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The not-so-merry-go-round

Sir Alex Ferguson's lengthy tenure at a single club will never be beaten - certainly not at Manchester United and probably not at any other top-flight club.

In the precarious world of football managers, long-term survival is a rarity - and Ferguson helped to make it that way

The near constant turnover of coaches at Premier League football clubs is often described as the "managerial merry-go-round". This has never made sense to me. In my experience, funfair carousels always slow to a gradual halt before every rider climbs safely down, to be replaced by another set of thrill-seekers.

On a merry-go-round run by football people, however, individual riders would be plucked from their wooden horse while the ride was still spinning, probably hooked around the neck by one of those extra-long shepherd's crooks traditionally used to drag unfunny comedians off stage.

The unseated rider - this week Blackburn's Sam Allardyce, last week Newcastle's Chris Hughton, next week quite possibly West Ham's Avram Grant - still nursing a sore neck and a deep sense of shame, would then have to seek a free horse and leap on to its saddle, mid-spin.

While undoubtedly fun to watch, this would be no way to run a fairground ride. The health and safety watchdogs would shut you down before you could say "personal injury lawyer".

All the same, there is one man who would not mind saddling up the wooden steed and gripping its gilded pole.

Sir Alex Ferguson has never felt a tug on his neck in nearly a quarter century of managing Manchester United, even though the Old Trafford mob were baying for the hook after his first three inglorious years.

I wonder how many of those who held aloft the infamous "Ta-ra Fergie!" banner in December 1989 would admit to their folly at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge tomorrow, when their Dear Leader edges past Sir Matt Busby to become United's longest-serving manager, at 24 years, one month and 14 days.

This achievement will never be beaten - certainly not at Manchester United and probably not at any other top-flight club.

The only managers with an outside chance of lasting more than a quarter-century are Arsene Wenger (14 years at Arsenal) and Everton's David Moyes (nine years at Everton), but one suspects the carousel is now too fast and its horses too slippery even for those two. Wenger will eventually be unseated by a combination of advancing age (he is 61) and retreating glory, while Moyes will get the chop when Everton inevitably succumb to foreign ownership, and some Indonesian tuna magnate decides he would like to see Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan in charge at Goodison Park.

Or he might just hop straight on to Fergie's horse, when the time comes.

So let's salute Sir Alex but, before we prostrate ourselves at his grand old feet, we should consider two things.

Firstly, it was his belligerent personality which fuelled the feud - over a horse, ironically, albeit a non-wooden one, called Rock Of Gibraltar - which led to Manchester United being taken over by the Glazier family.

This paved the way for a rash of football club buy-outs, often debt-leveraged, often by people who do not understand football's soul. Such people love to wield the hook, as Sam Allardyce discovered this week.

Secondly, Sir Alex's hostile attitude to the media, aped by other managers, has helped to create a state of permanent combat between the two sides.

This tension means the media are never slow to demand a manager's sacking.

So, yes, Fergie can ride that nasty merry-go-round, no question. But he played a part in making it so.

Published: December 18, 2010 04:00 AM

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