There is a very good lunchtime program on the Irish music station Spin FM every weekday, a magazine show presented by the very professional Jonathon McCrea and the very lovely Clare McKenna.
Clare is an old friend from the days when she worked with Mick McCarthy’s backroom team in Ireland, long before she found fame on the wireless so to speak.
Jonathon I know only through work, his and mine. He’s a very mild mannered presenter who uses subtlety to get his point across and charm to get the story from those he interviews.
He’s also a bit of football fan as I know well from various appearances on the show going back to the days when it was presented by a young man called Vinny O’Dowd, who is now seeking his fortune in London with Sky News, an organization that knows talent when it sees it.
Last week, less than 24 hours after this column went to bed for another seven days, I got chatting to Jonathon live on air again as the news broke that Alex Ferguson had quit as manager of Manchester United football club.
As the world of soccer got used to the idea that the hardest man in the game had just announced his departure from the hardest job in football, we chatted on air about the implications and otherwise of the breaking news.
In the course of chat I discovered two things about Jonathon. One, he’s a Liverpool fan when I, for some reason or other, had always assumed him to be a Chelsea supporter.
Secondly -- and more importantly given the subject matter -- I found out last Wednesday that Jonathon cannot remember anyone other than Alex Ferguson managing Manchester United FC.
That’s an incredible stat and one that Jonathon shares with so many others. Fergie was appointed to the job when Jonathon was still a baby. He’s the only United boss he can remember.
Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, who’s also retiring after the final game in the Premier League this Sunday, can go one better than that. They’ve never played for any other manager in their professional careers.
That tells you something about the longevity of Alex Ferguson, a man who won 38 trophies with the Red Devils including two European Cups.
He lasted 26 years at the club and bows out gracefully at the age of 71. He became the most successful manager the British game has ever seen.
He molded more than one team of title winners. He got the best out of Roy Keane and Eric Cantona and so many other Manchester United greats.
More than anything, though, he got the best out of Manchester United. He dragged the club from the shadows of the Busby Babes and created his own legacy at Old Trafford.
He made the hard decisions when he had to. He was ruthless when he needed to be, no more so than on the day he told Keane he was no longer wanted by the club.
He made a few mistakes, like announcing at the start of the century that he was ready to quit before he realized that was the furthest thing from his agenda.
But he did it all – as the song says – his way, even down to announcing his retirement at a time when everyone else thought he would gear up for one last Champions League run and win next season.
He leaves United on Sunday as he has managed the club – on his terms and his alone.
That trait, more than any other, will never be seen again in the English game, a game now hell bent on a rapid turnover of managers once success goes off the radar. And he knows it.
Life will carry on next season without Fergie. Everton’s David Moyes has already been appointed as his successor on a six-year contract worth over $50 million, and other clubs in England will have new bosses in the dug-out as well.
On Monday night, just as the papers were going to press, United’s noisy neighbors announced that Roberto Mancini had been sacked as Manchester City boss, with the Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini his likely successor.
So here’s one more amazing stat before we part company for another week. Three managers won domestic trophies in England in 2012 – Mancini with City in the Premier League, Kenny Dalglish with Liverpool in the League Cup and Roberto Di Matteo with Chelsea in the FA Cup. All three have since been sacked.
That’s just why we will never see the likes of Alex Ferguson again. He out-lasted them all. And he will be remembered forever by a game he served so well.
(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)
SOCCER: The FA Cup final used to be the glory day of the English football season. Now it’s just shoved in between Premier League fixtures a week before the club fixtures come to a conclusion. Last Saturday’s final was more dramatic than usual, however, as James McCarthy and Wigan stunned Manchester City with a last minute winner. Their dream came true, but it won’t help their battle to stay in the Premier League. And sadly that is all that really matters in club football these days.
SOCCER: If you know the New York Red Bulls ‘keeper Ryan Meara please tell him that Giovanni Trapattoni is still thinking about him as an Irish call-up. Trap mentioned Meara in some detail at his squad announcement on Monday and even knew that the big Irish American is only coming back from injury. Who knows, Meara might even get a call-up for the game at Yankee Stadium in June. Stranger things have happened – as Joey Lapira will tell you!
GOLF: Anyone witness the Sergio Garcia collapse at the 17th hole of the Players Championship at Sawgrass on Sunday night? His fall down the field – after his ball fell into the water more than once Tin Cup style – proves that the game is really the great leveler. And his spat with Tiger over the weekend wasn’t very attractive either.
GAA: The championship gets underway at home this weekend when Mayo take center-stage against Galway for their first big outing since the All-Ireland defeat to Donegal last September. Don’t bet against a Galway win in this one – and don’t be surprised if Dublin take the All-Ireland back off Donegal at the end of the summer.
GAA: The GAA are to trial Hawkeye goal-line technology at Croke Park in front of the media this week but it won’t have any influence on square ball decisions – which is bad news for Niall O’Dowd and all those Louth fans still moaning about Joe Sheridan’s goal for Meath the last time the Royals won anything of note!
GAA: Sligo great Eamonn O’Hara announced his retirement on Monday from the county team after 19 years of dedicated service. Such are the demands on modern day players that it is unlikely any top player like O’Hara will ever see 10 years in a county jersey again, never mind 19.
RUGBY: Rugby types of my acquaintance are starting to get very excited about the Lions tour to Australia this summer. I think I’ll wait until Leinster win the Amlin Cup on Friday night and the Rabo 12 League the following weekend before losing any sleep over it – if any!
RUGBY: Life’s not getting any easier for Munster fans. They still don’t know if Ronan O’Gara will play next season, and All-Blacks legend Dougie Howlett has confirmed he is definitely retiring due to injury. He will be missed.
RACING: A horse called Bondage won a race at Killarney on Monday evening. I wonder if the name was inspired by the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy which I’m told contains a load of bondage. So I’m told.
HERO OF THE WEEK
LOVE him or hate him, you have to respect the job that Alex Ferguson did at Manchester United. He shook the club from the top to the bottom and transformed the face of English football, never mind Old Trafford. At 71 he deserves to enjoy his retirement, but something tells me he will be around the game he loves for some time to come.
IDIOT OF THE WEEK
WAYNE Rooney wants away from Manchester United, a year after holding the club to ransom over a new contract. Is he a complete idiot? Does he not realize he is already at one of the world’s biggest clubs and earning more money than he will ever need? Or is he worried that David Moyes might hold grudges over their spat at Everton? Rooney should concentrate on what he is best at – playing football – and leave the thinking to others!