16 Apr 2014

Sir Alex Ferguson, his wine sale and David Moyes

A relaxed Sir Alex Ferguson, basking in the twilight of retirement and the limelight of success, is selling off some of the extremely expensive wines in his cellar.

David Moyes, meanwhile - embattled, furrowed brow, all to prove - is facing a task bigger than anyone realised, to rebuild a Manchester United squad of fading stars.

The problem when a big charismatic winner like Alex Ferguson or Tony Blair gets to choose their own time of departure, to go out at the top, their successor, Moyes or Brown, faces a struggle and a half to put the brakes on as they head down the other side. Like fine wines, the best footballers get better with age and then they reach a peak, fall away.

So one man battles for his job, the chance to chop away the dead wood he never bought, the other is pruning the fruits of the amazing success he achieved through the series of incredible football teams he created.

Speaking personally, I've been ridiculously lucky to be a Manchester United fan and season ticket holder while Sir Alex Ferguson was manager. Amazing, entertaining and winning teams he created. By the same token, I respect the scale of the job facing David Moyes.

And there's a curious contrast. The way Fergie filled his wine cellar seems so alien to the way he built his football teams! At least in the latter part of his reign, anyway.

To any fan who watched the games in recent years, his squad was obviously running out of juice - yet this supreme figurehead, this master of management, was somehow able to squeeze out every last drop. The entertainment levels weren't quite as high, but the titles still came.

Ferguson started to speak obsessively of the need to find value in the transfer market. Part of this was probably pragmatic - I think people underestimated what a pragmatist Fergie was - as there's no doubt he tried to get some of the top players but failed when they followed money over prestige. And his budget-buying seemed to coincide with the indebted Glazer takeover.

Even so, he meant what he was saying: he started to favour undervalued talents and young players of potential. As superstars like Beckham, Keane and Ronaldo left the stage, unknowns or less heralded performers like Anderson and Nani, Valencia, Jones and Smalling took their place. From a wine point of view, it's not quite going from Berry Brothers & Rudd to Bargain Booze, but it's a definite shift in what you're looking for. You might find some decent value, some undiscovered gems, but you might also end up with some duds.

Such a strategy can be successful, as shown in the brilliant Moneyball - but it relies on strengths other than quality and pure talent. Unity, the habit of winning, respect for or even fear of your boss. These are the things that so quickly drained away, like releasing the cork from a bottle, when Sir Alex retired.