have points this season.

He’s seen off managers of Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, and it seems he will take the manager of Manchester City down with him one last time as a parting gift to United’s local rivals. He has taken Manchester United from despair to the pinnacle of English football. He even did what seemed unthinkable once upon a time by besting Liverpool’s 18 league championships.

We are forever hearing about the Dortmund model, the Barcelona academy, the great youth policy of Ajax, but they are all pretenders to the throne. Alex Ferguson and Manchester United were once told you can’t win anything with kids. Those kids not only won it all but are now legends not only in Manchester but went on to become some of the greatest players in English football history. Alex Ferguson is one of a kind and the best manager we are ever likely to see in football.

It’s a great story but not a unique one, as 900 miles away and 24 hours earlier Jupp Heynckes was lifting the Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich – a title won by a record point’s total. Like United, Bayern are the most successful club in their county. Like United, they have won their domestic league at a canter. Like United their manager is about to retire.

But Jupp Heynckes plans to go out with a bang. Jupp Heynckes plans to go out on the highest of highs – Bayern have already won the Bundesliga and the Supercup and have two cup finals to come, one in the DFB-Pokal and one in the Champions League. If they win both competitions Bayern will end the season with a quadruple which includes a record breaking league season as well as a Champions League campaign which seen them take a 7-0 aggregate win over Barcelona, altering the football axis as we know it. It would arguably be the best season in living memory not only for Bayern but for any club in Europe.

And watching on are the two men with the unenviable tasks of replacing Alex Ferguson and Jupp Heynckes – David Moyes and Pep Guardiola. It’s hard to work out who has the bigger task. 

Moyes is replacing the irreplaceable. He comes to United from Everton where just getting by earns you plaudits. Moyes is a manager who has never won a trophy replacing the man who has won more trophies than any other manager in English football history. He comes to United from a club which has almost no transfer budget to a club which is a powerhouse in the transfer market, a club which will often spend more on a squad player than Everton will spend on their marquee signing. 

David Moyes is setting foot in a world which is as alien to him as not being an asshole is to Joey Barton. He will be like a fish on land and he will have to evolve quickly or risk suffocating under the intense pressure of managing United – a pressure the like of which he will never have experienced in his career.

Pep Guardiola on the other hand is a winner. He is a winner both as a manager and a player. You could even argue the job is a step down from his last position as the Barcelona manager although given the firepower Bayern have shown on and off the pitch in the last 12 months even I find that a hard position to argue now. 

But Guardiola must surely find himself in the unprecedented position of wanting his new club to lose the German cup and Champions League final. If they don’t where does it leave him? The only way is down from there. It must keep Guardiola awake at night wondering how he would follow the greatest season in Bayern’s history – Would winning the league be enough? Would winning the Champions League be enough?

Both men have monumental challenges on their hands and I have the gut feeling one of them is going to be found wanting quickly. Who has the worst job in football? Moyes, Gaurdiola or another? We will find out in the next 12 months.

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