Opinion: Sir Alex Ferguson still casts a huge shadow at Manchester United

Sir Alex Ferguson

It was never going to be easy recovering from the aftermath of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. David Moyes entered the fray, and we were still cautiously optimistic for the season ahead. This was a team, after all, that had just won the championship. Yet Moyes’ disastrous reign proved that it would be no easy rebuilding job. Maybe, we wondered, Moyes was just the wrong man for the job. There is no doubt Moyes was not up to snuff for Manchester United, but this season has proved that everything should not have been laid on Moyes’ shoulders.

Although United currently sit fourth in the Premier League table and have shown signs of improvement under Louis van Gaal, there are still plenty of areas in which the club must do better. Even a man as proud and distinguished as van Gaal is struggling to fill the gigantic hole Ferguson left. Is it possible we could have actually taken the last several years of Ferguson’s tenure for granted? Even worse, had we underappreciated Ferguson as his illustrious career as Manchester United manager came to an end?

Simply put, Sir Alex Ferguson was destined to leave his shadow hanging over the club the moment he took charge in 1986. The success Ferguson had was practically written in the stars when he joined the club. He knew it himself, promising to knock Liverpool off their perch.

For many of us, Ferguson is Manchester United. Taking charge before some of us were even born, Ferguson was almost a family member to us. Those who are under the age of twenty-eight never knew anyone else at the helm of the club. Thus we are naturally conditioned to believe Manchester United should always play football the Ferguson way; showing attacking verve and sending the pulses racing each minute of every game.

We are now faced with the difficult reality that Ferguson’s style of play already seems in the distant past. Under Van Gaal, everything the team does is compared to what happened under Ferguson including style of play, attitude of the players, and expectations for each fixture. When we score a couple of goals, we expect our team to kill the game by scoring a few more. A two-nil lead at halftime should turn into at least two more goals in the second half, right?

Unfortunately, Van Gaal’s tactics involve seeing a game off through possession killing the joy for the supporters. Now it is important to distinguish that at the moment, results are all that matter. We may want to see a return to Ferguson’s party football, but at the moment it appears unrealistic. Surely Van Gaal’s track record is enough to hope that he can bring attractive and crowd-pleasing football to Old Trafford.

Yet fairly or unfairly, the coming years will be compared to what happened under Ferguson. The Scotsman, in his last year in charge, won the Barclays Premier League quite handily with a team that, to be fair, should not have run away with the league in the manner in which they did. Ferguson continuously got the most out of players and teams, regardless of injury or run of fixtures.

As Ferguson’s reign came to an end, we may not have grasped exactly what Ferguson was doing; winning trophies and going on deep cup runs with teams that didn’t possess half the quality Van Gaal now can choose from. Once again, fairly or unfairly, some supporters believe Ferguson would have walked to the league title this season with players such as Radamel Falcao, Angel Di Maria, Wayne Rooney, and Robin van Persie at his disposal while our rivals were misfiring earlier in the season.

Still, there are little traits from Ferguson that we see in van Gaal. He defends his players and hails their spirit. He always mentions the support of our fans. Perhaps most of all, he gets results. Van Gaal has taken us to fourth in the league with the team not playing anywhere close to their best. On Wednesday, we saw a never say die attitude against Newcastle United that would not have looked out-of-place under Ferguson. Intense celebrations from Van Gaal as the whistle blew showed exactly what the three points against Newcastle meant. Perhaps, the fighting spirit is exactly what United need to kick it into full gear as this crucial run of fixtures appears just on the horizon.

This article was researched and written by Nathan Kanuch. You can follow him on Twitter.

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