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In defence of Sir Alex Ferguson

The conspiracy theory about Man United's decline is too farfetched

In a few days the gloomy mood at the Theatre of Dreams, as Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium is called, will change. Whether it changes for the better or the worse remains to be seen. Dubbed one of the planet's greatest sporting institutions, Manchester United have been in a sharp decline since the superlative Alex Ferguson retired as manager last season. Real panic or a sense of temporary relief will materialise when Germany's Bayern Munich play the English giants on April 1 in the first leg of their Champions League knockout-round tie.

The dramatic change of fortunes for Manchester United has brought Ferguson's retirement and his choice of successor under the hottest of spotlights. An unprecedented thing happened a few days ago at Old Trafford when a section of fans taunted the former manager, who was sitting in the directors' box. Manchester United had just lost their second match in a row at home, where the greatest pride is at stake. First to shatter the Theatre of Dreams was Liverpool, who triumphed with a 3-0 scoreline. Then came bitter local rivals Manchester City, who inflicted similar damage. Few fans of the Red Devils can handle that kind of humiliation.

Conspiracy theorists are claiming that Ferguson selected David Moyes as his managerial successor because he knew Moyes would fail, and thus the "Fergie years" would never be overshadowed. It seems cruel to assume that a man would want to preserve his claim to greatness at the expense of his beloved institution, but fans are fickle, and fickle, deeply disappointed football supporters can buy into the most outrageous speculation.

The conspiracy theory camp points to Moyes' trophy-free record, claiming a more obvious choice for the job would have been the proven title-winner, Jose Mourinho, who is now leading another English Premier League club, Chelsea, to glory. That Ferguson selected Moyes instead of Mourinho was played down at first, but it's become more and more glaring as the reversal of fortunes at Chelsea and Manchester United has grown.

But most of all, Moyes inherited virtually the whole Manchester United team that comfortably won last season's Premier League title under Ferguson. How can that very same team, with the exception of Paul Scholes (retired), have gone from champions to chumps in less than a year? Is Moyes that bad? If so, did Ferguson not realise it? Of course not, say the conspiracy theorists.

Much loved by United fans, Ferguson is also widely respected - if not liked - by most other football watchers. That he would have plotted the club's downfall to enhance his own reputation seems utterly fanciful. But, while most are still laughing at the conspiracy, the once untainted "Fergie legacy" is now being questioned.

His reign at Manchester United was the stuff of legend. The former Scotland manager came south in 1986 to disrupt the Liverpool regime and went on to make United arguably the greatest football brand of this generation. He won more Premier League trophies than any other manager and added FA Cups and Uefa Champions League titles to his name. The master tactician's autobiography is a best-seller in several languages, including Thai.

That Manchester United fans hurled abuse at him a few days ago might, ironically, be the biggest reason for discounting the conspiracy theory. Ferguson is renowned for his reading of the game, on and off the pitch, and he would surely have predicted the attack on his reputation that would follow any such attempt to torpedo Manchester United's future.


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