The biggest news today was clearly the retirement of the beloved Sir Alex Ferguson. His announcement was followed by an unbridled outpouring of grief, despair and indecisiveness for the future. Manchester United fans in particular, took to all forms of social media to showcase their sadness and respect to arguably the greatest manager a football team has seen in the modern era.
What they didn’t talk about though, was the flipside of the Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Obviously, it is a time to reflect upon his best times; the performances that made him the revered tactician that he is, but that account would be incomplete if we didn’t include some of his worst. Here are three of the worst times for Sir Alex Ferguson, which will certainly not making in to the final toast.
1. When he almost got Sacked
Ferguson took over the reins from Ron Atkinson in the November of 1986. Prior to this, he had been approached by both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspurs, both of which he refused to stay on at Aberdeen, till the United job came about. United won their first title under Ferguson only in 1990, which was the FA Cup, where they beat Crystal Palace by a single goal scored by Lee Martin. The period in between was a harrowing time for the manager, who was under severe pressure from the fans and the management.
“Three years of excuses and it’s still crap … ta-ra Fergie.” was one of the banners waved at Fergie during the 1989-90 season after a run of six defeats and two draws in eight games early in the season. Journalists, too, were up for the task and their pens were unleashed unabashedly against the Scotsman. After United ended the season precariously, finishing outside the relegation zone, Ferguson chose to describe the December of the year 1989 as “the darkest period [he had] ever suffered in the game”.
Later though, Ferguson emphasized on the fact that the board were always gunning for him, and understood that the disappointments were mainly due to the absence of marquee players due to injury. His reinvention of the club’s coaching and scouting system was appreciated though, and may have helped him save his face.
David Beckham was one of the most loved and respected English players to have worn the United jersey. His presence in the team was highly cohesive and his form helped United employ long balls into their attack. Beckham’s love interest, Victoria ‘Posh’ Adams, was taking a lot of his time and they eventually tied the knot in 1999. Since then, the cracks in the Beckham-Fergie relationship gave way to rifts after a lot of disagreements. Ferguson wasn’t impressed by the change that came about the newly married poster boy of Manchester United and he stated that, “He was never a problem until he got married. He used to go into work with the academy coaches at night time, he was a fantastic young lad. Getting married into that entertainment scene was a difficult thing – from that moment his life was never going to be the same. He is such a big celebrity, football is only a small part. The big part is his persona.”
The comment was a sign of things to come, and the famous shoe-gate incident will forever be earmarked as the reason why Beckham left the club of his dreams. The ‘accidental’ kick from Ferguson sent the boot flying and left a gash over the midfielder’s eye. The incident happened after United were handed a 2-0 defeat from arch rivals Arsenal in the fifth round of the FA Cup. The dressing room spat was played down as United prepared to take on Juventus in a Champions League tie, but the damage was done. Even though ‘everything was alright’, the gash needed stitches. The relationship, however, was beyond repair. “Of course it was an accident,” Ferguson later added. “If I was that good I’d still be playing.”
3. Arsene Wenger
There is no hiding the fact that Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson aren’t the best of friends, even though a unrecognizable camaraderie of sorts was formed after Jose Morinho took over at Chelsea and blew everyone out of the water, except United. Arsenal were no longer considered the main threat, leading to an uneasy ceasefire. That excluded, both the managers hated each other’s guts and were often seen singing to the press about the other.
When Wenger first came in, in the year 1996, Ferguson welcomed the Frenchman with a caustic, “He’s a novice and should keep his opinions to Japanese football”, referring to the J League where Wenger used to manage Nagoya Grampus Eight.
Next up was what is referred to as ‘Pizza-gate’. After United ended Arsenal’s unbeaten run at 49 games at the Theatre of Dreams in 2004, the game was followed up by a bust-up in the players’ tunnel. Fists and food went flying everywhere and Ferguson was hit square in the face with a slice of pizza. The culprit went unidentified for quite a while, with Ashley Cole only hinting at the perpetrator in his 2006 book ‘My Defence’. Cole wrote, “All I can say is that the culprit wasn’t English or French, so that should narrow it down.” Later identified as Cesc Fabregas, only 17 years old at that time, the incident was played up immensely. Ferguson spoke to the press and said, “To not apologise for the behaviour of the players to another manager is unthinkable.” Wenger’s then famously said, “Everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home.”
That being said, the era of Fergie has now ended. Ferguson will not be seen as often, furiously chewing gum and doing a little jump/jig by the touchline. The famous hair-dryer will retire with the Scotsman, who has earned and deserved all the respect he gets. In the famous words of Gordon Strachan, “Velocity”