With the dust only just settling on the most illustrious managerial career in football, it's been hard to find a bad word written about Sir Alex Ferguson. However, now he's officially retired (a fact confirmed by his participation in a Mexican wave at Old Trafford last week, a far cry from the sour faced, gum chewing demeanour he maintained for the best part of a quarter of a century in the dugout), the time has come to examine some of his lesser moments.
The Alan Smith project
In 2005, Man Utd's resident enforcer/ midfield general/ psychopath (if you're talking to Alf-Inge Håland) Roy Keane called it a day at the club, leading to much speculation as to who Ferguson would bring in to replace him. Few banked on Fergie promoting from within in the form of Alan Smith, apparently based on little more than his love of a rash slide tackle and Man Utd already having plenty of firepower up front, Smith's traditional role.
However, the plan was doomed from the beginning. Smith had an extremely patchy history with injuries by that point (something which has only worsened since), and with the nickname "Smudge", he was never going to strike fear into the hearts of opponents. His tenure in midfield was short-lived, as he starred in a 4-1 defeat to Middlesbrough, before another major injury led to Ferguson "converting him back".
Bébé, Bébé, Bébé no
Ferguson's nous when selling players was legendary, but when it came to buying, he was often a little more suspect. There were huge successes - Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo - but there were some high profile failures too, such as Juan Sebastian Veron. By far the most baffling, however, is the curious case of Bébé. His £7.4m signing fee attracted much interest from those searching for some residue of romance and magic in the game between the sponsors and the spreadsheets, with reports of his troubled childhood and his alleged homelessness just months prior to his sudden discovery evoking memorable rags-to-riches stories of the past.
However, reports soon surfaced that Ferguson had splurged on Bébé without ever seeing him play, and it's a safe bet that he hasn't seen much more of him since signing him. Two solitary league appearances since 2010 is all he has to show for his time at the club.
From Schmeichel to where?
Ferguson reportedly passed up the opportunity to sign Edwin van der Sar after the departure of custodial stalwart and Coronation Street pet Peter Schmeichel. In the intervening six years before the eventual signing of the Dutch number one, United went through keepers faster than Peter Odemwingie down the M40 on transfer deadline day. Ten different keepers tried their hand at keeping net for the Red Devils in the interim, and ranged from the inconsistently brilliant (Fabian Barthez) to the downright diabolical (Massimo Taibi, whose four appearances have furnished blooper reels with enough footage for years to come).
Man Utd's success in the past three years has gone some way to quelling the Newton Heath-inspired protest by fans against their American owner Malcolm Glazer that briefly threatened to hit Hicks and Gillett-sized proportions in 2010. However, any lull in the conveyor belt of trophies that United fans have come to expect could see Glazer's questionable securing of loans against the club's assets again become the focus of much ire.
Where does Ferguson come in? A dispute over the breeding rights for the horse Rock of Gibraltar led to a rupturing of the relationship between Ferguson and key shareholders John Magnier and JP McManus, a breakdown which was supposedly one of the catalysts for their decision to sell to Glazer, something that could prove disastrous to the club in the long run should the doom-mongers be proved right.
We need to talk about Wayne
Ferguson was a notorious disciplinarian, not afraid to kick a boot into a national treasure's face if he felt the situation called for it. He was also an extremely shrewd team builder, unafraid to purge his teams and rebuild them, as he did in 1995 by selling Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis. However, he had one major lapse in both of these regards, and it's one that may yet come back to haunt his successor David Moyes.
Wayne Rooney's public declaration of his desire to leave the club in 2010 would have seen any other player ruthlessly shown the door, but for Rooney, Ferguson assuaged his request for increased wages in order to convince him to stay. However, after a season of indifferent form, Rooney has again asked for a transfer, leaving Moyes with the unenviable decision to either oust the player and make an example of him, or try and persuade him to stay.