Since retiring in 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson has continued to cast a shadow over Old Trafford. Although in the first year he did his best to stay away and out of the limelight, it was inevitable that David Moyes' actions would be compared to his predecessor.
Moyes and van Gaal were still in Ferguson's shadow
The fact that Moyes was unable to restructure the team in such a short space of time meant that it was Ferguson's players that Moyes ultimately failed with. There were suggestions that he was a hindrance to Moyes, but in truth the job was too big for someone without experience of the workings of such a massive club.
Louis van Gaal had the CV and had the ego to not get worried by the spectre of Sir Alex's achievements and if there was a suggestion of interference, he would not have stood for any of it. He was his own man, and he did things his way. Yet the fact he was unable to prepare a team to play with any style meant that there was again a lot of reflecting back to the 'good old days'.
One thing that van Gaal did do was to secure the first trophy in the post-Fergie era. That was quite an important achievement because, although the players who served under Sir Alex knew what winning was about, there were a few new signings that didn't. He wasn't able to build on that success, because the playing style and inability to challenge for the title had already sealed his fate.
Until Sir Alex managed to end United's wait for a league title, a succession of managers had failed to manage the burden of expectation, and the presence of Sir Matt Busby weighed too heavily. Tommy Docherty won the FA Cup, but off-field matters prevented him from returning United to the pinnacle, and Ron Atkinson won two FA Cups, but couldn't get close to the holy grail.
United are on their third permanent manager since Ferguson left, and history is threatening to repeat itself. Where Sir Matt was the added pressure, Sir Alex now is. However, it is clear already that Jose Mourinho is going to be his own man. The Ferguson era has officially ended and a certain agent, Mino Raiola, is the proof that Ferguson will only enjoy a watching brief from here on in.
The last time Raiola was involved in a United transfer deal, it was to whisk Paul Pogba away from the club. Whatever the reason for Pogba's exit, the clash between Raiola and Ferguson was a major part. Ferguson said that he and Raiola were like "oil and water". Raiola has never really been particularly complimentary about the club, and less so to Sir Alex.
Ferguson would not have had anything to do with Raiola, but Mourinho has no such issues. The long, drawn out saga involving Zlatan Ibrahimovic ran and ran, but despite some coyness from both Raiola and Ibrahimovic, United was his destination. That Raiola is back in the corridors of power at Old Trafford once, shows that any Ferguson hangovers are a thing of the past.
Though it isn't going to be once. It will be at a minimum twice. Raiola has been fighting tooth and nail with Borussia Dortmund to ensure that his client, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, can seal a move to United and it looks to have worked. Dortmund have announced the deal, though United are still tight lipped. During the discussions Raiola described the move as a "once in a lifetime" opportunity for the Armenian. The tides, they are a changing.
Pogba wouldn't happen under Sir Alex
It is the third potential deal that will really ensure that Sir Alex's era is well and truly a thing of the past. There is mounting speculation that United are prepared to pay £80 million to bring back Pogba to Old Trafford. There is no way on earth Ferguson would be in agreement with such a move, but it appears that is what is potentially about to happen.
When you crossed Ferguson, there was no way back. It is clear that Mourinho does not care what happened in the Fergie era. He is making statements with these signings, and potential signings that this is the Mourinho era. Dispensing with Ryan Giggs showed there is no room for sentiment, and that is also another tie to Sir Alex severed. He is getting things done in his own juggernaut fashion. He is looking forward, not backwards.
So far, considering he has hardly started work officially, he has made a huge impression. It is very much Mourinho's United now. There may be a few players carried over from Sir Alex's tenure, but his influence is being eroded in spectacular fashion. What Mourinho needs to do now to completely consign Sir Alex to history is to deliver the title. If he doesn't, then the man from Govan will not be to blame.