Manchester United, the most successful English soccer club of the Premier League era, has endured a miserable start to its season and now sits in 12th place—a devastating fall for a club already reeling from its failure to win a title since its legendary manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, retired in 2013.
Now, in a spectacular journalistic coup that is 100 percent real and will probably win numerous awards, The Ringer has obtained the text of an email sent by legendary former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson to his successor and former player, the embattled current United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær, with his thoughts on the state of the Premier League, the current title race, and Sunday’s titanic clash against archrival Liverpool at Old Trafford.
All right, Ole. All right, lad. Sit your chipper little arse down, and let’s the two of us have a nice chat.
To start off: Take a deep breath, son. Calm your nerves. I know you’re expecting me to ship you to hell in a longboat made of shouting, but that’s not what I’m writing this for. Not that I wouldn’t have good reason—I would, and we both know it. Manchester United, the only football club that matters on the face of this swirly blue earth, currently stand at 12th place in the table. Twelfth! That’s 11 spots too low, boy. I spent the best part of my life managing Manchester United, and the only interest I ever had in 12th place was making Liverpool rot in it. Now I’m retired, and you’re the manager of Manchester United. That makes you the ringmaster of this particular three-tent shit circus. And I’ll tell you this, lad. I didn’t spend all those years wrestling this club to the apex of glory just so you and your flaxen bangs could prance in and cock up my legacy.
Have you ever tried wrestling Wayne Rooney to the apex of anything, son? After a pizza and five or six Carlings? He’s a massy bastard, Wayne is, and his natural tendencies aren’t buoyant.
So yes, boy. If I wanted to shout at you, I’d have solemn and mighty justification. They’re saying this is the worst start United have endured in 30 years. Nine points from eight matches! Two points above the relegation zone! I’d call those Burnley figures, only Burnley are five spots above us. If I wanted to peel the skin off your face using nothing but my lungs and the Queen’s English, you’d be staggering skull-headed up the high street with cinders falling out your ear sockets by lunchtime.
But as I said, that’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing this because we have a match against Liverpool on Sunday. That’s right: Liverpool, my immortal enemies; Liverpool, who currently sit first in the table with eight wins from eight matches; Liverpool, who have stolen our glory like a horde of demons clothing themselves in human form to make war in hell’s name on all that is noble and decent. I thought we should have a calm talk about what to do about it; you know, before anyone overreacts.
Take a deep breath, Ole. That’s right. Fill your lungs with a bit of God’s clean air.
It’s a funny thing, retirement. Plays tricks on your perspective. Get some free time, and a couple of health scares in, and one day you notice that you aren’t losing quite as much sleep over whether Phil Jones could find south if you stood him on the North Pole and spun him. You start thinking less in days and hours, more in cycles and seasons, I suppose is one way of putting it. You see the big picture. Maybe you sit in the park and spend an hour watching the geese waddle past. Maybe you make little bets with yourself about how many goals you could train those geese to peck past Arsenal.
Give me five geese, Ole. Five geese right now. I could win the Europa League and then turn around and sell my least essential goose to Florentino Pérez for €22 million. I call that move “the Marca Christmas dinner.”
Or maybe you just sit and read a book. Lately, I’ve been tearing through The Count of Monte Cristo. What a tome that is, boy. What a bloody read. It’s about a young man whose friend betrays him, so for the next several decades, he spends every waking moment plotting and executing a relentlessly comprehensive and unfathomably intricate plan of revenge. Now that’s my idea of a relatable protagonist. They lock this poor fellow up in a prison tower—a dungeon, Ole—and does he panic? Like rust he does. No, he sets his jaw and thinks, come back in 20 or 30 years and see whose throats have been cut, you pea-eaters. Christ’s kneecaps, lad. If only I could have paired Edmond Dantès in midfield with Roy Keane. We’d have been kings of the sun.
Which brings us back to Liverpool. By God’s green mountain, there’s a squad I wouldn’t like to take on with geese alone. I don’t know how it happened, but Liverpool’s body-snatched us—they’ve become the new Manchester United. When I was in charge at Old Trafford, you could ask anybody, “What’s the Premier League club you face in your sweatiest nightmares,” and the answer was easy. Us. And by the same token, you could ask anybody “What’s the once-great Premier League club that glory has passed by like the fading memory of a schoolboy’s first love,” and they’d whistle two or three lines of Rodgers and Hammerstein while looking pointedly in the direction of the Mersey.
Only now it’s all reversed. Liverpool’s running wild, winning European Cups and hanging in the stratosphere with the oil bastards and their flying yachts. And what are we doing? We’re paying £245 for a ticket to watch Nemanja Matic stumble about like a backhoe impersonating a spaniel. We’re remembering the grand old times of 2011 while offering up a sailor’s prayer that we don’t get smashed by Bournemouth. The only bit of good news in my lunch pail at the moment is that “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is their song and not ours. Quite honestly, boy, I’d rather walk alone into the Sahara Desert than stroll to the end of the block with Marcos Rojo.
Jürgen Klopp … I’ll not say I understand what he’s about, but he’s a manager. He’s a manager. You can tell by looking at him. He’s got hard bones. If you want to know who you should give control of the football club to, always look for the fellow who drank a lot of milk as a baby. Could he survive a jump from a third-floor window? Then he can probably teach Luis Longstaff the rudiments of a 4-3-3. I don’t know why it works, but it does. No offense to you, Ole, slender elvish bundle that you are. There’s an exception to every rule. David Moyes looked like you could swing him into a building on the day you ran short of wrecking balls, and we saw how that worked out.
Still, from the calcium point of view, I admire what Klopp is up to. I like a leader with charismatic femurs.
He seems—what’s the word I want here—happy? That’s the bit I can’t fully make out. I’ll be watching him in a match, and he’ll be pacing up and down the touchline, and I’ll be thinking you could cudgel a bear to death with those ulnas, and then the camera’ll go in for a closeup. Now here’s his big bearded mug and the look on his face … what is that? Is it satisfaction? Contentment? He looks like he’s glad to be doing the thing he’s doing, and I’ll think, Did I miss something? Did Salah just score a goal? But no, the score’s still the same. So where’s the deep-seated wellspring of barely contained fury? Where’s the certain knowledge that darkness is coming, and only you and the full force of your will can hold that darkness back? He’s a football manager, Ole—yet I don’t see the true managerial expression on his face.
It’s the internet, is what I think. These days even the iron-boned captains of men look like they spend all their time swapping knock-knock jokes with a Pac-Man machine.
But that’s where we’ll get him, son. That’s the weakness we’re going to exploit. Happy people are like geese, after all. They live in the present. Whereas we, Ole—Manchester United—we know how to take the long view. We understand seasons and cycles. You can’t turn a season in a day. You turn it year by year. You turn it inch by inch. While the geese are basking in the sunshine, you’re plotting in the shadows. You’re thinking. You’re working toward victory by minute increments. You never pause. You never rest. A tweak here. A transfer there. A boot thrown at the head of Jesse Lingard there. It’s like Count of Monte Cristo. You start in the prison tower. You spend every waking moment plotting your revenge. Inexorably and by merciless degrees, you climb out of 12th place. You deliver yourself from the dungeon and into the light of triumph.
So, Sunday, boy. Remember, it’s not about winning the match. It’s about that game of inexorable degrees. It’s about finding and taking advantage of every atom of their weakness, so that even if they think they’ve beaten you, all they’ve really done is taken the next small step toward their own inevitable destruction.
That’s how we win, lad. We bide our time. We harness the full force of our ingenious, malevolent patience. Or at least I do. Frankly, you probably lose to Norwich City next weekend and get sacked. Ultimately, it makes no difference. I’ll have this talk with your successor, and with his successor. Retirement is about having a project, and I’ll be here as long as it takes.
Fond regards, to a certain extent,
Sir Alex Ferguson, CBE, etc.