Leader. Protector. Provocateur. Motivator. Timekeeper. Disciplinarian. Survivor. Champion.
To those of us who have invited him and his ever-changing cast of characters into our living rooms every weekend for more than a quarter of a century, Sir Alex Ferguson has been all these and more during his dominant reign as the king of English soccer.
Without ever meeting him, we got to know him well. Every new piece of gum, every tap of the watch, every touchline rant reminded us it was just another day at the office for the most successful manager in the history of the game.
His record stands alone. The roll of honour speaks for itself. To win one championship is a huge achievement. To lead a club to the level of consistency Ferguson attained over such a prolonged period simply boggles the mind.
Manchester United has always been a big club. Another Scot, Sir Matt Busby established its credentials during post-war austerity and transformed it into a European giant in the 1960s. His retirement preceded the club's fall from grace. Five managers subsequently came and went, all failing in their search to replicate Busby's magical recipe.
Lest we forget, Ferguson himself also failed, at least initially. His transition from success with Aberdeen to awakening the sleeping giant at Old Trafford was anything but smooth. His first trophy, the FA Cup, was three-and-a-half years in the making, while delivering the holy grail of the then new English Premier League title eluded him for nearly seven years.
Eternal wait over
For the fans, the eternal wait (26 years between Busby's last and Ferguson's first) was finally over. In 1993, the long-suffering United supporters were deliriously happy to be champions. To witness the domination of their bitter rivals, Liverpool, finally brought to an end was gravy.
For Ferguson it was just the start. The League and Cup 'double' followed in 1994 with Eric Cantona in fine goal-scoring form, aided by the arrival of midfielder Roy Keane and the growing importance of a Welsh winger called Ryan Giggs.
He built and dismantled championship teams many times over. He bought and sold and developed some of the world's finest talents. There was no one player bigger than the club - not Cantona, not Beckham, not Ronaldo. In his single-minded pursuit of success, Ferguson constructed a dynasty of which he was the undisputed emperor.
He turned Manchester United into a trophy-winning machine. He commanded the respect of his players and his peers. Ferguson was a master of mind games, knowing just which buttons to press. Kevin Keegan, Arsene Wenger and Rafael Benitez were just a few who could not resist the urge to bite on the bait.
Sir Alex leaves the dugout just the way he planned it - as a champion. To describe his departure as the end of an era is a huge understatement. I, for one, do not expect to see another individual so completely dominate the football landscape in my lifetime.
His successor has impossible shoes to fill. David Moyes's ascension is no accident and his appointment is no surprise. Ferguson had to retire at some point and someone had to be ready to take on one of the biggest jobs in world soccer.
Moyes has been ready for years. I first met him when his playing days, as a journeyman defender, were winding down at third tier Preston. He was well aware of his limitations as a player but was confident he could make it as a coach.
An articulate and thoughtful Scot, Moyes had planned for management. He took his coaching badges while still playing in the hope of making a rapid transition for the field to the bench once he had retired.
His hunch proved correct. Success at Preston led to the English Premier League where I met up with him again as he took charge of Everton. I once asked him about the biggest changes between coaching in the lower echelons and managing in the media spotlight of the Premier League.
Moyes sat and contemplated the question, glancing out of his office window overlooking the parking lot at the Everton training complex. As usual it was a full of expensive, top-of-the-range cars belonging to the players.
He turned back to me and said: "Coaching a dressing room full of millionaires." Eleven years later, Moyes has long since acclimatized to the demands of Premier League management. He has served his time and performed minor miracles on a shoestring budget.
Sir Alex Ferguson won everything in the game. Other than a third-tier title 13 years ago, David Moyes has won nothing as a manager.
At Old Trafford he will, for the first time in his career, have the resources to win trophies. Whether he is also given time to fulfill his potential is another question entirely.
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