I'm not going to go on about Alex Ferguson here. That's a promise. I think we can all agree that the last few days have been a bit like one of those overly long ceremonial occasions, some grand and gruelling commemoration that is required to go on for absolutely ages for fear of somehow underplaying its emotional import.
Naturally nobody wants to break ranks on these occasions, even if Ferguson probably would have preferred in the end just to slip down the back stairs and find an open window to skip through. And so much of the week, and indeed much of this weekend, must be spent adopting at all moments an attitude of unflinchingly respectful public solemnity, like the Queen being forced to listen to Toploader for hours on a balcony because it's her birthday.
So, none of that here. I am instead going to go on about Arsène Wenger, who as of this week is not only all set to become the longest serving current Premier League manager but the longest serving Premier League manager by an absolute mile. At the start of the week the stickability charts went like this: 1. Ferguson (26 years) 2. Wenger (17 years) 3. David Moyes (11 years) 4. lots of other men who all seem likely to be sacked soon (various). By the end of next week the order of Premier League longevity will be: 1. Wenger (17 years) 2. Tony Pulis NEW ENTRY (seven years) 3. Roberto Martínez NEW ENTRY (four years). 4. Lots of other men who all seem likely to be sacked soon (various).
It doesn't stop there either. Should managerial departures run as widely predicted, by the end of the close season there could be as many as 17 managers in the top division who have been in place for no more than two years, perhaps the most unsettled managerial landscape in the history of the top division.
All headed up by Wenger, right out there on his own stalking the edge of his gloomy place, quilted gown drawn tight, newly appointed father of the managerial house. This is a turn of events worth noting its own right. Once a deeply futuristic creature, cast by the English media on his arrival as a kind of time travelling space-polymath, striding from his capsule bearing armfuls of spaghetti, Wenger has in his late years managed to become instead the last surviving managerial dinosaur.
Wenger now seems an oddly poignant figure, an example of touchingly desiccated modernity, the managerial equivalent of your parents' lovingly maintained walnut-trim remote control VCR. There may even be a perception of associated vulnerability. Wenger and Ferguson were so obviously entwined for so many years that without his Premier League life-partner there is a chance English football's lone remaining long-distance merchant might now find himself caught in open country. It has always been a part of the role, right from the birth of the manager during football's late-Victorian boom, to act as a kind of human lightning rod, a patsy to the crowds, shielding board and owners from the assorted excitements inspired by this fevered public pastime. It seems a little embarrassing to admit it but in their shared span Ferguson and Wenger have performed this role so well that they are perhaps the two most discussed, pondered and generally reviled and revered men in English public life of the past 17 years. They exist inside your head, whether you want them to or not. One is about to go. Where will all that anger point now?
Beyond this there is a sense perhaps of wider endings. The most illuminating part of José Mourinho's recent comparison of his record to that of previous Real Madrid managers was simply their mob-handed volume: Madrid have made 25 managerial changes during Ferguson's time at United. And yet this is just a mark of cultural difference, reflecting the fact that only in England is the manager seen as a kind of semi-permanent papal superman and electrifier of the crowds. Forged in the thrillingly unbound terrace-based collectivism of Jock Stein, Bill Shankly and Matt Busby, it is an outline that still survives in cartoonish form in the soap-opera obsessions of the Premier League. Whereas in the wider world the manager is often simply the chairman's hatstand, a caretaker hired to do a job while the real power is located in club presidents or other more deeply embedded uber-structures.
And really we should perhaps cherish Wenger and Ferguson while we can. These are perhaps the last knockings of that aspect of the cult of the manager, the era of assumed longevity, where one-man footballing eras are still a working possibility and departures a profound and familial upheaval rather than simply a factor in the business plan. It is a mark of how deeply this last generation of managerial stayers can affect us that people do seem to feel a kind of love for these old liveried survivors, the nation's favourite maddening uncles.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of David Moyes's appointment at Manchester United is that it seems an attempt, no doubt for both football and commercial reasons, to fight against this process. But the fact remains, for all the receding tribal brouhaha of the week's grand departures, we may never see such engaging longevity again.