The Power of Phil: Replace Fergie with Phil Brown
This first appeared on ESPN Soccernet.
Sir Alex Ferguson is reportedly interested in signing 15-year-old attacker Jordan Ibe from Wycombe Wanderers, building the foundations of another cycle at Manchester United. That he is looking at a player unlikely to make a full debut for at least another three years suggests he won’t be moving on any time soon, but this doesn’t stop speculation on his potential successor continuing.
Jose Mourinho has the strength of personality to make a clean break from Ferguson. Carlos Queiroz is friends with Jorge Mendes – a must if a club are to make significant purchases. Pep Guardiola plays the most sophisticated football of the modern era, which plays to those under the misapprehension that Manchester United are an attacking side these days.
All three would ordinarily be worthy candidates, and it would not be a surprise if they were given the chance to take over. However, should any of them get the gig, it’s a grand mistake. Consistently overlooked, there’s a genius who is rarely discussed. If there’s someone who deserves another shot at the big time, and particularly at England’s biggest club, it’s Phil Brown.
Phil Brown is a man with a proven record of success. Well, he’s never been relegated. From the Premier League. Most people forget it, but Hull City were in a position to maintain top-flight status when he was put on gardening leave. The club had plenty of winnable games left. Iain Dowie replaced him, and at the time pointed to his track record to justify the appointment. An error, obviously: Dowie had been relegated as a player and manager many, many times. It was his ticket with Alan Shearer that took Newcastle down, saving Hull City, and he inevitably delivered relegation at the KC Stadium. Phil Brown was a man who kept Hull City up on a tight budget in his only complete Premier League season, and was betrayed by his chairman. Taking over Manchester United would surely set the record straight on his abilities as a manager.
A Manchester United manager needs a strong, unique spirit. Jose Mourinho is his own man, but has built that reputation on a basis of consistent, high-level success. An unusual season for Mourinho is one without a trophy. His self-belief is now a by-product of continued achievement. Phil Brown’s confidence is such that he doesn’t need trinkets and trophies to take firm decisions in a crisis. He’s assured of his own greatness regardless of events. This man inspires through motivational osmosis.
Nowadays, a Manchester United manager has to work within the new constraints of Glazernomics, spending big on potential and making the most of bargains. Ferguson has certainly bought the former in the devastating beauty of Fabio and Rafael, and the Sapphic delights of Javier Hernandez. He remains capable of securing the finest young players, but at the other end of the age spectrum, his relatively recent signing of Michael Owen is a disappointment.
Contrast that with Phil Brown. On one of the smallest Premier League budgets, he was capable of delivering a Brazil international, Geovanni. He transformed this player to end years of playmaking inertia as his career stagnated, and transformed him into Geovanni who scored beautiful free-kicks to secure vital points.
With this in mind, imagine how Phil Brown would reignite Michael Owen if just afforded the opportunity chance. When Owen signed for Manchester United, it was Hull City who were the other club in for him. Phil Brown, Alex Ferguson, both after Michael Owen: forgive the cliche, but great minds think alike.
The mind hasn’t waned. Watching Phil Brown a fortnight ago, training with his Preston side, it was impossible not to think about what the public have been missing. He was taking part in a gruelling regime with the army with his Preston North End squad. Jock Wallace’s practice of watching pre-season with a demented, cruel glare is not for him. Phil Brown mucks in – he’s happiest when he’s with the players, one of the team.
Contrast this with Jose Mourinho’s excommunication of Arjen Robben when he suffered a run of injuries. Furthermore, Ferguson can command respect using his years of success, and Guardiola can simply point to two Champions Leagues, but they still maintain a Curzon Line between player and manager. Phil Brown is a different specimen, a risk-taking maverick willing to sublimate his ego in the quest for team spirit.
If you don’t believe in his inspirational powers, consider his last attempt to raise the morale of his players in their final season in the Premier League. Taking a stroll around Hull city, the story goes that the squad came across a woman ready to commit suicide on the Humber Bridge. It’s claimed that Phil Brown talked her back to safety, using his noted spiritual insight and persuasion. If Barcelona are so clear of any other side in terms of both team spirit and technical ability, it must be that only Phil Brown’s mind games can deliver a similar mentality, the only man capable of getting within touching distance of the Catalan side.
Phil Brown: at Hull City, betrayed by those closest to him, and a man who performed Lazarus-like resurrection upon Geovanni. He delivered success on such a tight budget – to which the only comparable achievement is the Feeding Of The 5,000. It’s not for me to say that Phil Brown is the reincarnation of Christ – I’ll leave the decision with you – but there’s plainly no other choice when it comes to replacing the other Big Man Upstairs.