'Staggering' Ferguson will continue to bridge the generation gap at Manchester United
More than a third of managers in professional football are 45 or younger, 35 to be exact, the largest number in history. In the case of Sir Alex Ferguson, therefore, 71 is the new 45. And he shows no signs of slowing, which is a huge disappointment to the League Managers Association chief executive, Richard Bevan, who has big ideas for the Manchester United overlord the moment he blows the final whistle at Old Trafford.
Housed in the LMA's new offices at St George's Park, Bevan is busy rolling out a raft of educational programmes and courses aimed at establishing England's headquarters as a world leader in the training of young managers and coaches. Ferguson is a keen supporter of the initiative and can expect to see his involvement grow when he is no longer chewing furiously on the touchline, although that will not be in the immediate future. Ferguson this week quashed speculation that he might retire if United win a record 20th title this season, saying that he intended to carry on " for a bit of time".
Bevan has more than 80 LMA members out of work. The job 'life' expectancy of a coach in the lower divisions is 11 months. Yet Ferguson rolls into his seventies at the helm of an empire he has controlled for more than a quarter of a century.
"Staggering," Bevan said. "I am not aware of any profession that does not see age as a problem. I'm told at Deloitte you have to finish at 60.
"Managing at 71 is extraordinary, with all that it entails. The thing that strikes me most of all about Alex Ferguson is his passion and his ability to work hard. That is a skill that people don't recognise fully. In him it is immense. His adaptability to deal with the different eras is also extraordinary. And remember, he is managing Manchester United, arguably the most high-profile club in the world. That is a credit to the back-room team and directors of the club, and the way that Alex has handled the ownership issues and his relationships with the key personalities at his club.
"He knows everybody. He often refers to Jock Stein as a one-man university when talking about management styles but the way that he has modernised his thinking in the making of big decisions is something that a lot of managers have been able to learn from. It is often said that great leaders have a passion for people and Alex has that."
Bevan drew a distinction between the gladiatorial figure in the big match arena and the philosophical, deeply principled supporter of the LMA. "From an LMA perspective I speak to him quite a lot about the development of coaches and managers around the country.
"He is absolutely key to the work we are doing at St George's Park. He drives it in so many respects, along with the likes of Howard Wilkinson, Roy Hodgson and David Moyes. His credibility, knowledge, leadership are key factors in building the affinity of this organisation. When people know Alex Ferguson is involved with a project you don't tend to have many problems getting others onside."
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