Ferguson’s departure: Rivals must work to burst “the incumbency bubble” of the EPL

I always had it in mind to write something about three exceptionally long term and successful leaders in three very different fields. Now Alex Ferguson has gone, here’s the gist in short blog order…

Gerry Adams, who came to lead his political party from the fringes of constitutional politics in Northern Ireland to the head of northern nationalism, and is now spearheading a challenge for political power in the south.

Rupert Murdoch, who landed on British shores to scoop up a failing daily broadsheet (the inheritor of the Labour supporting Daily Herald) and from whose turnaround built a global media empire.

Alex Ferguson, who after a very shaky start quickly began to replicate the stunning success he had achieved for Aberdeen in breaking the hegemonic grip that the big Glasgow clubs had had on Scottish football.

What do they all have in common? Well, recognising the fact that I’m not the greatest fan of any of them, I would say all:

– had a certain genius in how they motivated their ‘teams’;

– were visionary and far sighted in comparison to their rivals to power;

– spotted opportunities that gave them a substantial early lead over those rivals;

– and they all terrified both their rivals and would be interlocutors.

All were outstandingly confident in their own personal powers and legitimacy. But each too owed some of their long incumbency to structural situations which substantially disabled their rivals in some way.

In Murdoch’s case Sky was granted a monopoly position in the satellite spectrum with a bare minimum of the production obligations thrust upon terrestrial broadcasters. This is what sealed the real money and expansion into the US market.

Adams’ project has benefitted hugely from the all shall have prizes devolved institutions at Stormont in the sense that it has disabled any and all opposition, both within and without the institution (see here, here and here).

Ferguson’s long incumbency was characterised by a steady disabling of opponents by the prize giving rules of EPL, so that Sir Alex’s early victories steadily brought him an almost impregnable structural advantage, only broken by first millionaire then billionaire investments in single rival clubs.

As the first of these alpha males takes his leave, we might ask is the appointment David Moyes, everyman manager of Everton, a gamble?

Not in the short term. After twenty unbroken years of success Man U is the sure bet of English soccer; surely something the Glazers understood better than many of the club’s fans. Monopolies never lose money.

Yet Man U, like both News Corp and Sinn Fein, owes almost all of its rise to top to the services of one extraordinary man in combination with that economic/political nobbling of opposition players/voices.

Facing the future without Fergie is both inevitable and a little scary, if more for the club’s investors than its fans.

The club’s accumulated capacity to make serious money from fans both real and digital and the raked prize-making of the EPL will last so long as Moyes delivers consistently enough.

But the real pressure is on his rivals to begin to undo the rich featherbedding of past champions, and ultimately burst “the incumbency bubble” of the EPL.

Just, don’t hold yer breath…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Harry Flashman

    “What do they all have in common?”

    Judging by their surnames one might tentatively say “Scottish ancestry”.

  • Mick Fealty

    Yeah, I did have that as a minor theory but I could not find anything to corroborate it in reality… other than fierceness and love of battle…

  • BarneyT

    Ferguson and Adams perhaps more than Murdoch define and provide branding for their “clubs” and a sense of focus to their supporters. Both need to find a bright new star to fill the void that has and in SFs case will be left behind. I can see the Murdoch juggernaut trundling on nicely with or without him. There are plenty of media moguls waiting in the wings.

    Both Utd and SF have readymade successors. Moyes and Mary Lou. As regards their success, time will tell if Moyes was constrained by resources and resources alone at Everton. Many are pinning their hopes on this limitation.

    SF should perhaps use this change at United as a catalyst to usher in a new era and offer Mary the presidency with Gerry slipping off silently. This must happen 18 months prior to the election (which is about now?) if they are going to make inroads and capitalise on the much needed softer facade she would offer SF in the south.

    Back to matters football? Title next year is going blue and will perhaps have a northern rather than West London twang! Yes, O’Neill will bring the title back to Goodison 

  • pomdotcom

    Barney, I think it is more likely to be found at the other end of the M62/East Lancs Road and clad in a lighter shade of blue. 😉

  • Mick Fealty

    I think the question in all cases is how will the legacy hold up… I think Murdoch has got to the other side of the ravine in getting his feet under the likes of the WSJ, and Fox News…

    HIs [evil?] genius was to diversify and keep diversifying beyond the single opportunity …

    Not sure Man U have stepped decisively beyond that first opportunity… They are as likely to get hauled back in as continue to succeed.

    But in choosing Moyes, they’ve gone for character over flair, and to that extent it is, for them, a good choice.

  • John Ó Néill

    As far as I know, Gerry Adams is the only one who was either interned or shot. Ferguson is the only one who had the personal pleasure of giving Beckham a black eye. Murdoch is the only one to run a mental right wing broadcasting company. But enough pattern non-recognition…

    I can see the Ferguson/Adams parallels in that both consciously or unconsciously modelled themselves on an existing profile: the Scottish manager a la Busby, Stein and Shankly the first two of which heavily influenced Ferguson; and the warrior/poet/writer of Irish republican tradition. For the sake of argument or anyone who doesn’t know who I am referring to – it was a common attribute of the 1916 proclamation signatories – even Connolly and Clarke had poetry published, it was well worn among those involved in the War of Independence and was perpetuated in Belfast by Jimmy Steele who Adams would have been familiar with as pretty much the only Belfast republican who wrote consistently through the 1930s-1960s. Various publications included anonymous poems smuggled out of Crumlin Road etc in the early 1970s (suggesting the literary aspiration was well worn) and others like Bobby Sands had a reasonable literary output as well, so Adams wasn’t the only one who aspired to this sort of profile.

    As far as the comparison works (Murdoch apart as I don’t know enough about him), the other two were able to mould themselves into an archetype that seems to have resonated but the comparison is still pretty weak, I think.

  • This gang of three may be autocratic, may be rough and ready, but AFAIK Gerry Adams is a man apart from the other two – even by these words of his own admission on Prime Time [23 April 2013]:

    “I don’t distance myself from the IRA, I’ve never distanced myself from the IRA, and, until the day I die, I’ll never distance myself from the IRA”

    Manchester United and News International have never played in the same league as the IRA.

  • sherdy

    Mick, you attribute too much foresight to Murdoch – he merely followed the path set by Eddie Shah. Where did he disappear to?

  • BluesJazz

    Would the La Mon massacre or Bloody Friday for Adams rank alongside Ferguson winning the treble in 1999 in achievement terms?

    They all took good planning and use of resources.

  • Mick Fealty

    Where indeed Sherdy

  • babyface finlayson

    Can we make an ‘A Team’?
    We have a Murdoch, Fergie the strategist would have to be Hannibal.
    Gerry is, we can all surely agree, a handsome fellow, so he can be feisman.
    We need another long term successful leader to fill the part of B.A.
    Maybe the Queen as E.R Baracas. Well she has the bling.
    “One pities the fool…”

  • Ruarai


    Ferguson repeatedly confronted and defeated opposition.

    Adams and Murdoch closed it down and suffocated it.

    Ferguson relished a challenge. Adams and Murdoch live to preempt and crush anyone who even considers one.

    (Just ask Conor Murphy.)

  • “What do they all have in common?”

    Adams and Ferguson knew how far to push the boys who provide them with the real power. Adams probably ran the slightly higher risk doing so in that Fergie was never going to get a bullet in the back of the head from the Glazers for the crime of overspending in the summer transfer window. Murdoch was the exception of the three, making the mistake of pushing too far the sheep that had propped up his media empire.

  • Red Lion

    Mick’s piece reads like a ‘beginner’s guide to becoming the top man’…I shall start work tomorrow!

    Sir Fergie would have won even more titles but for billionaires buying Chelsea and City. But with financial fair play rules due to come in the potential for such distortions from normality has been reduced. So long as the Glazers don’t keep taking excessive profits out of the club to pay their own interest Portrush’s almost very own should keep the ball rolling.

  • Dewi

    Ferguson obviously worried about Cardff City.

  • Alias

    The difference between the three individuals above is that two of them achieved their objectives while the third failed abysmally.

    Let’s do a quick checklist of those objectives:

    Achieve a united Ireland [Fail]
    Remove the British government from Ireland [Fail]
    Achieve a socialist republic [Fail]
    No return to Stormont [Fail]
    No surrender of arms to the British [Fail]
    No criminalisation of ‘political’ prisoners [Fail]
    Have a right to national self-determination validated [Fail]
    Have Ireland’s claim to Her Majesty’s sovereign territory of Northern Ireland validated [Fail]

  • Mick Fealty

    Change the record??? 🙂

  • Mark

    Being a City fan , I wouldn’t expect you to be a fan of Alex Ferguson Mick .

    Ferguson’s achievements in those early years were down to signing Cantona and Keane plus the youngsters . When Sky got the contract for the 92/93 season , it coincided with the back pass rule being changed which rooted out the ” back to the keeper who farted around with it for 5 minutes merchants ” . Fergusons brilliance and asute signings were the reason for those early titles .If you are a United fan , he is the best thing since sliced pan .

    Moyes is the perfect replacement and the manager’s choice . He has produced and brought through young talent at Everton ( much like the United model ) such as Rooney , Cahill , Osman etc on a much smaller budget . Who better to turn Rooneys’s head around ?

    I’ll leave the comparisons with the other two although you’ll have to shoot them both before they call it a day .

  • Alias

    Sorry, Mick: Gerry Adams is, of course, is an outstanding success as leader of the ‘republican’ movement in Northern Ireland – from the British state’s perspective.

  • Mick Fealty

    Maybe so, but you are not quite entering into the spirit of the ‘challenge’ though alias… are you?


    And Denis Irwin, and later on Keano, and, and, and.. Cash advantage was the fully registered and legalised drug of the EPL from the start… After five years of winning the Premiership Man U could afford to have squad of 15 or 16 first team standard players, when everyone else was subsisting on old money.

    That’s in part the money advantage and part Fergie’s vision of what was possible under the new conditions… but after twenty years he could with impunity pin a player of Ronaldho’s value to the bench for a whole season, just for cheeking the mananger… What is that if not pure decadence?

    I don’t for a moment doubt that Fergie was a good manager.. but his natural talents were ill served by the lack of competition… Does no one on the red side smell a mildly dead fish after 27 years of such a successful incumbency? Bill Shankly retired (exhausted apparently) from Liverpool after just fifteen…

    It could not happen in any genuinely competitive sport…

  • Alias

    Fair cop… I confess I tuned out when it got into the football part. Delete the comments for lack of relevance.

  • Ruarai


    After five years of winning the Premiership Man U could afford to have squad of 15 or 16 first team standard players, when everyone else was subsisting on old money.

    That analysis is a touch on the light side. The reason Utd won those Championships was Ferguson. The resaons Man U became a global corporate powerhouse were down to the foundations re-layed by Ferguson.

    Ferguson (re)built Utd, he did not simply cash in advantages already there.

    The key thing to appreciate about Man U’s spending power under Ferguson (by the way, you ought to look at net outlay before getting too carried away with the idea that Man U were in a financial league of their own)… is that it was a result of Ferguson buidling such a marketable product. (Contrast with the financial doping at Chelsea and City.)

    Also, he didn’t simply buy teams he produced and developed players like arguably no other.

    Ferguson built and catalyzed rather than inherited many the advantages Utd have enjoyed.

    So astounding has been his build and subsequent legacy that the next guy does indeed have the type of structural advantages you unfairly ascribe to Fergie.

  • Mick Fealty

    Try taking yer Red tinted glasses off for a minute Ruarai? 😉 Try comparing the stats from the last 21 years of the old First Division (which Fergie failed to win in his first five or six seasons) with the stats of the first 21 of the EPL…

    What you find is that there are just two big teams in each era: Liverpool and Man U. The latter now more successful than the former, but not by much. The real difference is in the names of the teams that win in the off years, and those that come 2nd and 3rd.

    This is my key point, and it is NOT an anti Fergie one, it’s aimed squarely at the #EPL: Liverpool had to beat a whole league of competitive rivals to win the Prem and they often did so in considerable style.

    United only have only to beat City, Chelsea, Arsenal. Outside that, NO ONE else has had sufficient resources to compete. Without taking the top striker off Arsenal last season, the two horse race in Penthouse department might have been a lot closer (though I still think #SAF would have taken it).

    He was a good manager, and as I’ve acknowledged above, a great organiser of men. Something of Clough about him. But Clough won the European Cup as often as SAF on a smaller bed of talent and way less money. Clough was undoubtedly a GREAT manager, even though the effort, like Shankly’s wore him out in the end.

  • BluesJazz
  • OneNI

    A strange trio to choose two highly successful individuals and one failure who has emigrated last I heard

  • Mark

    Mick ,

    Tried to respond last night to your post but my reply got lost somewhere ( ? ) ….

    Ruarai covered most of what I wanted to say esp the fact that the nucleus of the side that dominated in the 90’s was made up of ” Fergie’s fledglings ” , a couple who are still around now e.g Giggs and Scholes .

    Re Liverpools European Cup wins ….that was a completely different tournament with knockout stages from round one , back pass still legal which meant if you went one up , it was very easy to kill the game . There’s no doubt that Liverpool from the 70’s to early 80’s were an outstanding side however they were a very arrogant with the likes of Souness and Thompsom being the chief culprits .

    Some of the bitterness written about Ferguson is from disgruntled fans from opposing sides who have had to watch United being top dogs for the last 25 years .

    For all Sky’s fault , they did pour tonnes of money into the game and at one stage tried to buy United . Who knows what would have happened if that deal went through .

    Liverpools’ only real rivals in the height of their power were Notts Forest and Everton in the 80’s .

    Ferguson showed great courage in replacing Whiteside and McGrath ( two of the most popular players with the fans ) because he could see the problems their socialising was causing the team . United’s previous manager Ron Atkinson was more of a buddy to his players and they knew they could get away with a few nights out without reprecussions from the club . Ferguson changed that mindset and the rest is history as they say .

    Bluejazz , that Specator article you linked to is a joke . They may as well have a picture of Ferguson on a dartboard on their front page with free darts given out with this weeks’ edition . Are you a scouser in disguise ?

  • Mick Fealty


    I’ve been there, but a long long time ago… I’m afraid the record speaks for itself… Here’s my reply on that Spec thread: http://disq.us/8d2d8x

  • Ruarai

    Try taking yer Red tinted glasses off for a minute Ruarai? Try comparing the stats from the last 21 years of the old First Division (which Fergie failed to win in his first five or six seasons) with the stats of the first 21 of the EPL…

    Do the decent thing Mick: Yellow Card for Fealty!

    Yoy gotta live by your own rules…

    Well, you walked into that one, shattering your own rule about ad hominen arguments. I grew up a Liverpool fan Mick so bad luck there. (I’m still a Liverpool man but my team is Celtic.)

    Ferguson is the real deal; an absolute one off.

    Everything about Utd’s near hegemony is because of Ferguson. That’s the thing about Fergie and Utd’s success you miss and miss badly.

    The key point (although there are so so many) that puts Ferguson way above all mangerial rivals is his ability to stay ahead; stay fresh; stay competitive. If he had ten more years it would be ten more successful years regadless of unforseen developments. The man is the antithesis of eventually “getting found out”.

    The other’s built great teams and achieved great things in their eras.

    Ferguson did it in era after era when you consider the totally different set-up when he first one to when he last one! He defined his time!

    A one off whose genius will only be truly understood and measurable many years from now.

  • Ruarai

    Mick, let’s put this another way:

    If you had to pick one manager to develop and manage a team in any league from any era – i.e. a test of the man stripped of the context he worked in and with – surely you’d agree that there is only one name you’d be confident would eventually “crack the code” of whatever challenge you gave him.

    And that man is Sir Alex Ferguson; genius.

  • Ruarai

    As a Liverpool man this is a great week: Everton and Utd weakened in one blow.

    What prince Everton to be relegated next year?

  • Mick Fealty

    proves my point, relegation of a rival is the only pleasure the EPL has left the once mighty Pool with… #sad

  • Mark

    Mick ,

    Saw your post Spec Thread ….( a lot of ABU’s with a lot to say ) . I’d have a lot to say if my team hasn’t had a lookin for a quarter of a century and the consensus was the same bloody rival manager was responsible ( the sight of Bob Paisley gave me nightmares ) .

    I think the point some Red Devils are making is that it was Ferguson through his courage to break up the double winning team of 94/95 ( Hughes to Chelsea , Ince to Inter and Kanchelskis to Everton ) and replace them with ” kids ” that we now have a situation where United will always be contenders for the forseeable future .

    When Ferguson heard that a 13 yr old wonder boy called Ryan Giggs was on City’s books , he went around to his Mum’s home and persuaded / pressurised / cajouled / threatened her son to sign for United . This may be what you mean when you said he spotted opportunies to keep ahead of his rivals …or terrified his rivals or interlocutors .

    There’s no doubt his overhauling of a non existent youth policy when he arrived was the main reason for today’s continued success both on and off the pitch – Beckham / Giggs merchandise etc , tying up the support in the Far East .

    The biggest ever TV deal starts in August with all Premiereship sides guaranteed anything from 20 – 60 million STG , parashute payments for regulated teams .

    I get your point about SKY and the money monster monopoly it has created but where there’s supply and demand ……

    I heard a funny joke the other day about some scally in Liverpool stting in a pub with a magic lamp . The genie told him he had one wish left after that state funeral not so long ago and this weeks news .

  • Mark

    The fact that questionable extremely rich Eastern European businessmen have bought up EPL teams as a way of laundering money also shows how bent the sport has become off the pitch but that doesn’t change the fact that’s its 11 vs 11 on a saturday afternoon .

  • Mick Fealty

    I notice that no one is taking on the premise of the post head on… 😉

    So Mark… whatever happened that Youth Policy after Beckham, Giggs, the Nevilles, Scholes et al? He didn’t need a youth squad after winning a few EPLs…

    The money making machine took care of the new blood for him… JUST SAYING LIKE… 😉

  • Mark

    They were one of a kind Mick you will never see the likes again although Welbeck and Cleverly show some promise ( capped by England ) If you have heard any of those players being interviewed this week you can see the extent of his influence over those 6/7 young players . They still had to be nutured and Giggs didn’t give an interview for two years while he was playing for the first team . Ferguson had seen what had happened to Best and wasn’t going to let it effect Giggs .

    Probably the most influential player Ferguson signed to play for United in the last 7/8 years was Ronaldo who was signed for 12 million when his rivals were paying 25 – 40 million for top players . Ferguson turned Ronaldo into the player he is today as Ronaldo’s tweet showed this week( sorry no link ) ” thanks Boss ” He recognised who he thinks had the most influence on his career and he’s on the brink of coming back .

    Maybe someone should tell him Fergie has retired .

  • Ruarai

    The money making machine took care of the new blood for him… JUST SAYING LIKE…

    Just making things up more like. 🙂

    Have you seen the net spending?

  • Mick Fealty


    My point is very simple. I’ve no gripe with Fergie, but the EPL did destroy competitive football in the English top flight by privileging a small number of teams: http://goo.gl/6Ct2G

    If there’s a compensation in it at all, it is that it condemned two of the main conspirators to the same grinding mediocrity the rest of the clubs have had to endure… [Everton and Spurs]

  • Mark

    That has always been the case Mick .Everton have been champions once since the 80’s , Spurs won a couple of FA Cups in the 80’s . They have both since qualified for the Champions League in the EPL .The 70’s were dominated by Leeds , Forest and Liverpool , Arsenal won titles in the old First Division and the EPL . United didn’t win a title until the 90’s . The last 10 years have seen Chelsea and United clean up . There has and only ever will be 2/3 contenders in any one season . Blackburn have won the EPL and Newcastle came very close .That would never have happened in the old First Division . The English national side are the real victims of the EPL .

  • Mick Fealty

    Adding these as an illustration, it’s the top five positions in six years of the Div 1 and the EPL…

    1977-78, Forest.

    1985-86, Liverpool.

    1991-92, Leeds.


    1992-93, Man Utd.

    1997-98, Arsenal.

    2011-12, Man City.

    Apart from the two middle ones, the rest are all randomly chosen for a variety of years and winners. Note the radical effect the shortening of the league has on the number of wins any team can log up.

    Note too the mix of teams that come in the first five that in that first year of the Prem. Villa and Norwich never again appear in the top three, and after Newcastle and Blackburn are dispatched a few seasons later it all starts to look a little bit like a latter day Formula One procession round the track, same teams in a jumbled order.

    Note as well the year Forest won, City in fifth place have the same number of home wins. Shankly, Cloughie and Co all had to grind out wins and draws right to the end. All Prem winners have to do is to identify the next strongest team and edge them out.

    No one else is competing.

  • DC

    The EPL and Manchester United’s success: structure or agency?

    Structure (sky snapping up the viewing rights and selling the game to a global audience, favouring Man U as it was top of the league and ahead of the curve when the big money was beginning to be paid out) or agency (Fergie’s genius and management skills, etc)?

    We should find out next season and onwards Mick in terms of your structural ‘gating off’ analysis and propping up that team – Man U – simply because it was ahead of the curve with a talented team when the ‘gating off’ happened i.e. when Murdoch stepped in and bought the rights and in doing so was able to sell it all to a global audience, creating a global money-spinning premier league (potentially a bit of a ‘bubble’ league because it is at the mercy of sky subscribers, outside investors and the rise and fall of global advertising revenues etc).

    On the face of it your analysis seems sound enough and could well be right if i’m honest and not in a winding you up mood, but i think last time your argument fell down due to a lack of examination of teams in the bottom half in order to identify similar trends, if teams at the top were propped up surely certain other teams were being dragged down and going round in circles and relegated out.

    The teams that threw you off last time were Blackburn (who were EPL winners) and Liverpool who have slumped relative to where they should be in line with your ‘gating off’, which is that certain teams get stuck or should get stuck in certain positions as the money paid out for finishing in those positions is never enough to challenge the winner or those above, well not with any degree of success, long term success.

  • Mick Fealty

    The damage was done at the very start… English football had an international audience long before Sky. It was normal Saturday viewing throughout Scandinavia in the 80s when I was working there.

    I would not blame Sky either. It was the FA and the ‘Big Five’ who planned the breakaway, and the get rich quick scheme that was supposed take them away from everybody else.

    Sir Alex quickly punctured that for them. Everton and Spurs (and latterly Arsenal) subsist on what Euro money they can to keep an interest going. Only Chelsea have been able to keep up in the last ten years, with City getting in on the act in the last couple of years.

    It’s a design fault, and the only thing that really surprises me is that so few people even remark upon. The pattern has been clear for years.

  • DC

    Your Rangers crisis and SPL / Scottish football crisis analysis at the time seems to have worked out as you had predicted it would, it was accurate enough as well.

    So how about this – the SPL crisis is the footballing version of the future of the UK economy.

    The EPL is the footballing version of globalisation at work?

    If the CIty of London is the equivalent of the top two or three teams in the EPL are all other UK cities ‘the sump’ that have been paid off by London in order to live in relative mediocrity – this economic model sustained on the basis that a rising tide lifts all boats? An example might be don’t regulate the city of london finance too much as this allegedly could really spoil the british economy, despite maybe it needing tackled to restructure the UK economy away from its current one of one city calling the shots as to just how the british economy should function?

    Just as an aside, I was having a chat with lads in work and i was saying that in terms of the English national team, the manager and management squad may as well look around in the Championship and build a new team up from there, maybe the odd premiership player as the cherry on top.

    All the EPL has done is create a new global league on top of the old English domestic one. But i wouldn’t be as jaded as you about the EPL being a ‘tin trophy’ I would argue that the quality has been pushed up by foreign money at the expense of the domestic english game. The EPL is a league made for TV and the game is cut and thrust and fast and physical.

    The introduction of ‘foreign’ talent – the hazards, the oscars etc, however is no substitute for productive collective thinking that is needed to create really successful footballing teams, like Barca and Bayern (largely consisting of the German national team and Barca Spain’s).

    And on that note, in 2011, when Fergie’s Manchester United took on Barca in the champions league final and were well and truly beaten and made to look average that’s when I came to realise that Sir Alex really was just plain old Alex. I think it was at that point that Fergie realised just how much work would be needed in building a Man U team to get like this and maybe shuddered at whether he had the longevity and with an eye on Bayern Munich progressing rapidly on this front this year, well ahead of Man U, the penny might have dropped. Fergie maybe wagered he might not have the life left in him to reconstruct his Man U team to compete with these teams based on the way they play football?

    You know football not just made for TV but structured around nurturing local domestic talent and coming with inbuilt collective thinking, the ability to think as a team based on having a history of playing together domestically and nationally, knowing what each player is about?

  • Mick Fealty

    Most telling remark from yesterday’s Cup Final…

    “Unfortunately in the Premiership the wages bill reflects position in the league, which is a bit disturbing” – Gareth Southgate

    The theatre of comedy that is MCFC never ends its run, but despite being by far the better team at Wembly yesterday Wigan will be playing for their future in the EPL on Tuesday night!!

    Why? One reason only…

    Via @GeniusFootball:

    Wigan’s starting XI cost: £11M
    City’s starting XI cost: £215M

    Yesterday was sport, the EPL is the FA’s underwhelming overfed baby, in which the trinkets involve giving the losers a ticket into Europe.

  • Mick Fealty


    I have to confess I don’t think about soccer from one year end to the next. I watch City as and when the opportunity arises, but they are an old loyality that’s triggered by the sight of the club colours. I was delighted for instance to see Rory Mac wear a city coloured shirt when he won his first major, no doubt in honour of his old dad (a fellow Holywood ‘Blue’).

    And it is year’s since I watched football focus… which may be why I was so surprised at the lack of content therein yesterday. It was all about the Prem, and the distribution of European places. Two matches from the end and both first and second places have already been decided.

    Meanwhile, Wigan won’t get a champions league slot, but Spurs might. I can definitely see the logic. Merit has nothing to do with it, it’s resources that count. If they only want big clubs, big names and big budgets in Europe then that makes sense, though Liverpools win in 2005 shows that it is possible for a mediocre team in the EPL to turn the tables in the more open European competition..

    To briefly return to your question about why the stepping effect has less grip lower down than at the top, you have to factor in those European places and the money that flows from there. Arsenal’s whole business plan is to ignore the big spend necessary to win the EPL and concentrate on participating in Europe instead.

    Outside that the only club to buck their place in the EPL money hierarchy is Everton, and guess who Man U have chosen to take over from Fergie? The contrast with the rest of English Football, which is meritocratic to its very finger tips is well demonstrated by a quick glance at the Northern Conference league table:

    Second placed Guiseley AFC were beaten by a local amateur club in Dorset in the Final of the FA Vase back in 1992 (the local equivalent of Holywood United)… Bradford PA were only reconstituted as a Football club in the mid 80s… but in there too are Oxford Utd (winners of the League Cup in the 80s), Workington, Halifax, Worcester, Workington, and Chester.

    In short, the last positive message any club can shout to the world before getting into the Prem is ‘We’re going up”… Next stop is ‘We’re staying up’ (whoopie do!) or ‘Oh, look out, we’re coming back down..”

    That’s why yesterday was such a good day for English football (even if it left me a little flat)… It’s a cooked system which rewards winners by disabling the opposition for them in the next season…

  • Mick Fealty

    Sorry for the single minded obsession with soccer (but it generally only happens once a year), here’s Fergie almost giving the game away when he tells his young star struck BBC interviewer that there is no way Man Utd will go five years without a title: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UlbzZC05KU&feature=youtu.be&t=9m1s

  • Mark

    Mick , Fergie was talking about the complacency that cost United the title last year . When he says ” trust me ” , he’s implying that no team of his will blow a lead like that of last year . When he says United wouldn’t go five years without winning anything ( with him at the helm ) , that’s his genuine belief based on the players he has , the structure of the club and the winning habit United have formed based on previous successful seasons ….IMO .

  • Mick Fealty

    What he’s telling you (without telling you) is that he’s been so bankrolled by the structure of the league that he only has to worry about one challenger at a time (only one or two clubs can compete for honours at a time)… Note the question of adjusting style of play from the questioner (if you go further back) implies that this is all Fergie has to do every year…

    Buying Van Persie in a year when City bought poorly allowed him to use his embedded structure to destroy the Blue challenge six or seven games from the end… Once City was gone, the league was his… No one else has the resources to compete…

    Remember this is the guy who would not give interviews to the press for two seasons until the FA was threatened commercially enough to tell him he had to start speaking again. He’s also the guy who boycotted the FA Cup in 99/00 in order to give his players a decent chance of retaining the Champions league (which took him 9 years to win back for the once and only time)…

    Murdoch terrified journalists (and not just his own), Adams terrifies journalists, and so did Fergie… Not because any of them threatened anyone, but because of that old Alpha Male ego that brooks no challenge to their ‘power’…

    The control test is that in the more open competition Fergie won just two of England’s four Champion League titles, Liverpool and Chelsea won the other two…

    Now, I don’t like to talk down a good club structure (which undoubtedly Utd has), but the reason no one else has Utd’s stability is because of how the EPL structure so profoundly disrupts the challenger…

    Think of how OFMdFM at Stormont is trying to embed its own power over the Executive and you are nearly half way there… 😉

  • Mark

    Van Persie was due to sign for City until he heard of United’s interest . City had a pot of gold for this season but bought badly . Van Persie claimed ” the little boy in him chose to join United ” implying it was the club’s history , heritage and style of playing that made him join . United made two signings this year ( some dutch left back whose name escapes me ) and RVP . Chelsea came into this years Championship as European Champs . I’m sure they thought they had a shout .

    Re United boycotting the FA Cup …..they were competing in the World Club Championship which you only get to play if you win the CL . The FA asked United to go because they thought it may give them a better chance of hosting WC 2006 . Since then FIFA moved the tournament( World Club Championship ) so as it wouldn’t interfere with domestic leagues .

    Fergie had no problem giving interviews to any network bar the BBC over a hachet job documentary they made about his son …………like any father would .

    I think you’ve been hanging around Stormont for too long Mick , you see a conspiracy aroung every corner ( insert smilie ) .

  • Ruarai

    This thread’s focus on the Premier League’s resource distribution is way off topic at this point. So, moving it back to questions about Ferguson’s genius (of which there shoulnd’t really be a question), consider Hansen’s point today on Mancini:

    Mancini could have taken it on and on but the way big clubs are run now, if you do not do it the paymasters will not take any prisoners, regardless of what you have achieved in the past.

    Exactly. Where some will see Man U’s (and others’) resources as evidence that their manager’s have it easier and are over-rated (that would be you Mick), others, like Alan Hansen and me (he’s in good company) will see the pressure to deliver when funded by the Big Boys as a unique and almost impossible pressure all of its own.

    That Ferguson has (had) built an untouchable position for himself atop a massive institution at a time when his rivals are fired and replaced constantly is evidence of the man’s unique competence – and evidence against any who would say he’s overrated.

  • Mick Fealty

    Completely misses the point Ruarai… The control, as I said above, and which you seem to have completely ignored, is Europe… Your club won it in 2005, by fighting its way from 1st qualifying round to the end… Fergie has more times than anyone else got into the group stage, and yet in 26 years only took it twice

    I’m not sure what’s going on here… Stockholm syndrome? You’ve grown to love your tormentor? Unless you think I got it wrong, in which case, be my guest and knock the whole artifice of my argument to the ground?

    But if Shankley was a great manager (I beleive he was), Fergie has been a great monopolist… One thing you cannot do is hold the Champions of the Premiership in the same status as any of the old Division One Champions…

    The EPL made Man Utd and Man Utd made the EPL… end of…

  • Mick Fealty


    It’s a marriage of convenient in which all the jupes seem incredibly happy to be juped.. You keep hinting that its because I’m a self confessed City fan, but I don’t see you addressing any of the arguments I’ve lodged here… 😉

  • Mark

    The Busby Babes , Munich , Sir Matt Busby , Georgie Best , Denis Law , etc etc ……..the youngsters of 92 , Keane , Cantona and Sir Alex Ferguson and other great players who haven’t been mentioned made Manchester United .

    The back pass rule made it alot easier for teams to kill a game at one nil back in the old First Division . The game was much slower , tackles back then verged on assault and the powerhouse of the day ( Liverpool ) went out and bought Ray Kennedy ,Jimmy Case , Kenny Dalglish , Graeme Souness and in later years John Barnes , Ray Houghton and John Aldridge ………so what’s the difference ?

    And Match of the day nearly always featured a Liverpool match as their main game .

  • Mark

    Mick , I mentioned you being a City fan in jest . You only mentioned it last year after City had won the league .

    When nearly every news outlet ran stories about Fergies’s achievements and career , you threw Gerry into the mix . I don’t really see a comparison therefore I concentrated on your agrument that United’s success is down to a Murdoch conspiracy .

  • Seamuscamp


    You’ve obviously absorbed and been converted by the Rafa list of “facts”. But really you ought to know better. Just trot along to transferleague.co.uk and you will find some facts that take the edge off your main point. From 03/04 to date the big spenders have been Man C and Chelsea who spent (net) £42 and £52m per season respectively. Next came Liverpool (£18m); then Man U (£12m); Aston Villa (£11m); Tottenham (£10m); Stoke (£8m); Sunderland (£8m). Everton net spent less than £1m per year over the period; Arsenal,of course, sold more than they bought to the extent of about £1.5m per year.

    The idea that MU have bought their way to the top is true to the extent that if they had followed the Arsenal pattern they wouldn’t have won as much; but why haven’t Liverpool been at all successful? Surely the manager has some bearing?

    The fact is that the English model of joint decisions on TV contracts has levelled he playing field to an extent. Following the Spanish practice of individual contracts would indeed have seen monopolistic power in action.

    The real distinction of the SirAF reign has been the regeneration – the building of a new team when the old one runs out of steam. Mourinho might have managed it; Rafa couldn’t manage it; Wenger has never had a clue about sound defence; Mancini was lucky Man U had such a mountain of injuries last year.

    As a long-term Liverpool supporter I am hopeful that they now have a strategy and a manager and owners with some idea of teambuilding. But they’ll have to go some to beat Moyes.

  • DC

    You guys, you have no hope of changing mick’s mind on this, this is his baby, his big analysis, he is like a dog with a bone.

    I’d say he is right generally speaking, although there have been exceptions to the rule eg Blackburn winning the EPL and now relegated – and Liverpool tanking relative to where they should be.

    Also, you could argue Everton has bucked the trend.

    I’m not an EPL expert, I just think some analysis of the bottom half of the table might be needed as like the top, maybe not top 3/4 if European monies distort things too much.

    I would have little doubt that Fergie has moved on now as he has seen Bayern’s squad and mindful of Barca too and realised he hasn’t enough life left in him to take on those teams, you reckon Fergie would leave his post if he really thought he could succeed and win in Europe next year?

    Man U have been on the decline for years now relative to elite champions league teams.

    Let’s face it, what sort of manager would bring back scholes, surely not one that had figured out what to do with his midfield and planned ahead properly?

  • Mark

    Mick ( BTW – not lookin for a scrap ) ,

    In any organisation sporting or otherwise , harmony at board level is essential as I’m sure you’ll agree with your experience .

    United have had two CEO’s since they won their first title back in 93 until next week . ( Martin Edwards left in 93 / 94 ).Peter Kenyon who was headhunted by Chelsea once Roman took over – his first appointment . They then appointed David Gill who is sadly leaving this season to take the job of CEO at the FA . The relationship between a manager and his board is absolutely paramonut to a successful team . They are numerous examples of boardroom trouble which has led to players / managers either leaving or the form of the team drops .

    Ferguson’s relationship with both Kenyon and Gill has been recognised as one of the main reasons why United have stayed so successful ….according to the experts anyway .

  • Ruarai


    Mick’s argument crumbles into dust the moment you look at net spend. Since he refuses to, maybe you can do it for him and then tell us you still lean towards his argument?

  • DC

    Well i did argue it out with him before on this, although without getting bogged down in net spend I would tend to look at Fergie’s role as manager at Aberdeen as proof of the ‘magic man’ effect, there the old firm axis and structural bias was beaten and overcome by Fergie. It has yet to be replicated.

  • Mick Fealty

    Seriously, I’m not expounding an ABU argument here, nor am I saying SAF was not a good manager…

    There’s one premise behind this hypothesis, and that it is the EPL has not only bankrolled Man Utd for twenty years… really, but more importantly, it has all but eliminated open competition.

    Don’t just look at the winners (SAFs achievement has only just overtaken Liverpool’s two seasons ago, so it is not completely implausible he could have won everything on merit).

    See that data in my post at: http://goo.gl/5B7LK5 for the way the EPL has eliminated chance/skill as a significant variable.

    Now seamus and Ruarai, go back and look at that transfer table. There are only three clubs ahead of Man U. Everyone else is behind them.

    It has worked for Chelsea. Only latterly for City; who were not spending anything that cash annually, for them it represents huge belated pump priming in the last few seasons, not a ten year strategy. City have only just broken into the penthouse apartment by being bankrolled for stupid money…

    City and Chelsea are indulging in rational behaviour. They had to find external backing in order to overcome Man U’s accumulated financial advantage in the league… And Man U are being used (judiciously) by the Glazers as a sustainable means of clearing up debts they’ve accumulated elsewhere…

    The EPL is an impossible mountain to climb for any challenger (and I don’t mean just to Man U)… Look at the teams which in the past have been part of the so called Big Five…

    Liverpool were busted and have stayed busted inside the EPL since the start…

    Everton had a good eighties but have also been busted since the start of the EPL…

    Aston Villa kept up for a while but are now well and truly busted…

    Spurs, I wish them well, but they’ve never been competitive for an EPL title…

    Arsenal no longer compete (and show no interest in doing anything other than getting to Europe)…

    Newcastle Utd only ever really flattered to deceive after letting those early chances of 1995–96 and 1996–97 slip…

    Man U are good, but their being the best of the best clubs does not explain the utter homogeneity of the challengers in the EPL… And that homogeneity made SAF’s job way easier than Cloughie’s or Shankley’s

  • Mick Fealty

    Now, get outta that?? 😉

  • Mark

    How do you get outta something you’ve never been in in the first place ? …….

  • Mark

    Now see what you’ve done Mick ….as Roberto gets his P45 .

  • Ruarai


    why do you loath Sir Alex so?

  • Ruarai

    In all seriousness, look, if we’re going to look at variables/even playing fields, etc then Jock Stein was without the slightest argument the greatest European manager ever. Even the staunchest Blue Nose would concede that.

    But that’s the point, the criteria for deciding is itself up for debate.

    Where Ferguson wins, for me, is that he wins on some many criteria: longevity, flexibility in approach, consistent success, consistent attacking flair, working successfully in various eras, etc, etc, etc

    And Mick, before you try to – no, you cannot suggest that ‘all you’re saying is that the EPL isn’t competitive’. You started the thread ffs and it started out as a piece comparing Ferguson the manager to Gerry bloody Adams and that bastard Murdoch.

  • Mick Fealty

    Okay, what have we got… we have a small cartell of chasing clubs whom Fergie uses his considerable talent to knock seven bells out of every season, and in the process he builds continuity whilst they flounder…

    Now, after 20 years no one competes with Man U, so given the comfort Alex has, all he does every year is use trim tabs to play chess with the next loser (and occasional winner) to show them who is boss…

    This is a guy who is still able to use players from 20 years ago when youth teams mattered because of that continuity thing he talks about…

    Now, I see all that… but none of it matters, because all he needs to do each years is to adjust the trimtab on the ship and he steams ahead again…

    We beat him last year year, but just one buy and he’s sailing past us again at the usual rate of knotts…

    You see success (and it is, of course) but it’s because he does not have to worry about a Notts Forest or an Aston Villa or some other unknown challenger any more, and he does not have the grind of a long season against competition he has to worry about…

    Most of the other teams in the EPL do not compete for the EPL… unless they have the money to post, they are out of the compo… unlike US sports, the prejudice is towards embedding the winnners, and handicapping new entrants/losers…

    What the EPL has done is to import the Scottish model, by handicapping the broader opposition. This was done by design in taking down the number of sides competing, and raking the prize money so that by year five, if you have not had a consistent top of table finish you no longer have the resources to compete…

    I realise that many people now barely remember the old division one, and many cannot remember English soccer before Fergie (let alone English journalism before Murdoch or NI politics before Adams).

    But all of these guys have had some form of embedded privileges. In Murdoch’s case he has diversified with each opportunity and built on those privileges, and this is what Adams is doing by trying to get a toe hold in the Republic.

    Fergie’s work is all but done since most of the rivals he could not beat in open competition before the EPL are now suffering the equivalent of senile dimentia, short term memory loss and incontinence…

    Maybe the next five or ten seasons will undo the damage of the last twenty, but that won’t be down purely to Man U. It will come down to the FA wanting to return to a fairer more open league…

    It’s not Man U who prove the league is stacked.. It’s Chelsea and Man City… No manager is THAT good without a little help from his friends, in the FA…

    Does it matter? Soccer doesn’t matter in and of itself, but in business and democracy embedded privilege does matter a great deal. And it seems, IF you live with it long enough, it becomes invisible… 😉

  • Ruarai

    There are some decent points here about embedded advantages in and of themselves. But in terms of their relevance, I think the real question when assessing Ferguson is (while accepting that reality) to simply ask:

    a) would another manager have built on them as he has, as well as he has? (Ans: none would have been as successful for as long – or lasted as long with the pressure of expectation)

    b) how many of the structural advantages are manifestations of his own attempts to build them – i.e. an additional reflection of the man’s farsighted and strategic accumen (quite a few I’d say)

  • Mick Fealty

    On the second, you might say Tesco and Walmart are providers of great services in scale and at a price customers want.

    Ignore for a moment the fact that now only a 1/3 of Irish farmers are running at a profit…

    And concentrate on the price we pay for entertaining such large players, the accumulation of land banks, and the use of scale to squeeze out other players?

    On the first question, well, we’ll never know… Fergie was it. We have nothing else to compare him with.

    You can’t do what Fergie did by being poor at your job, the question is how desirable is it in sport to so deeply embed such privilege?

  • Mark

    ” Fergie’s work is all but done since most of the rivals he could not beat in open competition before the EPL are now suffering from senile dimentia , short term memory loss and incontinence ” …. ( your right in Brian Clough’s case ) .

    So all the experts , journalists , past players and managers are wrong and your right Mick ….is that it ? The young players he produced had nothing to do with United’s success . The fact that he broke the Old Firm stranglehold in Scotland undermines your point about Fergie playing with a stacked deck once he arrived in England .

    ” No manager is That good without a little help from his friends , in the FA ”

    Fergie didn’t have any friends in the FA . He was constantly at odds with them over player availability for England matches , their use of Brand Beckham which he saw as a distraction and as he saw it , useless friendly games .

    On your Brian Clough point …..He lasted five years at the top with Derby and Forest and was part of a double act which saw Peter Taylor take all the flack and Clough all the glory . This was never more evident than when Clough lasted 44 days at Leeds without Taylor . He was a great manager but not in the league of you know you . The pressure got to him , he got Forest relegated and sadly ended up an alcoholic .

    As Ruarai points out , the pressure of expectation is massive as proven by todays sacking of Man City’s manager and Ferguson would feel it just the way Mourinho , Wenger , Dalglish , Ancelotti and Mancini did ( all title winners during Fergie’s EPL era ) …..it’s just he could handle it better and was one of a kind who’ll never be seen again .

    The greatest club manager the football world has come accross !

  • Mark

    Mick , Posts crossed .

    Just interested ….Would you say Brian Cody is a more talented manager than SAF ? or Was it Tiger Wood’s sheer ability to win all those titles or was Butch Harmons influence a factor ?

  • Mick Fealty


    You don’t think there’s a problem with the league then? See what Gareth Southgate says about it, if you think no one else finds it disturbing how wages dictate the level of a clubs success in the EPL?

  • Mark

    Not as long as United keeep winning it Mick ….LOL ,

    Mick , yes I agree , there’s a huge imbalance in the EPL now and money is king . I do find myself agreeing with Gareth Southgate but there’s a touch of ” well I never played or management at the highest level therefore …….. ” in some of his opinions .

    To me embedded advantages means Lance Armstrong sticking a needle in his arse …but I can see where you’re coming from ….cheers .

  • Mick Fealty

    The GAA is a exemplar of good sporting practice IMHO. Whilst Cody and Hurling represent the heights of excellence on the field, it is also indicative of a problem they have been modestly successful in getting away from since the 70s…

    The diversification of All Ireland Champions and the increasing competitiveness across football (GAA stylee, in case I’m misread) has been impressive.. But not just in terms of the outcomes, most games have got more competitive in themselves. I remember watching county matches at various venues across Ulster as a kid, and waiting for that horrible moment when the game would swing decisively in favour of the better team (as I was a young fan of Donegal, that too often meant against us)…

    In a funny sort of way, GAA has kept truer to the original Corinthian spirit of the Victorian age since it has resolutely kept the code amatuer in the sense there are not huge amounts of private cash swirling around. It’s used that (along with some useful public subsidy) to scale up the quality of practice across counties that previously had no record of doing well in national competitions.

    Dublin and Kerry are still powerhouses of great footballers (and have an impressive scale of clubs) but they are no longer the great duopoly of old. This is the opposite of what’s happening in soccer (which has of course other pressures, commercial and global demand being key)…

    The GAA, I suspect, will begin to experience difficulties from the professionalisation and popularisation of Irish rugby, but in the last 30 years, whilst English soccer has become more elite and exclusive, the GAA has sunk deeper roots into a broader range of local communities…

    As far as the EPL is concerned, there is nothing to see there. And even if City become the new Google to United’s Microsoft, it still won’t draw me back… I like my sport to be a genuine sport, not a flaccid entertainment for those with too much disposable income on their hands…

  • Mark

    You’ll get no argument from me Mick bar your last paragraph and as the man says ” sport is all about opinions ” .

    As a kid I was at all the Dublin / Kerry classics as my old man and grandad were fanatics . The only time I ever heard my grandad curse ( in delight ) was after Jimmy Keaveney’s goal against Armagh in the 77 All Ireland . There was plenty more cursing however once the Kingdom started to dominate .

    As you stated , the GAA’s amatuer status has kept the playing field level and the fact there’s no ” transfer market ” as such should ensure it stays that way . There has been the odd occasion where a player has represented more than one county ( not too sure how that works ) but that’s more of an exception than a rule .

    I was so impressed when it was explained to me when I was younger that the players didnt get paid and it makes you feel proud to think for most of them , it’s a passion , a vocation . If anything the sport ( football ) is getting more popular . When the Dubs won their last title , there were two players from my old school on the team , a school famous down the years for producing international rugby players . There weren’t even Gaelic pitches on the school grounds . How times have changed ……..

  • Mick Fealty

    So Man U is yer little occasion of sin? 😉 (btw, no one as well built as Keaveney would make it in a modern GAA team)…

  • Mark

    LOl ….It’s one of them Mick …..and I doubt Jimmy would get a job as a steward never mind a start these days .

    PS …if the knee wasn’t banjaxed as a teenager , I’d be posting from America as a scholarship in soccer was on the cards .

  • Mick Fealty

    I hope you see my arguments above are not motivated out any animus towards Fergie or Man U (though I’d be foolish to pretend I like either of them)…

  • Mark

    I know plently of people ( and am related to quite a few ) who feel the same way as you do re Fergie and Man U …….and have to say I was relieved when I heard you confess to DC that ” you never think about soccer from one year end to the next ” .

    I don’t know if I have it in me to go another 12 rounds arguing the merits of SAF …….