A man with a birthday on New Year's Eve finds this an even more reflective period than most, and Sir Alex Ferguson – 68 on Thursday – has been contemplating one of football's wider issues as well as Manchester United's more immediate engagements at Hull City today and against Wigan on Wednesday night.
Solidarity with fellow managers has always been important to him and on occasion their treatment by the boss class brings out in him the old socialist who was once a shop steward in a Glasgow toolroom. Thus he was easily able to put aside any antipathy, real or imagined, towards Mark Hughes in expressing distaste for Manchester City's handling of his former centre-forward's sacking; and later broaden the argument to include praise for the newly energised League Managers Association and a belief that clubs will eventually be forced to face up to their responsibilities as employers in a notoriously insecure profession.
Having been an LMA committee member for many years, Ferguson has seen at close hand the work done by the organisation's new chief executive and he is impressed. "Richard Bevan has been tremendous since he started and what he has done really well is he has won his last 15 cases for managers in terms of contract situations with clubs. You would hope clubs start realising they are dealing with a different animal now with the LMA. They are a substantial outfit and have tremendous legal backing."
It is 20 years next month since Ferguson famously avoided dismissal by United when it seemed to be looming. There have been many close to home, however, and one in the family itself this season when his son Darren parted company with Peterborough United – later, dad revealed, that he advised: "I said to him in the summer that then was the time to leave but he had more faith in his team than I had. He'll be all right. He'll get a job pretty soon, I'm sure of that, because he's got very good qualities. He's single-minded." And whoever would he get that from?
Ferguson believes that his own success after difficult beginnings at Old Trafford will encourage the club to give more time to his eventual successor: "The manager is always in a strong position at United. We are that kind of club. When I go, I think that whoever replaces me in years ahead will experience that and he will get plenty of time."
Sixty-eight this week or not, that was the only mention of retirement. Attempting to win a fourth successive Premier League after losing Cristiano Ronaldo was always likely to make this season a challenge for even the most successful manager in history. He believes the breaks have not gone for his team so far, citing defeat against Chelsea, United's closest rivals for the title – "That's what happens when you get a bad decision and how it can affect your position in the League" – and an unprecedented run of injuries to defenders. Unprecedented too is the number of games lost by the leading teams, five in United's case. Could they afford a couple more? "I hope so!" Ferguson says. But not this week.Reuse content