The banner sits proudly in the Stretford End. As you can see, it proclaims Sir Alex Ferguson as the man who made the Impossible Dream not only a possibility, but reality. But right now, it’s far from a dream. The Manchester United job is one that looks impossible.
Louis van Gaal – a serial winner wherever he’s been – tried but failed. His successor Jose Mourinho did marginally better but did not achieve what he was brought in to do. Both only survived four and a half years between them. David Moyes still has five months left on his original six year contract. If two of the best bosses of their generation cannot turn United around and get us back to where we feel we should be, then who on earth can?
United are now searching for their fourth permanent manager in five years. Jose Mourinho did not magically become a bad manager but even he – a flawed maverick who comes with a decorated and glittering CV – could not summit an unclimbable mountain. What hope for anyone else. When he took over at United in May 2016, Mourinho said this was a job that “anyone would want”. I wonder if he’s going back on that view now he, too, has fallen by the wayside.
There once would have been a time when the vacant managerial position at Old Trafford would have every man in the country champing at the bit to follow in the footsteps of greatness, to step into a place where legends are created, giants slay and opponents vanquished. A position that you and I can only dream of. A place where the livelihoods of millions are your responsibility above all others. But now, such is the sheer magnitude of the task, it is a poisoned chalice. So poisoned that even the very best have waned and wilted under its weight. Sir Alex himself would never have lasted for a quarter of century in the job in today’s environment.
Football management is a hard nosed, brutal line of work. The average life expectancy of a managerial career in the Premier League is just eight months. But the Manchester United job is one like no other. As the figurehead of one of the world’s biggest global brands and the most successful club in the country, the demands are different. An extra something special is required to be a success at Old Trafford. Something so special, it was beyond even the man with the same self-proclaimed moniker. It is more than merely making Manchester United a winning machine. You have to do so in a manner befitting 140 years worth of history. You have to do so by championing youth, by keeping sponsors, fans and global partners happy. It is a demand for both substance and style that does not come with any other job. All this while many in the media put your peers on a preferential pedestal, waiting to knock you over at the first hint of negativity.
Since England won the 1966 World Cup, the national team have had 16 managers – four caretaker and 12 permanent. It is this role that is often considered to be the hardest of the lot. Our own Sir Alex admitted as much when he was linked with the job back in 2013. But whilst the scrutiny and pressure in intense, it’s almost a part time job and the levels of expectation are nothing compared to the sometimes too highly exalted standards that any Man Utd manager must emulate. It’s almost got to the point now where – such was the incredible and unprecedented feats of Ferguson year after year – that every United boss for the rest of time will be deemed to have failed.
So whilst we wait for Mourinho’s successor to be confirmed both in the short and long term, there are plenty of men out there. But it begs the question – who would actually want it? Now that United have gone from the Special One to Yet Another One, who’s next to step into a position that’s turned from perfect to perilous and become the most poisoned of chalices.