Sir Alex Ferguson
Sir Alex Ferguson is the most successful manager in the history of English football, having been in charge of current club Manchester United for over 1000 games, in which he has brought years of success to the club.
After arriving at the club in 1986, Ferguson has won no fewer than 27 trophies and has helped to transform Manchester United in to one of, if not the, biggest clubs in the world.
He is famed for his ruthless approach and “hairdryer” treatment of players who dare to cross him. He is the boss. Over the years Gordon Strachan, Paul McGrath, Paul Ince, Jaap Stam, Dwight Yorke, David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Gabriel Heinze have all left Old Trafford after various incidents of conflict with Ferguson.
Fergie started out as a centre forward playing for amateur side, Queen’s Park. He joined St Johnstone on a part time basis in 1960 whilst completing his apprenticeship as a toolmaker for a typewriter manufacturer. He scored 19 goals in 37 games for St Johnstone before an exchange deal took him to Dunfermline Athletic as a full time professional in 1964. Although Dunfermline reached the Scottish Cup Final in 1965, Ferguson was dropped after a poor performance in a league game with St Johnstone.
In 1967, he joined Rangers for £65,000. He was blamed for a goal that they conceded in the 1969 Scottish Cup Final, and was forced to play for the club’s junior side. This eventually led to his reluctant departure from the club, as he moved to Falkirk, where he became player-coach, before he saw out his playing days at Ayr United in 1974.
Fergie the boss
Ferguson began his managerial career at the relatively young age of 32, immediately gaining a reputation as a disciplinarian, which has become somewhat of a theme throughout his career. He then moved on to St Mirren where he spent 3 years, and did well despite limited resources before he was sacked after falling out with the chairman.
He then joined Aberdeen in June 1978 and this is where Fergie really began to make a name for himself. Aberdeen were in a similar situation to that of United when Ferguson moved to Old Trafford eight years later, in that they hadn’t won the league for over two decades. Despite struggling to win the respect of some of the older players at the club, it took Ferguson less than two years to end the Old Firm’s dominance in Scotland and bring the Scottish League title to Pittodrie.
His players at Aberdeen nicknamed him "Furious Fergie", but his disciplined and ruthless approach was highly successful. Aberdeen finished runners up in 1980-81 and 1981-82, before winning the league for two consecutive seasons in 1983-84 and 1984-85. They also won the Scottish Cup four years in a row (1981-82, 1982-83, 1983-84 and 1984-85) and the Scottish League Cup once (1985-86).
But Ferguson’s greatest achievement north of the border came in May 1983, when Aberdeen defeated Real Madrid in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final. This put him in the shop window for the bigger clubs of England and Europe, and he was approached by Barcelona, Arsenal, Rangers and Tottenham. However, he rejected all of these offers – that was until Manchester United came calling.
South of the border
Ferguson had the job of not only lifting the club from near the foot of the Division One table, but sorting out the in- house problems that were rumoured to have plagued the club in recent years, such as drinking. He went about building a team that would eventually enjoy success. Mark Hughes, Steve Bruce and Brian McClair joined for the 1987-88 season, and United finished 2nd. Despite the signings of Gary Pallister and Paul Ince, United struggled to 11th place in the following season.
However, this led to the fans doubting whether Ferguson could lead the club to the championship that all United fans craved. Fans’ favourites Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath were sold, soon followed by Gordon Strachan, and it is widely recognised that the third round FA Cup game against Nottingham Forest in 1990 could have been the final nail in the coffin for Ferguson. As it was, United won 1-0 through Mark Robins’ goal, and Ferguson hasn’t looked back since.
The First Success
United went on to win the FA Cup that season, and in the one following, won the European Cup Winners Cup, defeating Barcelona in the final. Ferguson then claimed that United would win the league in 1991-92, something they failed to do, finishing 2nd behind Leeds United, but he more than made up for that by bringing not just one, but two successive league titles to Old Trafford. The 1992-93 season represented the start of the Premier League era, and despite a slow start, the signing of Eric Cantona for £1.2million from rivals Leeds, turned the season round and handed United their first league title since 1967. In 1993-94, United completed a league and FA Cup double.
It is something of a reflection of Ferguson’s success at Manchester United that trophyless seasons are treated with surprise. As it was, 1994-95 proved to be a minor blip. United lost the league title on the final day, drawing with West Ham when a win would have seen them crowned champions, and then lost out on the FA Cup 1-0 to Everton in the final.
The following season started with a 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa, which provoked the famous Alan Hansen quote "you don’t win anything with kids". He couldn’t have been more wrong. Fergie’s fledglings, including Gary Neville, Phil Neville, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt became mainstays of the United team for years to come. The 1995-96 season saw a second double, with United overturning a 14 point deficit of Newcastle to win the league.
United continued their dominance of the English game with yet another title in 1996-97, but by now, Ferguson had now turned his attention to European success. Unfortunately, they lost their 40 year unbeaten home record in Europe to Turkish outfit Fenerbache, but still reached the Champions League semi final, which they lost to Borussia Dortmund.
Three is the magic number
Although 1997-98 was a trophyless season, with Arsenal winning the Premier League, it provided the perfect tonic for what was to be a season of unprecedented success in 1998-99. After strengthening the squad with big signings Dwight Yorke, Jesper Blomqvist and Jaap Stam, United launched an assault on all three fronts, and became the first team ever to win the Premier League, the FA Cup and Champions League.
The way it was won also epitomised the quality and commitment of a Ferguson team. They got the better of Arsenal in a title challenge that went down to the final day, with United securing the championship with a home win over Tottenham. In the FA Cup semi final, United played Arsenal and it looked like their treble dream was to be ended when Roy Keane was sent off and Arsenal were awarded a last minute penalty. It was saved by Peter Schmeichel, and in extra time, Ryan Giggs went on to score one of the greatest goals in the club’s history to put United through to the final, which they won 2-0 against Newcastle at Wembley.
All of that was eclipsed by the way the Champions League was won. Down 1-0 for much of the game, following Mario Basler’s early goal, two goals in injury time from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer completed a remarkable turn around and secured a 2-1 win for United.
United made it three titles in a row in the next two seasons, before a trophyless season in 2001-02, which was preceded by the departure of inspirational centre half, Jaap Stam, due to comments made in his autobiography. Ferguson announced that he was to retire at the end of the 2001-02 season, and this was blamed by many for the club’s failure to win any trophies. He stayed on, broke the British transfer record for Rio Ferdinand from Leeds, and the following season won his eighth Premier League title. This season, however, was marred by an infamous row with David Beckham, which eventually led to the number 7 leaving for Real Madrid. Sir Alex was said to have kicked a boot which hit Beckham above the eye, after a defeat to Arsenal.
Ferguson’s success at the club continued with an FA Cup in 2003-04, although United lost the 2004-05 final to Arsenal, meaning a trophyless season. In 2005-06, United won the League Cup, although Ferguson decided not to play star striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy in the final, and the Dutchman eventually fell out of favour and left in the summer, proving to be another player who failed to escape the wrath of Fergie. Earlier on in the season, the previously immoveable captain, Roy Keane, left the club by mutual consent after he criticised the team on the club’s own TV channel, MUTV.
In Ferguson’s 20th full season in charge, he brought the Premier League trophy back to Old Trafford after a three year absence. It was the first time ever that he had won the first four Premiership games. United, however, were denied a repeat of the 1999 treble first by Milan in the Champions League semi final, and then by Chelsea in the FA Cup Final.
Ferguson continues to be one of the top managers in Europe, and his eye for prodigious young talent is reflected by the effect that the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and Anderson are having on the current team.