I was recently asked to write a couple of paragraphs about what Sir Alex Ferguson meant to me. How on earth do you put in to words what a difference this man has made to us? My life is considerably better and I have been unquestionably happier than I would have otherwise been because Ferguson became the manager of Manchester United in 1986.
Liverpool lauded those sixteen titles and four European Cups over us and who could blame them? We called them our rivals but we could only boast seven title wins and one European Cup, which was won before many of us were even born. It was painful.
After a great time up in Scotland, breaking the Rangers/Celtic dominance to lead Aberdeen to the title, Ferguson’s early years were a struggle. He took the job on a few months in to the 86-87 season with United languishing in the relegation zone. Three seasons went by and we’d won nothing, however, once he got to winning ways, it was hard to stand in his way.
Whilst matching or overtaking our rivals was never really a serious consideration towards the beginning of his reign, Ferguson was keeping us happy enough with improved football and some much craved silverware. When Bryan Robson lifted that FA Cup in 1990 none of us would have believed that over the next 21 years, we would never go longer than one season at a time without winning something.
The next season it was the Cup Winners Cup, beating Spanish champions Barcelona 2-1 thanks to two goals from Mark Hughes. The following season we beat European Champions Red Star Belgrade to win the Super Cup, before winning the League Cup at the end of that season. Four trophies in three years? It had taken us 18 years to win four trophies before Fergie’s first in 1990. We weren’t expecting or looking to dominate English football for two decades or more, we were just happy with having a cup final to go to and a trophy to celebrate.
It was magic when that first title under Ferguson came in 1993. I loved that team and I loved that season. After blowing it in the final months the season before, it was incredible when the realisation hit that this year we were actually going to do it. We were actually going to win the league.
On April 10th we played Sheffield Wednesday at home and our opponents were awarded a penalty with over an hour played and took the lead. Captain Steve Bruce equalised with just four minutes left to play but a draw meant we would still be behind Aston Villa in the table with just five games left. The referee was injured earlier in the game and had to be replaced by the linesman, which lead to a lengthy delay and 6 minutes of injury time being awarded.
United are famed for their late goals under Sir Alex, that winning mentality and hunger which means we don’t stop going for the win until the final whistle in blown, and this day was just the start of that. Deep in to injury time Bruce popped up with his second goal of the game and United won 2-1. We went one point clear at the top and unlike the season before, this team wasn’t going to crumble. We won our remaining five matches and were ten points clear on the final day. Champions again at last.
That season was when it started getting serious. It was long before we started taking Sir Alex and the success he’s brought for granted. The doubles, the Treble, the world beaters, the European nights, the cup finals… we’ve been spoilt rotten because of this man and our expectations are wildly high.
You can break his success in to different sections and each deserves recognition in its own right. There was the first trophy, then the first title, then the consistency in competing for the title, then the European Cup, and then the success during the Glazer years. He’s been successful in spite of our current owners and plenty of reds would argue that’s what he owes the fans, following the part he played in us being bought by people who would drag the club in to ridiculous debt and charge the fans ridiculous prices for the privilege. It was his falling out with John Magnier, who owned 28.7% of the club with JP McManus, over that bloody horse which put United on the market in the first place and our manager did nothing to stop the Glazer takeover. That fact is brushed under the carpet by most United fans but we should remember that not everything he’s touched here has turned to gold.
Regardless, United shouldn’t have got near Chelsea in 06-07, after their back to back titles and the incredible amounts of money spent in the transfer market. Somehow Ferguson managed it though and in Mourinho’s last full season at Chelsea, we were seven points clear on the day the title was won. In my mind, that achievement ranks as highly as anything he has done with the club. We were well prepared for Chelsea’s dominance, as depressing as it was, yet thanks to Ferguson, we have won more titles than them since Roman Abramovich bailed them out and have enjoyed more success on the continent too.
It was that second European Cup win in 2008 which cemented his name in the history books amongst the greatest managers in the world of all time. Ferguson receives plenty of praise now but it is only once he has retired, and people will have the opportunity to step back and take a look at what he has created, that we will truly get a grasp of what he has achieved with our club. It is incredible and I will go as far as saying no manager will ever recreate this. I don’t just mean at United but anywhere.
His ability to bring out the best in players, to consistently give young players from the academy a chance, to protect the players during tougher times and to do all that he can to ensure the best players stay with us for as long as possible has ensured we have been there or there abouts since that first title all those years ago. To have spent 18 years in the top three is an amazing achievement. Ferguson has built title winning team after title winning team, ensuring that year after year our club has the hunger and ability to compete at the highest levels, regardless of which players wear our shirt. Incredible players have retired or moved on during his reign and each time he copes with it remarkably well, having already earmarked our next stars, whether they are already at the club or need to be bought in. He has shown an ability to sustain success like no other manager in this country before him.
One day, his statue will stand shoulder to shoulder with Sir Matt Busby in front of Old Trafford and we will be forever reminded of how fortunate we were that he came to our club.
25 years on, thank you for it all.