As he turned 80 on Friday, the colossal shadow cast by Manchester United legend Sir Alex Ferguson still leaves in the shade the Socceroos’ assistant coach, alongside those who preceded him and almost certainly all those still to follow.
Might football ever again bear witness to a figure to rival the erasable and omnipotent Scot?
Not in the imaginable future, according to Socceroos assistant and former Fergie sidekick at Manchester United, Rene Meulensteen, the Dutchman who rode shotgun with the Red Devils overlord for six years, winning four Premier League titles and a UEFA Champions League along the way.
Meulensteen spent a total of 12 years in various guises working in Ferguson’s orbit, and remains agog at how one man could build, dismantle and reconstruct again a team which won 13 EPL crowns, five FA Cups, four League Cups and two Champions Leagues in his enduring 27-year reign.
“You have a new generation in Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp who have their own distinctive styles - but Sir Alex is totally unique, a one-off the likes of which we’ll never see again,” Meulensteen told FTBL.
“He basically built three teams and could have kept going if he’d wanted to … but by 2013 he’d decided he’d had enough.
“He actually had wanted to walk away in the early 2000s but his wife talked him out of it.
“How do you replace him? It’s basically impossible.”
Other than his ability to engender an almost cult-like devotion from mesmerised players, Meulensteen remembers a man who could banter with the tea lady just as easily as he’d converse with the chairman.
He also recalls a visionary who was willing the absorb the input of his assistants in pursuit of incubating future talent and exhorting that extra one or two percent output from players which made the difference between winning trophies or coming up empty.
Meulensteen’s duet with Ferguson heralded the club’s headiest run of success - they were only denied six straight titles by goal difference on one occasion and a single point on other.
Ferguson’s lack of sentiment and ability to sever seemingly close relationships with players for a greater team objective was another of his defining traits.
“Everyone can make decisions - the key is to make the right ones at the right time,” explained Meulensteen.
“Tough calls are part of that, but Sir Alex only ever had one thing in his head - the well being and welfare of the club.
“If things needed refreshing in a certain position he’d make that decision without hesitating. His timing was usually spot on.
“The bottom line with every player he brought in was ‘can this player make a difference for us’.”
Revered as a leader without peer and yet feared simultaneously for his volatile ‘hairdryer’ style, Ferguson provoked his charges into putting their hearts and souls on the line for him.
“He had this way of getting people to give everything for him - you could call it a siege mentality if you like,” added Meulensteen.
“Players knew what the expectations were - but it was all channelled in a positive way in terms of playing attacking, attractive football.
“He was an outstanding man manager, an incredible communicator and a great listener.
“The only pressure you felt was the pressure to continually strive to get better.
“I loved every minute of working with him - he had a lovely sense of humour and would always make you smile.
“He could delegate brilliantly and what he created was unique.
“He’d never get carried away with the highs and never dwelt too much on the lows.”
When Ferguson walked in 2013, Meulensteen was as shocked as anybody.
“The first I knew of it was when I get a message from our video analyst and then it was all over the internet,” he said.
“We got called into the office the next morning when it was all confirmed.
“I’ve no doubt whatsoever had he remained success would have continued to flow because all the structures were already in place right throughout the club.
“Unfortunately things unrivalled quite fast after he went.
“In hindsight everything is easy but for a club the size of Manchester United perhaps they could have given more thought into how they could have better handled that transition.
“I’m not sure how much he’s enjoyed watching Manchester United during his retirement.”