Why Fergie is wise to suspend the next move

US tycoon's arrival heightens fears that manager's departure may be hastened - but don't bank on it
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The Independent Online

Even before the Tampa Boys placed their elbows firmly in the door and launched their final and, most probably, decisive assault on Manchester United, with the connivance of the obliging Irish horseracing duo of John Magnier and J P McManus, one had begun seriously to question even the remarkable Sir Alex Ferguson's powers of endurance. In truth, some of us had harboured our doubts for months.

Even before the Tampa Boys placed their elbows firmly in the door and launched their final and, most probably, decisive assault on Manchester United, with the connivance of the obliging Irish horseracing duo of John Magnier and J P McManus, one had begun seriously to question even the remarkable Sir Alex Ferguson's powers of endurance. In truth, some of us had harboured our doubts for months.

A little over 24 hours before that buy-out of Magnier and McManus, one could not help but recall the euphoric demeanour of then just plain Alex Ferguson, riding on the shoulders of his players and clutching that fabulous bauble of European football, the Champions' League trophy, at the Nou Camp in 1999, and contrast it with his morose visage as the Scot surveyed an almost desolate Old Trafford landscape. It had not been merely an ignominious defeat by Chelsea, one which allowed that club's owner, another foreigner, Roman Abramovich, to luxuriate in his club swaggering 20 points above United, but also a night which emphasised, brutally, the changing of the guard of England's élite clubs.

Ferguson was a chastened figure at the beginning of a week which became progressively tortuous. An FA charge over his description of the dearth of United penalties as "sinister", the impudent suggestion by Sepp Blatter that Wayne Rooney should be the recipient of "a clip round the ear" to curb his hostile attitude towards officials, and the curious case of the Norway-based Nigerian prodigy John Obi Mikel, supposedly United-bound but with the deal now scuppered and Chelsea allegedly implicated.

And that all before the Glazer gang galloped into a trusting and undefended town to establish their claim of the North-west's most profitable goldmine.

In the midst of all this, Ferguson would not have been human if he had not speculated on just how long it would be before a night like that at the Nou Camp in '99 would be repeated, if ever. But perhaps more pertinently, he must have pondered on how elusive the Premiership title which his club last secured in 2003 had become. While it remained somewhere there on the horizon, even the Scot must have appreciated that, at the age of 63, it was far beyond his career eyeline.

If he indeed harboured any plans to quit, the coming of the Glazers - presumably believing themselves the men to break through the glass ceiling of optimum income United are capable of generating, whether through enhanced marketing strategies or future TV deals - should surely hasten that departure.

The £20m transfer sweetener that has been broached by Malcolm Glazer and his sons Joel and Avi, owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is preferable to no millions under the most recent regime, but it scarcely compares with Abramovich's largesse. Nevertheless, though he finds himself ideologically opposed to such an intrusion, not purely because they are foreign predators but because they will be placing the club whose financial fortunes have prospered because of his talent and diligence in hock to financial institutions, Ferguson has intimated he will seek counsel with the Glazers before finalising his own position. When, and if, he departs, it will be on his terms.

Much depends on whether he listens to the wisdom of those like his avowed rival Arsène Wenger, who advises United followers: "Don't convict the guy [Glazer], who has not made one decision. He could be very good for the club." The Professor's words, even taken as ones of cold logic rather than gently mocking, will presum-ably fall not so much on deaf ears as ones burning red with rage, but he does have a point. The realities are that, since United floated 14 years ago, the club have benefited, both in their purchase of players and the redevelopment of Old Trafford. Correspondingly, they have placed themselves in a supine position to resist an approach such as the Glazers'. That's the deal. Unfortunately, Plc does not mean Persons with Limited Credentials when it comes to the alignment of such investors. United agnostics, atheists even, are not yet excluded under company law.

For all the supposedly astronomical sums that have been gasped at in the sporting context, in global business terms United are a small to medium-sized organisation. The scale is unlikely to intimidate the Glazers.

If, as their critics who impugn their motives suggest, they have bought their way into United purely to utilise the club as a business vehicle, one performing adequately under the bonnet but which they clearly believe could do so more efficiently, the Americans are scarcely likely to act in any way that jeopardises that operation, which is ultimately dependent on success on the field.

Whatever the Glazer opponents make of Wenger's observations, few would not agree with one opinion, that he would prefer to work for a private company because of the immediacy of decision-making. The irony is that, assuming a takeover is nigh, that will be the situation, though hardly as the United faithful may have perceived it. Everyone craves their version of a Jack Walker or a Sir Jack Hayward. But, with a handful of exceptions, the term "perfect football chairman" or owner will remain an oxymoron.

The majority of United followers will never be convinced that Malcolm Glazer and his sons can even begin to aspire to such an accolade. The remainder of us, like Ferguson, should perhaps suspend judgement.

'Biggest mortgage in the world'

Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United manager: "I always look forward, and I do so again, but we'll just have to wait and see what is going to happen."

Steve Bruce, Birmingham City manager: "Looking from a distance we are all intrigued about what Glazer is going to do. We have to be patient and see. Everyone is doom and gloom at the moment, but who knows what will happen?"

Arsène Wenger, Arsenal manager: "I don't agree that they will fall apart, for the simple fact that if you invest £812m into something, do you want to destroy that capital? No. Don't convict the guy - he could be very good for the club."

Tommy Docherty, former United manager: "The man has almost bought the club, and he knows nothing about football. I think he will recoup his money as quick as he possibly can, no matter who it involves, and no matter who it hurts. Manchester United's heart and soul has been sold."

Colin Hendrie, secretary of the Independent Man Utd Supporters' Association: "We will be moving from being a healthy, vibrant business, the most profitable club in the world, to the one with the biggest mortgage."

Mark Long, of the IMUSA: "The statement [about the Glazers being United fans] is an insult to human intelligence. Does this guy really think anyone will believe him?"

Marcia Shapiro, 79, and Jeanette Goldstein, 83, Glazer's sisters living in Australia: "He has no interest in football. His only interest is money. He will buy players, sell players, raise ticket prices... do whatever will make him money."

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