By Jonathan Birchall
Take a walk around Carrington this season and you won't bump into Sir Alex Ferguson. You won't see picture after picture of the former Manchester United manager in the hallways or hear him chatting to staff in the canteen.
On the contrary, in fact, Ferguson has been to United's training ground only once since retiring after a quarter of a century at the club last year, on David Moyes' first day in the job on July 1. The most successful manager in British football history introduced his successor to staff, gave him a brief tour of the complex and left for good.
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Sources close to both men insist that recent contact between the pair has been initiated by Moyes, who described Ferguson as a "great sounding board" after his side's Capital One Cup defeat to Sunderland on Tuesday. The 71-year-old, who chose the former Everton man as the man to continue his legacy, feels it is vitally important that he doesn't interfere.
It is rather different to the arrival afforded to Ferguson and his immediate predecessors at Old Trafford, who shared the same tobacco-scented corridors as Sir Matt Busby, who kept an office for decades after retiring from the dugout and settled, like Ferguson, into directorship.
Yet as Moyes' side slipped to their third defeat in a row at the Stadium of Light and the television cameras focused on Ferguson, Sir Bobby Charlton and Bryan Robson watching on stony-faced, it was easy to cast the ex-United boss as the ghost haunting the man who replaced him, his mere presence alone interfering in the side that is no longer under his control.
That, however, lets Ferguson, Moyes and a woefully under-performing squad off the hook. The weight of history is great at a club like United, but not enough to flatten Premier League champions into a complete and utter shambles in eight months. There are far greater factors at play.
Moyes was at pains to effectively exonerate his predecessor in an interview with MUTV on Friday, in which he shot down any suggestion that Ferguson's presence at matches is making his job more difficult.
"It tells you that people don't know me and don't know Sir Alex," he told the club's in-house TV channel. "People are saying it because they have no idea about how it works."
Those looking to attack Ferguson should look to the pitch, rather than the stands, if they're aiming to question how great his legacy actually is.
Three of United's four most frequently used defenders for the best part of eight years are no longer reliably fit for purpose on a consistent level. It is highly likely that Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra could leave the club this summer without replacements in the squad who are able to consistently challenge at the highest level.
In midfield, Ferguson, inexplicably, never got round to signing the central midfielder that the club have so obviously needed throughout the last decade and retired having systematically destroyed his relationship with Wayne Rooney, who has proved under the careful stewardship of Moyes this season that he remains the club's greatest asset.
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And over Robin van Persie, the man who effectively brought Ferguson his glorious, title-winning finale at Old Trafford, huge question marks remain. Privately, the striker is known to be incredibly disappointed over his former manager's decision to retire only a year after he joined the club from Arsenal.
"Robin definitely feels a little betrayed after Sir Alex kept his intention to retire a secret after he signed and although he has trained very professionally, dealing with his injury problems, he has been clearly unhappy around the club since," a Carrington source told Goal.
As United's squad has been increasingly exposed this season, it has become common consensus that Ferguson got out at the right time. There are suggestions from those close to him that he had in fact wanted to leave a year earlier until Sergio Aguero and a certain late goal against QPR forced him to change his plans.
That is not to say, of course, that Moyes' failures stem solely from being left scorched earth by the man who chose him for the job. He and United have not been close to good enough.
The suggestion from many of those in and around Carrington is that the former Everton boss has been clearly overawed by the enormity of managing a club where a defeat, any defeat, dominates the news agenda.
His lamentable transfer window last summer and unpopular, uninspired tactics have merely added to what always seemed to be a near impossible job from the outset. He, his staff and his squad must improve.
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