What Pep Guardiola can learn from Sir Alex Ferguson and Man Utd in the art of dynasty-building
was the master of subtly rebuilding his squad time and again. It was arguably the most important facet of his vast expertise which afforded the Scot the longevity that propelled him to such greatness.
Ferguson would, for example, only allow - sometimes reluctantly, sometimes out of spite - his key players to leave for European or domestic rivals in dribs and drabs. One year, he managed to convince Cristiano Ronaldo to stay for an extra 12 months when the forward initially informed Ferguson he wished to leave for Real Madrid, so as not to badly affect the equilibrium of the current group.
Equally, while Ferguson was no doubt fortunate to inherit the Class of ’92 - as they would later become known - Nicky Butt, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes had already enjoyed long spells in the first-team the season before Alan Hansen insisted United would never win anything with kids when David Beckham and Co joined them.
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While they did win plenty for years with that exorbitantly talented bunch of academy offspring, they would not have won any of it without the parts carefully assembled around them, and the precise, gentle management of the squad as it ebbed and flowed through the years.
Just as Manchester City find themselves painfully far behind Premier League leaders Liverpool, Ferguson had to use his knowledge and guile to haul United out of similar troughs.
When they finished third, 10 points behind winners Arsenal in 2002, in a rare trophy-less campaign, Ferguson did not panic. Rio Ferdinand was his only significant signing that summer and while it was for a British record fee, they won the title the following season and Ferdinand would go on to be one of the world’s best defenders for more than a decade.
In 2005, it was even worse. They finished third, a staggering 18 points behind Chelsea, experiencing another trophy-less season that was a greater cause for concern as it was a second out of three.
As though having already sensed the true threat of Roman Abramovich’s billions when the Russian bought the club two years previously, and the need to rebuild an ailing squad for the long-term, Ferguson’s signings were magnificent.
Teenage sensation Wayne Rooney arrived at the start of Chelsea’s runaway season, in 2004. Ronaldo was already there from the year before, still with a few too many stepovers and little end product to his game but bedding in. The summer of 2005, Edwin Van Der Sar and Park Ji-Sung followed.
Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra arrived in the January - who at £7m and £5.5m respectively were bargains even by mid-2000s standards - to sort out a suspect defence. So they were settled by the start of the following season. Michael Carrick was brought in that summer to replace Roy Keane, who had departed the year before.
So two years after finishing almost as far behind Chelsea as City trail Liverpool now, United were back at the top of English football, where they would stay for two more seasons and around the level they would stay until Ferguson left.
What Ferguson possessed was that unteachable sixth sense: the ability to see a squad of players as a single, living, breathing mass, as opposed to a bunch of surprisingly highly strung individuals.
If Pep Guardiola wants to reach Ferguson levels of managerial greatness, being able to mould and regrow his squad is the next challenge for him.
Guardiola, of course, has his own legend. Four years at Barcelona. Three at Bayern Munich. Nearly four now in the Premier League. Countless records and trophies. But jumping ship this summer, at the first sign of a few bucketfuls of water appearing on deck, will not help his reputation rise further.
Some might argue it is a different era to Ferguson’s and that in the Internet Age things happen at such an alarmingly fast rate that the long-term manager can no longer exist.
"I am a club man, but [a] many clubs man,” Jose Mourinho said in his first press conference as Tottenham Hotspur manager, acknowledging that his tally of clubs is increasing. But that was after Mourinho had tried - and failed - at United to become a dynasty manager, like Ferguson and Arsene Wenger.
Won’t it take someone of Guardiola’s undoubted brilliance - possibly genius - to affect change? Does it not need a Guardiola to make the seemingly impossible now possible?
When Lionel Messi, who thrived under Guardiola, publicly shared his discontent with the Barcelona hierarchy last week it was inevitable that a club with the bank balance of City’s owners would be linked to him. It would be a story if Manchester City were not interested in an available Lionel Messi.
But reaching for the cheque book for established, out-of-this-world stars will not take Guardiola to the next level as a manager. Offering Messi a deal larger than the GDP of a small country will not prove anything.
Liverpool have spent fortunes to build this current squad which are blowing away the rest of the Premier League under Jurgen Klopp, but they have spent wisely: Sadio Mane (£34m from Southampton), Roberto Firmino (£29m from Hoffenheim) and Mohamed Salah (£34m from Roma) have formed that indomitable triumvirate.
Other shrewd signings have joined them: Fabinho (£40m from Monaco), Andrew Robertson (£8m from Hull), Georginio Wijnaldum (£25m from Newcastle).
Ferguson made plenty of those types of signings, can Guardiola when he needs them most?
Does Guardiola have some of Ferguson’s inner humility to accept that experiments haven’t worked (Juan Sebastian Veron) or relationships are irretrievable (Jaap Stam)? Players who could conceivably go include Leroy Sane, John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi, Benjamin Mendy. Are even Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez too inconsistent to be relied upon?
David Silva has already confirmed he will be leaving in the summer and maybe Ferguson would have decided that Gundogan and Mahrez were good enough for the time being so as not to rock the boat too violently in one summer. Cut them adrift in a year or two's time.
And what of the young players Ferguson was blessed with? Guardiola has Phil Foden displaying the patience of a Venus Flytrap, and to think he could have had Jadon Sancho, too.
Guardiola's next move will determine if he continues as a source of temporary success at football clubs, or if he challenges himself to reach Ferguson's greatness.