Now, here's a reality show I'd watch: the greatest coach or manager in the world, still at the top of his prowess, suddenly in retirement. Yeah, the Sir Alex Ferguson retirement reality show. Give him some money, turn on the camera and follow him around.
Air the thing. Please.
I'd watch episode upon episode with a backdrop thought, knowing how the shocking news from beneath the brooding skies of northwest England on Wednesday conjured a far different Wednesday 30 months ago beneath the blazing skies of, yep, Qatar.
Then and there, the best manager in the world appeared for an hour-long question-and-answer session at a sports summit in Doha where inevitably somebody asked about retirement, which Ferguson had announced but retracted way back in 2002. And as he neared his 69th birthday in late 2010 he said this:
"Retirement's for young people, not for older people. Because young people can go do something else. If I get off this treadmill, where do you think I'm going? Down there?"
He pointed to the ground.
"Trust me. Retirement's for young people."
I'd watch a show about him because I did trust him on that matter. I really, really trusted him on that matter. I continued trusting him as he seemed to retain every iota of his colossal hunger and energy this past season as he reached age 71 and piloted Manchester United to his 13th English Premier League title. I marveled at his outlier status, that even among coaches and managers his inner furnace seemed uncommonly durable.
Not only did he smolder openly just because people picked crosstown rival Manchester City to repeat as champions -- really, now -- but he oversaw a thumping restoration of Manchester United to its accustomed summit. Not only did he rant when a referee blew a red-card call in a Champions League match, but he took it so hard at 71 that he deemed it unwise to attend the post-match press conference, sending an assistant instead.
If anybody would manage to 80, he would manage to 80. If anyone would go to 85, he would go to 85. That guy? Retiring? Yeah, I'd like to see how that works. See him putter around the house and the yard. Watch him watch Manchester United matches just to see if he still will grimace and scowl and exult half-madly after late-game goals. (I always did think he seemed young when he'd exult.) Wonder if he'll go in the locker room and foam at imaginary players just for nostalgia (even if that penchant apparently dwindled across the years). See if he reads newspapers and growls reflexively at the writers. Check to see if he goes to the horse track even if he doesn't necessarily delve into racehorse breeding as he envisioned a decade-plus ago.
Follow him if he travels abroad, as he once hoped to do with wife Cathy whilst still young enough to do it.
Wonder if he'll follow up on a publicly stated whim from that first retirement of spring 2002 and take up, you know, painting.
Watch him have tea.
Hear him talk and talk, which was so compelling that day in Qatar.
It's not just the 27 seasons, the 13 league titles, the two European Champions League titles, the five FA Cup titles, the four League Cup titles. It's that across those 27 and 13 and two and five and four, he became more than a mainstay. He became a form of bedrock such that the removal seems not only strange but somewhere beyond strange. It did seem almost as if there he'd be for good, in that overcoat, chewing that overworked gum, bespectacled, standing on the touchline, seated in the stands, interminably present.
They don't have to put up a statue of him; there's already one standing there.
All of this makes not only makes Sunday at Old Trafford against Swansea deeply emotional and the following Sunday finale at West Brom just plain weird. This sudden retirement makes for one hell of a frontier, both for overindulged Manchester United fans who ring the planet and for what becomes of this churning inner engine itself. It's telling that two of the highlighted commenters on the BBC website Wednesday came from Azerbaijan and Nigeria, from people who knew Manchester United in the TV-explosion age because of what Ferguson wrought. But even that globalism might not fascinate as much as a grumbling old mastermind still ravenous but stepping off the treadmill, which brings its own set of fascinations and its own bale of questions.
One question did pop up Wednesday in some of the startled reactions of former players. If this emotional announcement of Wednesday morning at the epicenter of the sports world does relate to Ferguson's health, then that would be another matter. In that event, by all means, cancel production.