Only seven of Manchester United’s current squad actually played under Sir Alex Ferguson, but such is his standing even those who have no previous dealings with the legendary Scot surely felt the tingle of inspiration when the 77-year-old gave them a team talk recently.
It seems a lifetime ago that the legendary Scot patrolled the touchline at Old Trafford, and yet United have still to fully step out from underneath his shadow. His influence at the club, even if it has been subliminal, remains strong.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s decision to allow Ferguson deliver a rousing call of arms to his United players is therefore understandable. The Scot, who was in charge at Old Trafford for an incredible 27 years, is no longer at the forefront of tactical innovation, one doubts that he could still coach at the top level, but some of the old magic quite clearly still lingers.
Recent reports outline the level of help being afforded to Solskjaer by Ferguson. By all accounts, the two men are close, staying in contact even after the Norwegian striker left Man Utd. Solskjaer has spoken many times about how Fergie has guided him through management, with the Scot believed to be a major advocate of the former Cardiff and Molde boss being given the interim job at United.
However, Solskjaer must be wary of Ferguson becoming too involved. The odd pep talk here and there could have a positive effect, but reports claiming Fergie is increasingly being leaned on by the Man Utd board are concerning. Solskjaer only has a few months to make an impression, to maybe even stake a claim for the job on a permanent basis, and so he can’t allow such interference.
The plan remains for United to appoint a permanent successor to Jose Mourinho in the summer, but until then Solskjaer must still impose his own style and philosophy on the team. The Norwegian has been appointed, albeit as an interim manager, to salvage Man Utd’s season and he can’t do that without freedom to carry out his own ideas and methods.
Decades ago, the Old Trafford club faced a similar scenario following the retirement of Sir Matt Busby. The European Cup winner stayed at United as a director, but undermined his successor Wilf McGuinness by continuing to have a say in first team matters. It took Man Utd years following Busby’s official retirement for them to actually move on.
One does not envy the person who may ultimately have to tell Ferguson to back off given the role he has played in moulding the club in its modern form, but the message must be communicated. Of course, this isn’t to say that Ferguson is forcing his way back into things at Old Trafford. He has been nothing but an ambassadorial figure for the club since retiring five-and-a-half years ago, allowing David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho to get on with things from his seat in the main stand.
Instead, it seems that Solskjaer and maybe even Ed Woodward have asked the Scot to become more active.
There could be a benefit to this if Ferguson is merely there to act as an old fashioned motivator, to remind the dressing room of what it means to play for Manchester United. Any more than that, though, could become problematic.
The return of Solskjaer has given everyone around United the welcome warmth of nostalgia for a few weeks. But the club must still recognise the importance of moving on from the Ferguson era, something it has yet to truly do in the five years since the great man’s managerial exit. It’s more difficult to do this with the man himself back on the training ground and in the dressing room.