Football, bloody hell.
For 27 years, the gaffer graced the Theatre of Dreams, silently chewing through a piece of gum as stubborn as his mentality, watching game after game unfold in front of his eyes. His early years were wrought with disappointment and many were calling for his head on the day Manchester United lined up to face Nottingham Forest in the third round of the FA Cup.
Mark Robins scored the only game of the game and The Reign of Alec Ferguson officially began.
United went on to win the FA Cup that year and two years later clinched their first Premier league title in over 20 years. Many will remember that year as the year Steve Bruce scored two against Sheffield in the dying minutes, to stage a remarkable comeback, something that has become a trademark in the culture of Manchester United.
Whilst joining United, Ferguson was quoted saying that he was coming here to “knock Liverpool off their f***ing Perch.”
27 years later, United sit with 20 league titles compared to Liverpool’s 18 and that infamous banner that read “Come Back When You’ve Won 18” has long since been put to bed.
In the years Sir Alex has spent as Manager of Manchester United, Clubs in the English Premier League have seen countless managers come and go. He has watched as titans of the game such as Leeds United fall to depths unimaginable to their supporters when they were in their prime. He has weathered the storm, and as always, he has come out on top.
Gambles have played a significant part in the reign of the Glaswegian. They haven’t always paid dividends (Bebe, Djemba-Djemba, Fortune, Juan Sebastian Veron, etc to name a few), but when they have, they’ve paid off handsomely.
In the summer of ’94, Manchester United was in the middle of a massive clearout with the likes of Bruce, Hughes exiting the club’s doors. Others would’ve looked outside the club for options, but not Fergie. He saw something in the youth players, that let him take the biggest gamble of his career.
And thus, the class of ’92 was written into the history books.
From it emerged, the ageless Ryan Giggs, the deadly Paul Scholes, the Neville Brothers, Nicky Butt, Robbie Savage and not to forget the brand that is David Beckham. All of them went on to establish a name for themselves in the game, if not for the same club.
It was also the year that United lost the opening game of the season against Aston Villa to which Alan Hansen famously remarked, “You can’t win anything with kids.”
So Fergie turned to Eric Cantona.
Cantona was the footballing equivalent of Qui-Gon, leading the young team through various trials, emerging as winners more often than not. When he left, United were a force to be reckoned with, not only in England, but all over Europe. That team possessed a leader par excellence in the form of Roy Keane, the hawk-eye precision passing of Paul Scholes, the sheer pace of Ryan Giggs and David Beckham on the wing, supported by the Neville brothers on either side along with Denis Irwin and up front a deadly partnership between Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke.
And who could ever forget the baby faced assassin Solskjaer?
This season of 1999 saw Manchester United become the only English team to clinch the holy grail that was The Treble. Throughout the season, United pulled themselves back from the brink, making astonishing comebacks to win games. Fans will point out games against Liverpool and THAT game against Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp as examples, but let’s not forget the game against Juventus that saw them rescue a game from 2-0 down to win 3-2, thanks to the brilliance of Sir A, and the performance of the original Captain Fantastic, Roy Keane that saw him miss the final. But it was enough. United went onto clinch the Champions League in dramatic fashion, scoring twice in the dying minutes via Teddy Sheringham and Ole Solsjkaer. Pictures of Ferguson going mental down on the touchline were forever etched in the memory of United fans, as Peter Schmeichel lifted the trophy after 40 years, with tears streaming down his face.
United’s dominance continued, even though they went through a change in personal in the team. Andy Cole, Dwight York, Peter Schmeichel and David Beckham all left the club as Le Proffeseur’s Arsenal slowly began to grow in stature. Not that it mattered to Sir Alex. He knew he was short in the striker’s department and waited patiently for over a year for a man named Ruud Van Nistelrooy to overcome his injury.
150 goals in six years for the club. The swivel and that the thunderous volley. Sir Alex had pulled off a wonderful master stroke, yet again.
But on the wing, United were having serious problems. With the departure of David Beckham, Ferguson turned to a young boy from Madeira who at the time was playing for Sporting Lisbon. Arsenal were hovering over the player, but Ferguson swooped in quickly. The 17 year old boy was handed the number 23 shirt. He quickly changed it the following year, from 23 to 7. He was considered a selfish player, too much footwork with no end product. Yet Sir Alex believed in him. He gave him a chance.
Every Real Madrid fan today must kneel before Sir Alex for the phenomenon that is Cristiano Ronaldo.
In the year following the signing of Ronaldo, Ferguson prized another 17 year old from Everton called Wayne Rooney.
Despite their altercation in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the pair were close friends and that translated onto the football pitch much like Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke. Their link up play was almost telepathic with Wayne helping Cristiano reach the 40 goal mark in the 2007-2008 season, drawing comparisons with the legendary George Best. Ferguson signed Carlos Tevez, the hardworking Owen Hargreaves, players who have all since left the club for varied reasons. United went on to win the title and the Champions League on penalties against Chelsea on a Red night in Russia after an impressive campaign in Europe, with Edwin Van Der Sar establishing himself as one of the greatest goalkeepers Man United have ever had.
Ronaldo left in the year 2009 for a whopping fee of 80 million, and Ferguson just as he always did, began to rebuild. He signed Michael Owen on a free transfer, who wrote himself into United lore with that late, late winner against Manchester City in the derby. Injuries plagued his career at Old Trafford, just as it had throughout his career, so Sir Alex looked for further alternatives as United narrowly missed out on the title to Chelsea and the following season Sir Alex brought in a little known Mexican named Javier Hernandez. The striker went onto score 20+ goals in his debut season, helping United win that coveted 19th League title, finally knocking Liverpool off their perch. Cries of “Are you watching Merseyside” rang throughout Old Trafford as Ferguson and side lifted the trophy that established them as the greatest club English football has seen.
Ferguson has had his fair share of rivals throughout the years and he has seemingly dispatched them with unerring efficiency. Be it Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger or the erratic Jose Mourinho, Rafa Benitez, and the more recent Roberto Mancini, Ferguson has emerged from the scrap with a couple of battle scars, but ultimately a winner. Even after losing the league to that wonderful goal from Sergio Aguero last year, Ferguson refused to give up. He went back during the summer and pulled Robin Van Persie out of Arsenal and from under Mancini’s nose.
The Dutchman has now scored 24 goals this season, including that dramatic winner at the Etihad in December, and is almost guaranteed the Golden Boot thanks to the rather peculiar appetite of Liverpool’s Luis Suarez.
Sir Alex still continues to defy critics with his selection. A year ago David De Gea was unsuited for English football. He made the PFA Team of the Year this year. Michael Carrick was considered to be overrated. Now comparisons are being drawn with Paul Scholes. Young Rafael Da Silva, who’s temperament was called into question, has now established himself alongside Pablo Zabaleta as one of the best rightbacks in the English League.
The 20th title is coming to Old Trafford, but as of the morning of May the 8th, 2013, it would not be as happy an affair as it should be. The announcement of Sir Alex’s retirement from the world of football is still sending shockwaves through all forms of media, leaving fans and players, both current and former. in tears. Mourinho, Moyes, Klopp have all been tipped to succeed the Old Trafford gaffer, but nothing is set in stone yet, as Sir Alex Ferguson prepares to take his seat next to Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley as one of the greatest managers in the world, let alone The British Isles, to have ever graced the game.
On a personal note, I don’t want a Moyes or a Klopp or any other manager at Old Trafford. I want Sir Alex to say, for there is no one who could ever fill his shoes.
Because, he is Sir Alex Ferguson. He is Manchester United.