x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Age is no barrier to Sir Alex Ferguson's hunger for success

You wonder why people even talk as they do about his retirement coming anytime soon, and you wonder if 12 years ago the world had veered into some sort of inexplicable REM dream.

Sir Alex Ferguson is still loving life in charge of Manchester United.
Sir Alex Ferguson is still loving life in charge of Manchester United.

Inscrutable phenomena on Earth include the Pyramids of Egypt, Stonehenge and the fact Sir Alex Ferguson once spent two years plotting retirement.

No amount of fact-finding could explain that sufficiently.

Here comes another season, and here comes Ferguson at 70 saying on the BBC website, "I've lost my temper and I'm angry."

Many managers balk at the weight of the favourite's role, but Ferguson continues on the BBC with, "People may say Manchester City are the team to beat but I don't agree with that. We are the team to beat because of the way we react, the way we have bounced back from losing the league in the past."

And: "We will be strong this season."

What a churn of ingredients must comprise Ferguson's insides, from abiding drive to helpless competitiveness to incalculable hunger. You might marvel at them, seeing him go on like this at 70, seeing him with another season threatening to hover over the league like some cartoon giant.

By now, the realisation he spoke in 2010 in Doha long since has congealed: "Retirement's for young people, not older people.

"Because young people can do something else. If I get off this treadmill, where do you think I'm going?

"Down there?" (He pointed to the ground.)

"Trust me. Retirement's for young people."

Here we are 12 years beyond that bizarre two-year wait for his contract expiration and announced retirement ... 10 years beyond his reconsideration in February 2002 ... two years beyond his use of words such as "an absolute disaster" and "absolute agony" on CNN to describe that bygone retirement plan ... six years beyond when Manchester United won only a League Cup and onlookers wondered about a coming nadir ... five more league titles, one more Champions League title, one more FA Cup and three more League Cups beyond the time when "after Ferguson's retirement" became a routine phrase ...

Here we are at another title hunt brightened with Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie signing.

Think of the whole thick lot of it in the last decade, and going back across the two pre-retirement years in 2000 and 2001 seems like some ride through the funhouse, the utterances almost impossible, the pictures all skewed.

This person in his late 50s was going to take his rare innards and retire.

Apparently he was, for here were some of the lines: "The decision has been taken - I'm going to leave." And: "It is important to me that I complete my final year and get on with it." Headlines included: "Ferguson Faces Final Frontier."

That's some seriously elongated frontier.

The way he would speak back then. At White Hart Lane at the close of the 2000/01 season, he cracked, "There are a lot of things I can do when I go, I'm such a bloody talented guy. It might even be painting."

Another time, he told of wanting to do his serious travelling before he got to age 70, figuring travelling would become less enjoyable after age 70.

Another time, he spoke of following his interest in horse racing, maybe even having some mares and mastering the breeding side of the sport, as if by now we might find Sir Alex Ferguson out by the barns, celebrating the arrivals of foals.

Well, maybe.

Then there were the rumours and speculations about successors, including Sven-Goran Eriksson and Louis van Gaal and David O'Leary (who never did turn up at Old Trafford but did stop by in Dubai), and rumours and speculations about potential new employers, including Barcelona.

Then in May 2001 came the bit about Ferguson removing himself entirely - "sever all links" - from Manchester United, not even hanging around in some other capacity come spring 2002.

In that cacophony Ryan Giggs said he could not imagine Ferguson coming to Old Trafford with some other club, that it would break his heart, but then, "He is adamant about leaving."

Then come summer, a five-year contract as a roving "ambassador" with the club's financial services division, and Ferguson's statement, "The most important thing when you have spent so much time with this club" - a mere 16 years at that stage - "is to continue a connection."

Soon, a headline: "United Deny Ferguson Takeover Plot," after two of his racing friends had bought more shares.

Ferguson as owner!

Now we get to August 2012, 10 years after Ferguson reconsidered, three months after Sergio Aguero scored in Manchester to make Ferguson look dour in Sunderland, three months of dipping still more into that unusual reservoir of ambition, a rowdy season just ahead.

You wonder why people even talk as they do about his retirement coming anytime soon, and you wonder if 12 years ago the world had veered into some sort of inexplicable REM dream.

cculpepper@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE & Chuck Culpepper @ChuckCulpepper1