Perch? What Perch? - An Alternate History of Modern Football (1990 - present)

Week One - Post-Fergie Blues
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    10th January 1990


    Manchester United Football Club were rocked yesterday evening as manager Alex Ferguson sensationally quit the club, less than 48 hours after a humiliating FA Cup third round defeat to Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest.

    In a statement released by Manchester United, Ferguson said: "It is with great sadness and personal regret that I have chosen to step down as Manchester United manager, following discussions with Martin Edwards, the chairman, and with members of the coaching staff. It was a pleasure to manage such a historic club and to be a part of its history. Although I would have liked to have been the one to bring success to Old Trafford, this was not the case, however, the framework is in place for my eventual successor to deliver the league title that has eluded the club for the past two decades. I wish everyone involved with Manchester United Football Club the best of luck."

    Ferguson was appointed as United manager amidst much hype, following his exploits with Aberdeen, both in Scotland and in Europe. However, he has not been able to replicate that success at Manchester United, with the club not having won a trophy throughout his tenure, leaving them having spent 23 years without a league championship.

    Speculation is rife as to who will succeed Ferguson. Sources close to the chairman, Martin Edwards say that his preferred option would be an established English manager such as Howard Kendall, recently appointed at local rivals Manchester City or Graham Taylor, who has led successful sides at both Watford and Aston Villa.

    However, other members of the Manchester United board feel that it would be in the club's interests to appoint a former player as manager. Former United full-back, and current Arsenal assistant Stewart Houston is believed to have declared his interest, as has Joe Jordan, currently manager of high-flying Third Division side Bristol City. However, the preferred option of this crop would be Steve Coppell, currently manager of First Division side Crystal Palace, although it is believed that Coppell would be unwilling to leave Palace without the promise of significant funds, which may be unlikely considering the money spent by Ferguson in previous seasons.

    Youth team manager Eric Harrison will take charge of Manchester United on an interim basis until a formal appointment is made.


    In the office of Manchester United chairman, Martin Edwards...

    A knock rings out on the door.

    "Can I come in, Mr Edwards?"

    "Yes, of course."

    In walks Eric Harrison, new interim manager of Manchester United.

    "Eric, I was expecting you sooner or later. How are you finding things so far?"

    "Not too bad, I suppose, there's a bit of a strange feeling around the first team squad-"

    "Yeah, of course, there's bound to be. What were you coming to see me for?"

    "Well, I was wondering when a managerial appointment would be made."

    Edwards sighed. He'd been trying to avoid this conversation for some time. Of course, they'd held talks with prospective new managers, but they couldn't declare anything beyond that. He twiddled his thumbs before giving Harrison an honest response.

    "Well, as things stand, we won't be making a formal appointment until the end of the season. The two targets we have in mind are from outside the club, and they're both attached to clubs."

    "Who are they-"

    "I was getting onto that. We've been informed that the FA won't be renewing Bobby Robson's contract as England manager, and although he's been in talks with clubs overseas, we're confident that he'd abandon those plans to come to Old Trafford. The other one is more tentative, as we know England have been talking to him about replacing Bobby. Terry Venables."

    "And what does this mean for my young lads? We've got a good group of schoolboys together there. We could be missing out on the next generation of stars if I'm not there to monitor their development-"

    "Well, we thought we'd keep the continuity going while you're otherwise occupied. Brian Kidd is going to fill in as youth team manager for the foreseeable future, and we've brought Arnold Muhren back to United to assist him. They're both solid young coaches and they understand the club and its traditions well enough."

    Harrison pondered. Yes, Kidd and Muhren were both talented youth coaches, and they understood the club, but he considered both to be soft touches. Brian Kidd was the notable "nice one" in the youth team dressing room: he probably didn't have the authority to lead them, and Muhren was new to coaching and would likely use Kidd as a blueprint.

    "Anything else you wanted to discuss, Eric?"

    "No, Mr Edwards." He'd keep schtum for now.

    "That'll be all then. And please, call me Martin." Edwards managed a smirk as Harrison left the room, pacified that he'd at least placated one potential backroom malcontent.



    Barclays League Division One

    13th January 1990*

    Aston Villa 2-0 Charlton Athletic
    Coventry City 2-0 Crystal Palace
    Derby County 2-0 Manchester United
    Liverpool 2-2 Luton Town
    Nottingham Forest 3-1 Millwall
    Queens Park Rangers 2-1 Norwich City
    Southampton 2-2 Everton
    Tottenham 1-1 Manchester City
    Wimbledon 2-0 Arsenal

    14th January 1990*

    Sheffield Wednesday 1-1 Chelsea

    * Fixtures are the same with the exceptions of a few results:
    (A) Crystal Palace vs Coventry City which was initially a 1-0 win for Coventry, ends up as 2-0 due to pressure of Steve Coppell being publicly linked with the job at his old club.
    (B) Derby County vs Manchester United was initially a 1-0 loss. I'd factor that the loss of a manager as crucial as Alex Ferguson would have some short term effect, especially considering that interim boss Eric Harrison only had prior coaching experience with youth players and not experienced pros like those in the United set up.
    (C) Wimbledon actually only beat Arsenal 1-0 on this weekend. I'd wager that leaks regarding Stewart Houston's potential interest in the Manchester United job would result in possibly fraught tensions in the Arsenal dressing room, providing a tense backdrop to the game.

    The next update will be posted on Monday night, and will contain updates regarding those currently linked to the Manchester United job, along with arrivals and departures at First Division clubs in January 1990.