A NINE-YEAR trophy drought, calamitous transfer business and European failure would have been hard to stomach at Old Trafford after the glory years of Fergie.
But if Arsene Wenger’s recent record is anything to go by, that could have been Manchester United’s lot had they lured the Frenchman in 2002.
United’s attempts to poach Wenger from Arsenal are revealed by former chairman Martin Edwards in his new autobiography Red Glory: Manchester United and Me.
Alex Ferguson had announced he would be quitting at the end of the 2001/02 season so United approached the Gunners boss.
But Fergie performed a dramatic U-turn in February 2002.
Edwards, though, says he was quietly confident of landing Wenger.
He revealed: “Our first choice was Arsene.
“Since joining Arsenal in 1996 Wenger had been pretty successful, especially in his first full season in charge when he won the Double.
“And while it’s true to say he suffered hard times since, at the time we thought he was the best candidate to replace Alex.
“Certainly he was my number one choice. So we made our approach and Wenger did show a little bit of interest, enough to want to meet Peter Kenyon and me at his house in London to listen to what we had to say.
“In fact, we had a couple of meetings with him and for a while we thought there was a possibility of him joining us.
“But I think Wenger felt loyalty to David Dein.
“He was very close to David and that was the reason he gave us in the end for turning down United.
“He felt he had started something with Arsenal and that his attachment to the club was too great, he didn’t want to break that bond.”
Sven-Goran Eriksson, then boss of England, was even closer.
The Swede agreed terms with Red Devils chiefs before seeing his deal halted as Ferguson made his U-turn.
However, Edwards admits to having reservations over Eriksson’s big-spending approach.
He added: “To be truthful, I wasn’t 100 per cent sure he was the right man for the job.
“Yes, he’d had a bit of success and a good track record, but he’d spent a lot in achieving success. And he was unproven in English club football.”
It was not to be anyway as Fergie changed his mind and led United to further glory.
But although the trophies continued to pour in, it was not always smooth behind the scenes.
Edwards admitted to having a fractious relationship with Fergie at times during his tenure — and their disagreements were normally regarding the manager’s salary.
One bust-up involved Ferguson threatening to BOYCOTT the Wembley walk-out at the 1996 FA Cup final with Liverpool.
Edwards writes: “At the close of the 1994-95 season Alex was still aggrieved over being paid less than George Graham, and although we’d won nothing that year he asked me for another pay rise.
“The issue wasn’t resolved to Alex’s liking. In the days leading up to the FA Cup final in 1996 the question of his salary raised its head again. I left the negotiations to director of football Maurice Watkins and chairman Roland Smith.
“I heard later that things had got very heated and Alex, frustrated at what had been offered, threatened not to perform the manager’s traditional Cup final role of leading his team out on the Wembley pitch.
“I don’t believe there was any real possibility of Alex walking out on United over his pay dispute with us, but I think the FA smelt blood in the water and as a result wanted Alex to replace Terry Venables as England manager.
“A Scotsman managing England! No chance.”
MORE FROM MARTIN EDWARDS’ AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Despite their ups and downs, Edwards is adamant Fergie would not have had the success he did without his backing.
The ex-chairman spent 23 years at the Old Trafford helm, starting in 1980 and overseeing United’s growth into a global superpower.
When he left his role in 2003, they had won eight Premier League titles, six FA Cups and the Champions League — part of the famous 1999 Treble — during his reign. And through financial manoeuvring, such as floating on the Stock Exchange in 1991, United were worth more than £700million by his departure.
He was also the man who brought Fergie to Manchester in 1986, paying a mere £60,000 in compensation to prise the Scot away from Aberdeen.
But despite Ferguson’s brilliance on the touchline, Edwards suggests the legendary boss has a lot to thank him for. He said: “One of my greatest strengths as chairman and chief executive was being a good delegator.
“I appointed people who I thought were right for the job and let them get on with it and didn’t interfere.
“The best example of this was Fergie. I tried as much as I could to give him the tools for the job.
“In the early days Alex and I had a very close relationship.
“After the club floated in 1991 I had to devote more time to the business of the club, so I was pulled away and wasn’t as close to Alex.
“But I was always supportive of what he was trying to do, particularly with the youth and team building, buying players and paying the higher wages that we had to accept eventually.
“I believe the way I supported Alex shows in the results and the trophies we amassed over the years.
“I don’t begrudge Alex any of the plaudits he received — he deserved every one of them. Yet however important his role as manager was, Alex was part of a clearly defined system that helped enable his success.
“Back in 1998, when the club won nothing, I don’t believe any other club at the time would have bought Jaap Stam and Dwight Yorke for a combined sum of £23m.
“When things got tough and our ascendency in the domestic game looked like it was slipping, we had the means and resources to sort it.
“Had we not done that we would never have won the Treble, no matter how good the manager was.”
EDWARDS ON SPENDING
THE accusation has always been United sold out and became overly commercialised — but every club was doing the same.
While I was running United we never had a fairy godmother like Chelsea, where a wealthy individual takes over, throws money around and changes their football fortunes.
Everything we generated was off our own back through good management.
GARY AND PHIL NEVILLE
GARY was youth-team captain and leader on the field but some thought Phil was a better player.
Both were also very good cricketers and Phil captained England at Under-15 level. Ray Illingworth, the former captain and manager, told me he was a certainty to play for England.
I ACTUALLY played a part in the two of them becoming a couple. Simon Fuller, the manager of the Spice Girls, wanted to come to a game. He brought Victoria and Mel C with him, so I escorted them to the players’ lounge and that’s where Victoria met David for the very first time.
ERIC arrived at my office and I explained that if we lost the league he could end up with less — but if we won it he got more.
I asked: “So for the next three years Eric, how many times will we win the league?”
Immediately, he said “three times” That’s how confident he was.
NOT SIGNING ZIDANE
I CAN perfectly understand Alex’s argument at the time for not taking Zidane. Alex couldn’t have known Eric was going to retire. It is very similar to the Lineker situation in Ron Atkinson’s time… but Zidane in the red of United is one of the biggest what-might-have-beens during my tenure at the club.
BOND AND THE GUV’NOR
PAUL INCE was the self-styled Guv’nor, which I don’t think Alex liked at all.
At a pre-season game at Rangers, Sean Connery was there. All the lads wanted to meet him so I took him into the dressing room. He had heard Ince called himself the Guv’nor, so when I introduced them, Sean said to him: “I’d like to meet the Guv’nor . . . is your wife here today?”
EDWARDS ON… VERON
I WAS very disappointed when we bought Juan Sebastian Veron in 2001.
We had won the league and we had Nicky Butt in the reserves. I felt ‘Why spend £28million on a player who costs £5m a year in wages?’
We were breaking the wage structure on a player I didn’t think was necessary.
POACHING RYAN GIGGS
ALEX worked tirelessly to persuade Ryan’s parents, especially his mother, the best home for him was Old Trafford rather than Maine Road.
He was our best prospect since George Best. Everyone talked about Best — and it was the same with Ryan. We knew he was going to be special.
BARGAIN DENIS IRWIN
LOOKING back on my time with Manchester United, I’ve always said my best two buys were Eric Cantona and Peter Schmeichel.
But if I had to pick a third, Denis Irwin would definitely be the one.
He was a fantastic signing — a huge part of the trophies we went on to win throughout the 1990s.
Red Glory: Manchester United and Me by Martin Edwards is published by Michael O’Mara Books
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