The best managers of all time: #07 Sir Matt Busby
The story of Sir Matt Busby stands cemented in the folklore of one of the greatest footballing clubs in the world not only because of his brilliance as a manager, but also because of the sheer force of his character.
Born in Bellshill, Scotland, Busby’s father was a miner but was called to serve in the First World War. He never returned home, though, killed in 1917 by a sniper's bullet. Busby’s mother brought him and his three sisters up from then on.
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As for Busby himself, he was crazy about football right from his youth. He had the skills, the perseverance, and the head to match his ambition and it wasn’t long before he was turning out for the professional teams, and a distinguished career with Manchester City and Liverpool followed.
Appointment and legacy at Manchester United
Ironically enough, it was one of Manchester United’s biggest rivals Liverpool who first took notice of Sir Matt Busby’s managerial potential. They offered him the role of assistant manager to George Kay but Busby’s ideology about his role was substantively different from the then Chairman Billy McConnell.
Eventually, in February 1945 Busby accepted the role of becoming the next Manchester United manager, and in the process also making clear that he would need complete control over the playing squad and also be majorly involved in the transfer market. This was unprecedented in England at the time, but the club took a leap of faith.
This faith was to be rewarded pretty soon, as Sir Matt immediately transformed a team that had been shuttling between the divisions of English football. United finished the season as the runners-up in 1947, 48, 49 and 51, before eventually winning the championship in 1952.
The success didn’t get to Busby’s head, though, not at all in fact. He was aware of the rebuilding he had to do with the squad because of the advancing age of his most critical players. He dove into the challenge and flooded the team with a platoon of promising youngsters – soon to be affectionately called the famous ‘Busby Babes’.
They won the championship title again in 1956 and 57 with a series of young players that blew their opponents away. The 1957-58 season began with a flurry of optimism as Manchester United felt they could mount a serious assault for the European Cup, having only narrowly fallen 5-3 to eventual champions Real Madrid in the semi-finals in the previous year.
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Things weren’t going too badly, and United were returning home having booked their place in the semi-finals of the illustrious competition (against Italian giants AC Milan) after ousting Red Star Belgrade. That is when tragedy struck and 8 players died in the infamous Munich plan crash with another 2 injured to the extent of never seeing the football pitch again.
Sir Matt himself was in the hospital for 9 weeks, having suffered serious injuries and flirted with death. When he woke up, he took a while to process all that had occurred. To go from that devastation to then deciding to continue with managing Manchester United would have itself cemented the legacy of his character and fortitude, but Busby did not only that, but also rebuilt the side with the kind of success that would have been unthinkable between the ruins of United’s fallen heroes.
Manchester United would win the league titles in 1965 and 67, with a team carefully re-assembled by Busby and the club, which included the likes of George Best and Sir Bobby Charlton.
They would even go on to vanquish the ghosts of their tragic failed conquest of the European Cup in 1968, finally winning the crown and vanquishing Benfica and Real Madrid along the way no less.
A Manchester United hero
Sir Matt Busby would retire after that, safe in the knowledge that he had rebuilt a devastated club and got them on a pedestal that would entrench them in the hearts of their fans. That he had done this by promoting and encouraging entertaining and attacking football only made him more of a delight and adored by the fans.
He would go into the boardroom after his managerial tenure, serving the club for another 11 years before being made the club president in 1980. That was when his health started deteriorating, and he eventually passed away in the January of 1994.
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Today, 72 years after he first took over the managerial post of the club as an ambitious 36-year-old with stars in his eyes and 23 years after he eventually passed away, Sir Matt Busby’s legend lives on and will continue to be intertwined with that of the much-celebrated club he served his life at.
The fact that Manchester United won their much celebrated Champions League title on the 26th of May, 1999 after a miraculous comeback came on what would have been Sir Matt’s 90th birthday can itself be perceived as their cosmic connection.