Australia to witness start of a new era

No doubt there were tears from some Man United fans when Sir Alex announced his retirement, but for Australian fans it means the chance to witness the birth of a new era.

When Manchester United arrive in July to face the A-League All Stars, they will be without one man, perhaps the biggest star the world-s biggest club has ever had. Fans who have waited so long to see United play in their own backyard will no doubt be heartbroken Sir Alex Ferguson will no longer be leading them.

But they also have the chance to witness something that has not happened in a generation: a new Manchester United manager.

It-s strange to think of Manchester United without Ferguson. For those in their early 20s, it will be almost impossible, as they have known no other. This isn-t just the end of his reign. It is literally the end of an era, with Ferguson the last vestige of what Manchester United and football used to be, now what everyone aspires to be - an all-conquering, global sports brand.

When the Scot took over from Ron Atkinson in November 1986, English football was a different game entirely, barely recognisable from the inescapable, inexhaustable giant it is today.

At that time, English clubs weren-t even allowed to play in Europe, following the events of the Heysel disaster. The government of the day wanted to introduce ID cards for football fans in a draconian response to the threat of violence. And it was another team in red who ruled the First Division, as it was then.

But the introduction of satellite television into UK households and Rupert Murdoch-s money helped fund the breakaway Premier League, Manchester United were the club ready to take full advantage.

After saving his Old Trafford career with an FA Cup win in 1990, Ferguson-s side were on the rise. After a slow start to the first ever Premier League season, the United manager made what some still consider the greatest signing in English football: Eric Cantona, for £1 million, from Leeds United. The enigmatic Frenchman proved to be the spark that lit United-s fuse.

In May 1993, United claimed their first Premier League title - United-s first league championship in 26 years - and the club-s ascension was timed to perfection. Football was more popular than ever and the money started flowing. The club-s historical charm translated into modern success and a marketer-s dream.

After that, it never stopped. I remember the shock when Ferguson splashed out £7m - £7 million! - to buy Andy Cole from Newcastle. It felt like the world had gone mad. But it was only the beginning.

For all his working class roots, Ferguson-s desire for success and seemingly infinite need for competition was the driving force behind United-s world domination, both on and off the field. He understood the potential of United-s economic expansion and even while the game has evolved around him, his ability to build a great football team and instil them with the kind of belief that wins championships hasn-t faded.

Everyone else has fallen by the wayside. The players who turned on him soon found themselves shown the exit by the true legend of Old Trafford. The fans who called for his support when the Glazers mortgaged the club to the hilt to buy it, slowly caved as Ferguson showed them the trophies would keep coming. The opposition players and managers, the referees, the media pundits - they-ve all faded. What else can you do? There is just no arguing with that level of success.

And after his botched planned retirement more than 10 years ago, he leaves on his own terms and, yet again, as a champion.

And so we get a unique opportunity to welcome the new man, looking more and more like Everton manager David Moyes. It is a surprisingly sensible decision from United, opting for a long-term commitment from a manager, cut from the same cloth as Ferguson, who deserves his chance, rather than enter the big-name Euro-super coach merry-go-round. As always at United, you can be in no doubt as to who had most influence on this decision.

Whatever you think of showpiece games, this will be an event to remember. One you-ll be telling your kids about in years to come. Let-s just hope the referee on the night gives us a few extra minutes of “Fergie-time”, just for old times- sake.