It is going to be a strange reality watching the Premier League kick-off without Sir Alex Ferguson standing on the sideline for the fans and equally so for Sir Alex himself.
Writing the official foreword to the Barclays Premier League 2012/2013 season review, Sir Alex was candid about how we will miss the beautiful game, what United means to him on a deeper level and how he is happy to have left United in the position he did.
“Football has been my life and I have had the privilege to be involved in an absolutely fantastic football club in Manchester United.
The fans, the players, my staff – all of them have contributed to something truly remarkable. The trophies we have won, the wonder goals from the wonderful players, the amazing matches we have been involved in, and those dramatic comebacks I remember so fondly now – all of them have to be set in the context of the club and the contribution it has made to English football.
Many things have changed in the game since my arrival from Aberdeen in November 1986, not least the levels of interest and scale of exposure. At times it is unbelievable the amount of column inches generated from one incident in a match or during the course of a season. But on the whole English football is in a much better place than it was 27 years ago.
Across the leagues, stadiums weren’t what they should have been, the development of players was nowhere near as advanced as it is now, those controlling the game couldn’t give the TV rights away, fans weren’t treated properly and what interest there was in football from government was negative.
There are some with rose-tinted glasses who think football was great a generation ago but nostalgia plays strange tricks with the mind. Back then, football’s role in the cultural make up of the country was arguably in decline. It was a great shame given the joy and life-affirming attributes it gives to me and thousands of others, week in, week out.
Manchester United, perhaps more than any other club, has symbolised the transformation of the English game during the Premier League years.
The club’s commitment to investment at every level shines through.
Top-class players, both purchased and developed; wonderful facilities at Old Trafford and Carrington for players and fans; community programmes that place us at the heart of the community locally and farther afield – the club has set a standard in the Premier League that others strive to better. Sometimes they manage to!
Those challenges, season after season, spur the best on to be better. In my time, challengers have come and gone. Some have remained and some have even returned for another go. But competition is healthy and it is what sets this league apart from others in Europe.
You know that no team is going to give you an easy match. The quality and entertainment of the football in the Premier League has increased year on year. It was always getting harder to go out and win the title, to find the right mix of players – youth, experience and attitude.
After the trophies, both domestic and European, my proudest achievement is the culture of youth development that we created in the best traditions of Matt Busby’s vision for the club. Wonderful players like Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville set the standard, but there have been and will be plenty more.
There has been a Manchester United Academy graduate in every one of my teams. Our Under 21s won the inaugural Barclays U21 Premier League this season with eight players from within 21 miles of Old Trafford. This is the type of commitment to progressing home grown players that the Elite Player Performance Plan will deliver.
There are talented boys throughout this country and given the right training, environment and opportunity there is no reason why the whole English game can’t benefit from the hard work and investment of the clubs.
I have enjoyed my last season, and not just because we won the Premier League for the thirteenth time. But there was no luck in the way in which we secured the title.
We did it the right way: good young players combining with and learning from some of the best the Barclays Premier League has ever seen; strong team performances and a never say die attitude – it says something that we came from behind to win 29 points this season.
And the crowds – absolutely tremendous. The send-off I received at The Hawthorns on the final season was great, but my final match at Old Trafford is something neither I nor my family will ever forget.
The Premier League is known the world over for the passion and knowledge of its fans as well as the atmosphere in the grounds.
Not just Old Trafford – the trips to Goodison, St James’, Anfield and White Hart Lane amongst others always produced fantastic support. It’s part of the history and tradition of the English game that drives its success today.
I miss all of it. But I will enjoy watching the Barclays Premier League continue to develop, producing more wonderful seasons, fantastic sides, high drama, attracting and producing great players. Above all else I am a fan.”