Sir Alex Ferguson: An unmatched legacy
It’s a pretty strange that most successful managers in English football have been Scots. Maybe it’s something in their DNA that does not allow them to give up, making them hard taskmasters. As a matter of fact, it’s proven that they are able to read the British game better than everyone else.
Sir Matt Busby was the first to taste success as a manager at Manchester United for a good part of 25 years, although his years as a player at Manchester City were not as prominent. Upon his retirement in 1970, the impact on the Manchester United board was so bad that 8 managers were changed in a space of 4 years.
It resulted in him coming back to manage the club as interim manager, after it was left in dire straits by Wilf McGuinness. Today, Busby is a prominent feature of Manchester United folklore. A glamorous statue stands outside the stadium and a street named after him, ‘ Matt Busby Way’ in his respect.
Current Everton manager David Moyes too can be a good illustration of the successful Scots, but if anyone were to top that list, it would have to be Sir Alex Ferguson.
It’s not possible for the present generation to visualize or even think about how close the Manchester United board came to ending the Ferguson era. It’s trademark of all the Scots, the slower they start, the more legacy they leave behind at the club, which was the case with Ferguson.
Fortunately for Ferguson and Manchester United, they were able to provide him with a long rope, a rope that lasted for 3 years. The 1989 FA Cup victory was the first trophy to the Ferguson inventory, with a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace which put an end to what Ferguson described as “the darkest period [he had] ever suffered in the game”.
“Now, 10 games without a win is bad for any club, and for Manchester United it’s unheard of…“-
Steve Bruce, Former Manchester United Defender
Since the abolition of the division structure, which was instrumental in the beginning of the Premier League era, Ferguson has led Manchester United to 12 Premier League Titles. The year 1993 was the best in terms of firsts for Sir Alex, as his side won their first back-to-back title and he won his first manager of the month award.
‘Fergie’s Fledglings’ is perhaps proof of what exactly has been the major development at Manchester United for the past three decades, something he even to this day attributes his success to. Similar to the Busby Babes, only Pep Guardiola and Sir Alex are known to make large strides in the development of youth academies, and have come close to weaving magic.
His first batch of Fledglings were unleashed in 1992, the famous “class of 92″, due to a rule restricting them to field no less than 5 English players. This rule, came as a blessing in disguise with players such as Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Simon Davies being the prominent few who started on a regular basis, giving pro’s like Eric Cantona, Paul Ince and Mike Phelan a run for their money.
Since then, Sir Alex has been credited with building squads that have always been assured of a UEFA Champions League spot, a stat which former manager and mentor Matt Busby would have been very proud of. Over the years, the Fledglings have been flowing through the ranks and each batch has come out more polished and refined from the previous one.
‘I remember the first time I saw him. He was 13 and just floated over the ground like a cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind.’
On Ryan Giggs, his longest serving player at Old Trafford
“If a boy wants to be successful and make it to the very top, then this club provides for that”-
Sir Alex Ferguson
Despite his prowess in the youth system, Sir Alex is also known to be a heavy spender when it comes to making big money signings. The best buys in his list probably would be Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Andrew Cole, Dwight Yorke, with Eric Cantona being the most prominent. Rio Ferdinand, Robin Van Persie, Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney being a few of the expensive buys. Unlike other managers, Sir Alex is never under pressure and the despite the Glazer’s under heavy debt, he went on to spend and eventually built a squad, not for the first time.
The best years under Ferguson came in 1999 and 2008, when Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United went on to achieve Champions League glory, with the 1999 triumph being more special compared to that of the 2008 victory that was special in its own way. In both 1997 and 1998, Manchester United had reached the labyrinth of the Champions League, and had been exorbitantly close to closing in on the title, something the club had won only way back in 1968 under Busby.
However, United were able to finally win the trophy that was put at the highest honor in the Ferguson Treasure Trove in 1999, dramatically triumphing over Bayern Munich in the final in Barcelona. This season also saw United clinch the Premier League title as well as the FA Cup, making them the first and only club in history to win a treble in a season in the country, Barcelona and Inter Milan being the others to join United.
The prime reasons for the Manchester United fans and the club to hold the 1998-99 season in such demand is; firstly, as mentioned earlier, they were the first club to do so; secondly, the team had to deal with the bad results in the league during with Christmas closing in and the treble wasn’t even on the manager’s wishlist. Thirdly, the United team had to fight and work hard for each one of their victories, that can be beautifully illustrated by the FA Cup semifinal victory over Arsenal, where it took a sensational strike from Ryan Giggs to ensure United’s qualification into the final. Fourthly, United had to come from behind to secure their Premiership title on the last day of the season against Tottenham Hotspur, and had to come back after going 2-0 down to win 3-2 against Juventus in the 2nd leg of the Champions League semifinal at Turin. Finally, they came from 1 down to win 2-1 in the final at the Nou Camp aainst Bayern Munich, breaking German hearts, a result for which he was knighted by the Order of the British Empire.
‘I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. Football. Bloody hell.’
After Manchester United won the Champions League final against Bayern Munich in 1999
The 2008 Champions League title triumph was a different story. With Cristiano Ronaldo at the peak of his game, and his entire team clicking as a unit, Sir Alex came close to bringing the second treble a reality, only for United to miss out on the FA Cup. The Champion’s League final once more went into a humdinger, with United prevailing over Chelsea 6-5 on penalties.
Such was his impact to the game, that Ferguson was Knighted on the 12 of June 1999 for his contribution to the game. Since then, Sir Alex has been in the headlines for both the right and wrong reasons. He was heavily praised on accomplishing his hat-trick of titles, but is also known to loose his temper over petty matters which do not concern him.
His row with David Beckham left a huge dent on the club, as both he and first team coach Carlos Queiroz left for Real Madrid. His infamous ‘Mind Games’ controversy has been doing the rounds ever since 2003, making him a criminal in the minds of Arsene Wenger, Mark Hughes, Rafa Benitez and Roberto Di Mattaeo.
‘It was a freakish incident. If I tried it 100 or a million times it couldn’t happen again. If I could I would have carried on playing.’
On the boot-kicking incident that left David Beckham needing stitches above his eye
On the 19 of December 2010, he completed 25 years at the helm, overtaking Sir Matt Busby to become United’s longest serving manager. He also holds the record of winning ‘Manager of the year’ award the most number of times. Manchester United inaugurated the Sir Alex Ferguson stand shortly after his completion of 25 years.
After all this, it is still hard to believe that such a man, even after achieving all the glory there is to achieve, is still looking as hungry as ever to get another shot at glory before a retirement which is around the corner. The erection of the statue just outside His stand is an indication that the management of the club have to get their act together to find a man who can at least try to win half of what Sir Alex has achieved thus far.
‘I am such a bloody talented guy. I might go into painting or something like that.’
On the possible path his life might take after management