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FOOTBALL: Sacked from his last job, out of the game since 2002 and 56 years old... is Walter Smith REALLY the man to revive United?; FORMER RANGERS AND EVERTON BOSS JOINS VERY OLD TRAFFORD.

Byline: David McDonnell

SIR ALEX Ferguson has always taken pride in his clear vision for Manchester United, so the decision to appoint Walter Smith as his new assistant smacks of desperation and panic.

The United boss had all summer and most of this season to appoint a successor to former No.2 Carlos Queiroz, but has decided to act with just 11 games of the domestic season left.

And the calls from fans to United's in-house television station MUTV questioning Fergie's decision to appoint Smith confirmed they, too, feel their manager may no longer know the way forward for the club.

There is no question Fergie's failure to replace Queiroz, who left for Real Madrid, is one of the chief reasons United have struggled this season and find themselves trailing Arsenal by nine points in the Premiership title race.

Yet there is little evidence to suggest that Smith, who has been out of football for two years since being sacked by Everton, has the vision and ideas to save United's season.

What makes the appointment of Smith even more baffling is Fergie's self-proclaimed philosophy of always wanting to drive United forwards with new ideas and perspectives on football.

Queiroz brought such freshness when he arrived at United in the summer of 2002, revolutionising training and insisting the team stay in hotels before every home game as well as those away, to create a closer bond among the players.

But in every sense the appointment of Smith seems like a backward step from Fergie, and a knee-jerk decision with this turbulent season in grave danger of slipping away.

Former United star Lou Macari admitted he was shocked by Smith's appointment and that it was a bold move by Fergie at such a critical stage of the campaign. "It's a surprise because Walter's was never one of the names mentioned in connection with the job," said Macari.

"When things are not going well, as they haven't been for United, sometimes a different voice on the training pitch and in the dugout can help.

"Walter has a lot of experience which he'll bring to the job, but it's difficult to say how he'll do.

"People have been calling for Sir Alex to appoint a new No.2 for some time, which was strange because I thought Mike Phelan was doing a great job and knows this club inside out.

"But if Walter can galvanise the players and get United's season back on track, it will have been a great move by Sir Alex."

On the last two occasions when Fergie has appointed an assistant from within, United have struggled.

While he remains a supreme man-manager and motivator of players, Fergie's tactical acumen is questionable and he has always needed a tactically-astute No.2 by his side.

Confirmation of that came when Steve McClaren left to join Middlesbrough in the summer of 2001.Jimmy Ryan, director of United's youth academy, was promoted to act as Fergie's assistant and United slumped to third, their worst Premiership finish.

And this season, with Phelan having occupied the role all season, United find themselves third in the Premiership and in danger of surrendering their domestic crown to Arsenal.

Smith's arrival appears to have done little to appease United fans and Fergie faces a huge task in convincing them it is the right decision.

The United boss has usually confounded his critics, but it remains to be seen whether Smith's appointment is the act of a desperate manager or an inspired piece of judgment.


TOP ROW: Knox, Kidd, McClaren

BOTTOM ROW: Ryan, Queiroz, Phelan

Archie Knox: Nov 1986 - May 1991

Brian Kidd: May 1991 - Dec 1998

Steve McClaren: Jan 99 - June 2001

Jimmy Ryan (acting assistant): Aug 2001 - May 2002

Carlos Queiroz: June 2002 - June 2003

Mike Phelan (acting assistant): July 2003 - March 2004

Walter Smith: March 2004 - ?


ONLY JOCKING: Smith and Fergie with Scotland in '86; NOT ANOTHER PROBLEM AT THE BACK... Walter Smith plans to show United he is not the oldest swinger in town
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 4, 2004
Previous Article:Football: Cup still a target for Rory.

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