The Third Man – Ferguson’s natural successor

by Vincent Ralph

Apparently, at least so they say, there was a time when Sir Alex Ferguson wasn’t the manager of Manchester United.

I’m not sure I believe it.  Because while other clubs swap managers like I once swapped football stickers, Ferguson builds team after team and wins trophy after trophy.

He sees off challenges from invincibles and oligarchs and sheikhs, while men once touted as his successor disappear, retire or flounder, their reputations tarnished or never sufficiently swelled.

When the time eventually comes to replace him, they’ll call it the impossible job.  And if you believe the vast majority of pundits and fans, it will be a straight fight between two men – Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho.

They’re probably right.

If managing United requires arrogance, the Portuguese is a shoo-in.  If it requires class, the Spaniard wins hands-down.  The problem is it requires both.  And that’s just for starters.

It also requires intelligence, loyalty and self-belief.

It requires a passion for playing football the right way, and the ability to turn decent players into good ones, good ones into great ones and great ones into the best in the world.

And yes, I know both Guardiola and Mourinho tick most if not all of those boxes, but there is another man who, in my eyes at least, is just that little bit more perfect for the job.

Many will laugh, or dismiss it out of hand, but if Roberto Martinez isn’t on the Glazers’ shortlist, he should be.

From the moment he became a manager, Martinez has preached an ethos United fans know well.  Simply put, his teams play football.

There’s a rumour going round that Swansea play the Brendan Rodgers’ way, that before he left for Liverpool, he created a team of free-flowing, confident footballers and Michael Laudrup is (or at least was) reaping the benefits.

But the truth is, it’s not Rodgers’ philosophy that Swansea display, it’s Martinez’s.  It’s the same philosophy Wigan show every week.  Perennially relegation-threatened, they never resort to the long-ball or the “ugly”.  They play, knowing, perhaps hoping, but always believing, that that’s how you win games.  And so far it’s worked a treat.

With a tiny squad Martinez has utilised a system that brings out the best in them, a 4-3-3 that turns Shaun Maloney into a classy playmaker and even makes Franco Di Santo look half decent.

If United’s hierarchy need further evidence of Martinez’s credentials, Wigan’s win over them at the end of last season – in the middle of a run that took them from relegation-certainties to silky-smooth giant-killers – basically cost them the title.

But it’s not just his footballing ethos that marks him out for greatness.

Perhaps more importantly, he knows his own mind.  And he says no…a lot.

He said no to Aston Villa.  And he said no to Liverpool.  And he’s probably said no to others as well.  If he hasn’t, they were stupid for not asking.

Dave Whelan, his chairman at Wigan, never stands in his way.  But so far he hasn’t needed to.  Martinez is acutely aware of hazard signs.  He avoids clubs where the promise doesn’t match the reality.

So he’s smart.  And he’s loyal.

He recognises everything Whelan and Wigan have done for him, as a player and now as a manager.  He will move, but only when the offer, and the club, is too good to refuse.

Martinez, much like Guardiola, is the thinking man’s coach.  Whilst playing for Real Zaragoza he achieved a degree in Physiotherapy and he later gained a post graduate diploma in Business Management.  He talks with confidence and argues with passion, as his recent FA charge for comments made after Wigan’s defeat at Old Trafford demonstrates.

Apart from the League One Championship with Swansea, Martinez’s trophy haul is minimal.  But his achievements must be measured by his circumstances.  When he does finally leave Wigan, they won’t just be losing a manager, they’ll be losing their heart.

He is, in many ways, the fairy tale manager, giving small clubs a home among the biggest.

There are larger characters with shinier trophies and more impressive CVs.  But it takes a certain type of man to replace a legend.  A man who knows his own mind, who plays his own way, and who may just turn a fairy tale into a dream come true.

I see something in Martinez, every time he is interviewed, every time they cut to him during a game, every time his players do something others just wouldn’t do.  And I wonder…how many great men took charge of great teams?  And how many were just men, until the club made them great?

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply