CHRIS WHEELER: The return of Sir Alex Ferguson can steer Manchester United to a brighter future

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CHRIS WHEELER: Bringing back Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill was a no-brainer for Richard Arnold. It’s a rare positive decision at Manchester United after a decade of dreadful ones

  • Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 after 27 legendary years in Manchester 
  • The 80-year-old had little influence at United after stepping down
  • New United CEO Richard Arnold has brought Ferguson back into the fold

Sir Alex Ferguson never wanted to cast a shadow over his successors at Manchester United. He had seen what Sir Matt Busby’s lingering presence did to Frank O’Farrell and Wilf McGuinness in the early 1970s, and was wary of haunting the managers who tried to follow in his footsteps.

Even so, Ferguson must be a little surprised – not to say disappointed – at how little he has been involved at Old Trafford in close to a decade since he stood down as the most successful manager in British football.

His main contribution was to anoint David Moyes as his successor in 2013. The Chosen One soubriquet did neither man any favours. Moyes was despatched with indecent haste by United chief Ed Woodward 10 months into a six-year contract, and Ferguson perhaps suffered by association with his fellow Scot.

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Sir Alex Ferguson won a record 13 Premier League trophies during his time at Old Trafford

Woodward saw it as a sign to go his own way. Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were hired as managers. In came galatico signings like Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Angel Di Maria and Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Ferguson became a face in the crowd, a spectator at his own Theatre of Dreams.

Woodward says that Ferguson’s retirement was his biggest regret in the job, and set his nine-year tenure at the helm off course from the start. So it seems all the more odd that he wasn’t kept in the fold.

Sat next to Ferguson at Old Trafford over the years has been his former chief executive David Gill, whose decision to leave United shortly before Sir Alex in 2013 dealt the club a double from which it has never recovered.

Gill is a statesman of the game. A respected figure within UEFA yet, like Ferguson, his influence at United has been limited in recent years.

Since retiring in 2013, Ferguson is often seen at Old Trafford alongside David Gill(right)

Since retiring in 2013, Ferguson is often seen at Old Trafford alongside David Gill(right)

While Gill preferred to focus on blue chip sponsors, Woodward was happy to widen his net to bring in the ‘noodle sponsors’ from Asia – a move that increased revenue while risking to damage the brand.

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Nothing harmed United’s reputation more than their involvement in the doomed European Super League, a fiasco that led to Woodward standing down at the start of February.

It’s fair to say that his successor and former right-hand man, Richard Arnold, has seen the error of Woodward’s ways if his first six months in the job are anything to go by.

Arnold prefers to keep a lower profile. Aside from an impromptu meeting with fans at his local pub that was caught on camera and subsequently went viral, he tries to keep his head down wherever possible.

The 51-year-old prefers to delegate. Football director John Murtough and technical director Darren Fletcher are left to focus on the playing side of the club. When a new signing is made, United’s official press releases quote Murtough not Arnold. That wasn’t the Woodward way.

Richard Arnold has been CEO of United since taking over from Ed Woodward in February

Richard Arnold has been CEO of United since taking over from Ed Woodward in February

Anyone who thought Arnold’s appointment would lead to continuity at Old Trafford was wrong. There have been a lot of changes behind the scenes at Old Trafford this summer and there will be many more to come.

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He is his own man with his own ideas, and the decision to being Ferguson and Gill back into the fold alongside Murtough and Bryan Robson makes total sense.

Arnold recognises the wealth of knowledge they possess and the folly of not tapping into it sooner. It’s a no-brainer.

Turning to Gill isn’t a show of weakness by Arnold, quite the opposite. He’s the main man at United, but isn’t afraid to seek out the opinions of a predecessor who still wields a great deal of influence within the game.

Far from being skeletons from United’s past, Ferguson and Gill can help steer the club towards a brighter future.


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