Sir Alex Ferguson- 23 Years at Manchester United

400x400_siralexfergusonnew5

Great Scot!! He's still at it!

Bloody hell!!!  Its been 23 years since Alex Ferguson joined Manchester United.  When I look back over all those years I don’t think I could have imagined such success and longevity from United and its manager.  These days managers hardly last 2 years, let alone 23.  Yet he survived, flourished in fact.  And he did it at a time when football in England was changing.  The great stubborn Scot changed with it.  And he carried on Matt Busby’s tradition of great attacking and successful football, while utilizing the Manchester United Youth Academy.  Yes there were the Cantonas, Schmeichels, Keanes, but United’s greatest success was the coming of Scholes, Giggs, Butt, Neville, Beckham, and now Fletcher and Evans.  And there are more great youngsters on the verge of the first team.  At the same time Fergie was not afraid to pull the money trigger and break English transfer records to bring in the likes of Ferdinand, Rooney, the above mentioned Cantona, Keane, he tried to buy Ronaldinho, Essien, Shearer, Gascoigne.  Anything to win.  That is Ferguson in a nutshell, he wants to win, and he takes pleasure out of seeing his team develop.  And after 23 years, his drive and joy have not diminished one bit.

That is what makes Fergie great.  He’s a winner.  Everyone knows about his great success at United:

11 League titles

2 Champions League titles

1 Cup Winners Cup

5 Fa Cups

3 League Cups

Amazing, and he won his first trophy in 1990, it was not until 1993 that United won their League title, after 26 years of wait.  In 17 seasons United won the English Premier League 11 times.  But people tend to overlook his success at Aberdeen, before he joined United, he broke up the Celtic/Ranger monopoly, the last manager to win in Scotland not with the Old Firm.  In 8 seasons there he won the SPL 3 times in fact, won the Scottish Cup 4 times, the League Cup once and he won in Europe too.  Little Aberdeen beat the mighty Real Madrid in the Final of the Cup Winners Cup in 1983.  He averages one major trophy per season in since he signed with Aberdeen.  That’s not counting the one off minor trophies.  And he did it on his own.  He did not inherit great teams, he built them.  It was always his way or the highway.

Manchester United was in turmoil when he came.  A big, underachieving club that has not won the League title in almost 20 years, a cup here and there was considered a success to the once proud United.  Managers came and went, United were even relegated in the 70’s for one season.  It was a team that had good players, but they could not win consistently enough.  Drinking culture at the club was rampart, fitness levels were low, and discipline was almost nonexistent.  Ferguson did not like what he saw.  Many other clubs tried to sign him.  Arsenal, Totenham, Rangers of the SPL, but he refused.  He went to United instead.  And on November 6th 1986 everything changed at old Trafford.

He set about getting discipline back to OT, he sold talented, but troubled players, and revamped the United Youth Academy.  Success was not coming though.  The team did not perform any better than it did under previous regimes.  But he stuck it out.  And there were rumours of his imminent sacking.  Fortunately those proved to be false.  Then he started winning, and never looked back.  He kept changing the team but one thing remained constant.  United won and won rather regularly.  There were many times that everyone wrote him off.  Most notably in the summer and early fall of 1995, after he sold a few of his most influential players and stuck unproven kids to replace them.  Alan Hansen’s words still make United fans laugh.  That season United won the English Premier League title, and the FA Cup.  I guess you can win things with kids.  It was not different in just 3 years later.  Arsenal, under their new manager Arsene Wenger won the League and Cup double.  United were written off once again, the time of the mighty Gunners came.  During the 1998-99 season Manchester United won the famous Treble.  The League, FA Cup and the European Champions league, followed by two more League titles in 2000 and 2001.

The 2001-02 season was said to be his last, Arsenal won the League and Fergie was going to retire.  Fortunately he changed his mind.  And he promptly won the League again in 2002-03 season.  Then came the unbeaten Gunners, and Chelsea FC with their money.  100’s of millions of pounds were spent at Stamford Bridge to help Chelsea win titles.  Which they did for two seasons straight.  During that time Manchester United only managed to win the FA Cup once in 2004.  The team was rebuilding.  In the fall of 2005 there was great turmoil.  Roy Keane, the great Manchester United captain, did a controversial interview on MUTV in which he criticized many of his teammates.  Roy was promptly sacked.  Then United followed it up with getting knocked out of the Champions League stages, finishing last in a weak group.  The sky was falling, out of Europe, United’s League form was poor, the Captain gone, calls for Ferguson to leave were coming from all over the place.  Articles were written, fans made banners and chanted for Fergie’s sacking.  He just went on.  United won the League Cup that season, and gave Chelsea a good run for the title, finishing second.

But more controversy followed.  United only signed a back up goalkeeper and a central midfielder, while selling their best scorer to Real Madrid.  At the same time there was hoopla over United’s very talented but very frustrating Cristiano Ronaldo who became enemy number one in England after the World Cup.  And Chelsea had gone from strength to strength, bringing in even more stars like Ballack and Shevchenko.  Chelsea were crowned champions even before the 2006-07 season started.  United were on the decline, and were going to finish below Spurs or even West Ham, in 5th or 6th place.  Ruud van Nistelrooij was sold after falling out with Fergie the previous spring.  United did not buy a new striker.  “Where were the goals going to come from” was a question frequently asked by football writers and fans alike.  Goals did come, and United went back to winning titles.  Ferguson’s patience with the talented, but frustrating Ronaldo paid off, in the following three seasons the young Portuguese winger/forward scored 23, 42, and 26 goals respectively.  Before that his highest tally was 12.  United won the League 3 times.  Reached two Champions League Finals, winning once in Moscow against Chelsea in 2008.  Another League Cup was added.

And Ferguson keeps going.  Now he says he’s not thinking of retiring.  He wants to go on as long as his health allows him.  He is 67, but his drive, joy for football and dedication to Manchester United has not diminished one bit in the 23 years he has been at Old Trafford.  He still does the famous “Fergie Jig” on the sidelines when United score yet another late goal.  He still has fun.  And that the most remarkable thing about him.  He has fun.  He does not shy away from controversy.  He takes on the BBC, referees, the FA, players, other managers, football writers, anyone who stands in his way.  But he still has fun.  He has made mistakes to be sure, he even admitted to some.  But it would be impossible to find a manager who did not over such a long career.  He sold/got rid of many stars for many reasons.  Discipline, Straham, Ince;  Hughes, Kanchelskis, when he thought the team needed a change.  Beckham, when he thought he was too distracted.  Staam, for writing a few things in a book.  Roy Keane for speaking out, Ruud when he fell out with him.  Yet Manchester United kept on winning, and looked stronger after each loss of a player.  The last one was Ronaldo, a player he did not want to sell.  A player he treated with kid gloves, for one reason, the boy was special.  Just like he treated the great but controversial Eric Cantona.  He too was special.  Time will tell how United will cope with the loss of the world’s current best player.  But I know one thing, I wont be betting against Ferguson and United.

I consider Sir Alex Ferguson to be the greatest football manager in the history of the game.  However I am having a hard time in deciding whom to put as United’s greatest manager.  Another Scot, Sir Matt Busby, took over United in 1945.  The team had no stadium, Old Trafford was bombed during WWII.  Before the war it was rubbish.  Even flirting with relegation to the Third Division in the 30’s.  But Matt Busby remade the team.  Along with Jimmy Murphy he changed the way football was played in England.  He too never shied away from controversy.  He relied on young talented players in and age when it was believed that players should not play for the first team till they are in their mid 20’s.  Busby’s Babes, as they were affectionately called, fielded players aged 21, 20, even 17.  Talent mattered, not age.  He defied the Football League and sought glory in Europe by joining in the European Cup competition.  He too sold/got rid of players on a whim.  It was Busby’s way or the highway.  He built a great young team, already great, but on the verge of even more brilliance.  But it was not to last.  After the tragedy at Munich, when United lost 8 of its players and two coaches in an airplane crash, Matt Busby, after fighting for his own life, rebuilt the team once again.  Just 5 years later United won the FA Cup, two seasons after that a League title followed.  In 1968 Matt Busby finally achieved his dream and won the European Cup.  It was after he left that United fell into dark times.

Those lasted until Alex Ferguson came to Old Trafford.  Both Scots came from poor backgrounds, both were good players, and later great managers.  Both believed in attacking football, and sought glory at home and abroad.  Both never shied away from controversy.  Both believed in youth and the United way.  Whom to pick.  I guess I would have to call a draw on this one.  Maybe with one or the other coming in front in “Fergie Time.”

I am a lucky Manchester United fan.  Just old enough to remember some of the dark days, but most of the time I followed United they were playing under Alex Ferguson.  The trophies came, and they came in great bunches.  It was unthinkable to imagine United even reaching Liverpool’s great domestic record of 18 League titles.  When Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford the tally was 16-7 in favour of LFC.  Liverpool managed 2 more by 1990.  United were still on 7.  Last May Manchester United celebrated their 18th League Championship.  Yes, 18!!!  Unbelievable.  And Ferguson is still at it.  Now some have written him off already, but he keeps going.  Building another team, watching while his great “Fledglings” are slowly replaced by new younger players, and the team remodels itself for a new era.  Hopefully it will be as great as the previous one.  Ferguson met each challenge head on.  Always looking forward.  The day after United won the Champions League he was already talking about the next season and the challenges it would present.  And while he does not, we should, especially today, look back in wonder at the things he’s achieved with Manchester United.  And looking back all I can say it to quote his reaction after Manchester United came back very late in the game to win the 1999 Champions League Final by scoring two goals.

“Bloody Hell!!!”

Advertisements

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://rlisu.wordpress.com/2009/11/06/sir-alex-ferguson-23-years-at-manchester-united/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. In your mission statement you state you will not concern yourself with trivial things. With all due respect, I find it hard to imagine anything more trivial than English football. Brittany Spears’ next wedding will likely be more intriguing than your average afternoon of UK football hooliganism.
    Just my opinion.
    KM

  2. Oh I would strongly disagree.
    Whether football is trivial or not is immaterial, Sir Alex Ferguson’s impact on the team I follow and on football in general is anything but trivial.
    But sport in general is not trivial. At least IMO.
    And no UK football is not about hooliganism, you missed the spot by a couple of decades. Right now the English Football League is the biggest sports league on the planet. But to each his own I guess.

    Actually I just re-read my “mission statement” as you call it.
    And I feel that I did not step away from it, there is talk of football and I mentioned I will write about anything really. The frivolous bit was also subjective. In my life, football, important. Balloon boy, not important. To quote myself (god I hate when people do that) “Whatever inspires me, or really pisses me off (which is more likely), I will try to share my thought on here.

  3. Great piece on a great man.

  4. That’s a good piece, mate. Been looking for something that recaps (briefly) Fergie’s time at United. The thing that stands out most for me, through all the trophies he’s had and the players, stars, finances etc…is that he has, somewhere deep within, the instinct to back the right horse (pun intended here) on the right day, even if it doesn’t ‘seem’ like the winning horse on that day. 1999 was a miracle season, albeit with a sprinkling of luck, but I was and still amazed with the decisions he made and how they worked out. If the man published his strategy on the game, I would bet that it’d be the tome on football (and beyond) for years and years to come.

    • Cheers.
      Yes, he has brilliant instincts, almost a sixth sense when it comes to these things, like the changes in Barcelona, Keano injured in the same year at Wembley, so he puts on a forward (after less than 10 minutes of the game mind) and Teddy scores and creates another one (I think he got an assist too), Macheda against Villa, cause he had a feeling all week… List is endless.
      I mentioned about his ability to change along with the game, its a testament to his longevity and success, football clubs are multinational conglomerates these days and here we have an old school footballer from the slums of Glasgow thriving in the environment.

      Thanks for reading and the comment.

  5. Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

  6. Very very good read I enjoyed this a lot well done!

  7. First of all I want to say wonderful blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your thoughts prior to writing. I’ve had a difficult time clearing my
    mind in getting my thoughts out there. I do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be wasted just trying to figure out how to begin.

    Any recommendations or hints? Cheers!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: