Neil Humphreys: Put football first or be left behind, Man United
Red Devils must listen to Ferguson, not accountants
Manchester United's greatest success is also their biggest problem. Sir Alex Ferguson is still around. He's the ghost that keeps on giving grief to everyone in the boardroom.
He was in the dugout yesterday, as the Red Devils' Treble-winning stars played a charity match against Bayern Munich, reminding everyone inside Old Trafford of what United once were.
With Ferguson, the Red Devils were used to winning - collecting the superior Treble of the Champions League, English Premier League and FA Cup in 1999 - and 35 other titles.
Under vice-chairman Ed Woodward, United win lucrative sponsorship deals with official noodle partners in Asia.
And that interminable struggle between football men and finance men appears to be at a tipping point. Someone, somewhere, has clearly had enough.
On the day that Fergie's Treble winners took hopeless romantics on a giddy trip down memory lane, a story popped up in the Daily Mail (and later picked up in other British media).
Fergie wanted Mauricio Pochettino to succeed Jose Mourinho, according to the report. Fergie didn't fancy Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as full-time manager. Fergie wasn't consulted on football matters any more.
Fergie was out of the picture.
Woodward ran the club from top to bottom, a point underlined by those noodle, tyre and paint sponsors, along with the £52 million (S$90m) lavished on Fred.
The football men had lost. The financiers had won and Fergie's frustrations found their way into the newspapers on the very day that a nostalgic Old Trafford remembered the most successful side in the club's history.
As clandestine operations go, the revelations rivalled a classic CIA "black op", planting a story through a high-ranking "source" to influence the masses.
At the time of writing, the story hadn't been confirmed or denied, but still managed to say out loud what everyone else was thinking.
The Red Devils are a mess, an unmitigated disaster, reduced to tabloid tittle-tattle to get their longstanding grievances aired in public.
If Ferguson genuinely feels neglected by the fading empire that he once created, then it's a tragedy. If Woodward really has ignored the counsel of Ferguson and anyone else who has been in the dressing room in anything other than a business suit, then it's a comedy.
If both sides are leaking stories, then it's a farce.
Even at the height of his managerial powers, Ferguson was known to play favourites in the media, relying on a chosen few to get any desired messages across to his various foes.
And the Red Devils still find themselves in the invidious position of dealing with an abdicated king. Managers are often considered football royalty with one obvious difference. Royals die, but coaches retire. The awkwardness lingers.
Liverpool didn't know what to do with Bill Shankly after he retired, choosing to give him almost no power - a grudge he bore to the very end.
United sought to learn from their rivals' mistake by giving Sir Matt Busby his own office, a say in recruitment and an omnipresent shadow that overwhelmed almost every successor until Ferguson.
So a compromise was attempted with Ferguson. He was more than a club ambassador, but less than a director of football. His advice was always there, if wanted, but he had no influence in day-to-day matters.
Ferguson was, in essence, neither here nor there.
And now, at the age of 77, Ferguson looms over Woodward like the Grim Reaper, reminding the vice-chairman of his failure to maintain a fading empire.
No wonder Woodward reportedly doesn't want Ferguson around and avoids discussing football matters with a manager who lifted 38 trophies.
It's no surprise they are rarely photographed together either. The symbolism would be too hard to miss. The football man represents the club's past. The finance man represents the club today.
Ferguson certainly isn't infallible. He saw a younger incarnation of himself in David Moyes and ended up damaging the credibility of both himself and the club.
But equally, he had a private lunch with Pochettino in 2016 and publicly expressed his admiration for the coach. His suggestion that United delay hiring Solskjaer, in the hope of tempting Pochettino, allegedly went ignored.
Ironically, it appears that Solskjaer's appointment wasn't a return to Ferguson's philosophy, but a rejection of it.
Woodward isn't obligated to listen to a 77-year-old retiree, but the banker's insistence on overseeing managerial appointments and player transfers clearly isn't working either.
United's inner circle of accountants aren't qualified to make the right decision on a manager any more than Ferguson is qualified to secure a lucrative deal with the club's official mattress and pillow provider.
At some point, Manchester United must decide what kind of football people they want to listen to, if they want to remain a serious football club.