Ferguson's fairy tale at Man Utd
When Sir Alex Ferguson first arrived at Manchester United in 1986, it was a very different club, one tempered by low morale and struggling performances. Now, 12 English Premier League titles, two Champions League medals, five FA Cups and a host of iconic players later, the man known as Fergie is arguably is one of the most successful managers in football history.
On Sunday, November 6, Ferguson completes 25 years as the manager of Manchester United. Where do I even begin writing a tribute to a person who has been in charge for 25 years when I've been alive for 26? Fergie has always been compared to Sir Matt Busby - though many United fans will argue as to who was the better manager - and surely my vote will go to Fergie as I was not even born when Sir Matt started to write the United golden era in the history books.
This day sees Fergie overtake Sir Matt Busby in one historic factor: by reaching his 25th anniversary at the club. Fergie is now the longest-serving manager in United history. These glorious years have seen ups and downs. Who could have ever imagined that he would finally be successful in knocking Liverpool from their perch by beating them for the most championships in the league? Who can forget the thrilling last-minute comeback against Bayern Munich in 1999 to lift his first Champions League trophy? And who can forget losing 6-1 to derby rivals City? Well let's forget the last line.
You can forget your Matt Busbys, your Bill Shanklys, your Brian Cloughs and your Bob Paisleys, even King Kevin. When it comes to longevity, burning desire, brilliance and, above all success, no one man has enjoyed a reign quite like Fergie. Others also have enjoyed their share of success in various competitions; other managers have enjoyed silverware that in its own way is just as special as that achieved by Ferguson, keeping aside that unique Treble in 1999 aside, of course. But what marks Fergie from other is that over these 25 years he has seen it all. How the style of football and footballers have changed.
Looking at clubs such as Liverpool, who haven't won the title in over 20 years, or Arsenal, who are suffering a trophy drought, you can appreciate how fantastically and consistently well Fergie has done to keep United at the top of the pile. Ferguson's achievements against rivals are the impact he had on Manchester United as a football club. From the beginning, it was very clear to see that Ferguson had ambitions to make Red Devils one of the biggest football clubs in the history and he can proudly say that he fulfilled his dream and ambition.
Back in 1986, the average basic wage in the top flight was around 25,000 Pounds per annum. By 2010, it had exceeded one million Pounds. In 1986, every player was not accompanied by an agent. In the modern environment, we have players such as the disgraced Carlos Tevez. If Ferguson's long-term vision was fantastic, then what of his short-term plans? After all, he must have known that he had to transform good Cup form and league inconsistency into a squad of men that could be trusted to, in future, win it all.
Fergie's first few seasons at Old Trafford saw very mixed results. He pulled the club up to mid-table respectability after taking over a side languishing close to the foot of the table, and secured a second-place finish in 1988, but saw his side's fortunes plummet in the following season; they finished 11th after being widely tipped as title contenders. A run of shocking results in late 1989 and early 1990 followed. There were widespread calls for Ferguson to be fired. The story goes that if Manchester United had not won against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup, Ferguson would have been fired, but as they say you can't change your destiny and nobody knew what exactly was happening behind the scenes. But one thing everyone saw that year was the Red Devils go on to win the 1990 FA Cup.
Ferguson, already in his sixth season as Manchester United manager, led his side to second position in the 1991-92. The advent of the Premier League marked the start of United's Premier League dominance. A brilliant second half to the season, catalysed by the arrival of Eric 'King' Cantona, took United to their first league title in 26 years and since that day there has been no looking back. No other team has managed to challenge for the league title on such a consistent basis. United conquered the continent and the world, becoming an absolute king of a sporting brand off of the pitch. Parallels continued to be drawn between Busby and Ferguson even in a sporting world. The point is that it took Ferguson seven seasons to win a league title. In the modern game, it is unlikely that Ferguson would have been given time to prosper except if you are Arsene Wenger. Well exceptions are always there.
Fergie once famously said that he has to take the full control of the dressing room otherwise big egos and stars in that dressing room will feel that they are bigger than the club. But with Fergie in charge no one was safe, not David Beckham, not Jaap Stam, not even Roy Keane, a man who was shown the exit door after 'playing the pundit' on MUTV. The attitude he has developed in his players and in the history of the club is a never-die-attitude. As the fans say - "Never write them off."
For all the talk of "Fergie Time," it is not simply luck or the referee's favour that sees United score so many goals late in the game. It is down to a commitment to give your all, to never give up (see the 1999 Champions League final for the proof).
Ferguson is perfectly happy to think long-term. He can find young players in the same way Wenger does but what makes him different from Wenger so he has guts to mix them with proven world-class players to make top teams. Combinations like Scholes and Cantona, Rooney and Ruud van Nistelrooy and Vidic and Jones have helped the younger players develop, in training and in matches.
Alan Hansen's famous statement that "You can't win anything with kids" had already been proven to not apply to Ferguson, he showed the Liverpool legend how things can be won with kids. A mixture of youth, experience and mind games won the league in the 1995-96 season (when Hansen made his claim), and I can bet my life on it that he will be regretting making that statement and challenging the best man in the business.
People might say that he has been helped by United's wealth in reaching this stage but it is the Scot who restored United to the position of England's best, enabling them to exploit commercial opportunities in foreign markets. You can't imagine Manchester United or English football without him.
As Sir Bobby Charlton said, "We are all really lucky at Manchester United - really lucky - we have had 25 years of absolute paradise. Every season we are expecting to win something, and we usually do. And it's because of the manager - nobody else."
In the end "I take a bow" to the great man who has entertained us from the sidelines, from press conferences, from interviews and from his famous quotes. Well I would like to mention my favourite quote of his - "Football, Bloody hell."
More about Abhishek NandwaniNot a sports enthusiast by choice, Abhishek has been brought up with the passion as playing turned into scribbling.
- + A tribute to Alex Ferguson the legend
- + Manchester United finally get their trophy back
- + English Premier League teams not in decline in Europe yet
- + Manchester United's Busby Babes - Never forgotten
- + Stamford Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down
- + Top January transfer targets for top clubs
- + EPL: Top teams yet to hit top gear
- + Too early to compare Pujara to Dravid
- + It's van Purse(i), not van Persie