Football

Sir Alex Ferguson: A story of success

Sir Alex Ferguson had a remarkable career (©GettyImages)
Sir Alex Ferguson had a remarkable career (©GettyImages).

Following Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement as manager at the end of the 2012/13 league season, I feel it's only fitting to take a special look at the career of arguably the greatest manager of all time.

Having enjoyed a moderately successful career as a player in his homeland of Scotland with the likes of Rangers and St.Johnstone, Ferguson began pursuing a career in management in 1974 at the age of 32. 

His first crack as head coach of a team was with East Stirlingshire however just four months into the job and the Scotsman was appointed manager of St.Mirren. In his four years with the club he took them from a team struggling at the bottom of the second division to winners of the first division in Scotland in 1977. 

The average age of the league winning side was just 19. The following year, Ferguson joined Aberdeen and it was at the club where he began to show his true brilliance as a manager.

The Scottish club had won the league in 1980, the first time in 15 years that a team other than Rangers or Celtic had done so. He led Aberdeen to even greater success three years later. Having qualified for the European Cup Winners' Cup as a result of winning the Scottish Cup in the previous season, Ferguson's men went on to defeat the likes of German and Spanish giants' Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, thus lifting the trophy, the greatest success in the club's history. He won the league with Aberdeen in 1984 and again in 1985. 

Ferguson was appointed manager of the Scotland national team following the death of Jock Stein. He led his country to the FIFA World Cup in 1986, however the Tartan Army were eliminated in the group stages. After speculation linking Ferguson to Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, he finally made a move to England famously joining Manchester United in November 1986.

His first game in charge of the Red Devils ended in a 2-0 defeat to Oxford United in the League Cup. Results in the First Division however began to steadily improve and United finished eleventh in the league despite being second from bottom when Ferguson was appointed. 

The 1987/88 season began with Ferguson making a number of high profile signings. Steve Bruce, Viv Anderson, Jim Leighton and Brian McClair were all brought in to try and help the club recapture the success of the late 60's. They contributed greatly to the team and United finished in second place that season, nine points behind Liverpool. Ferguson's reign as United manager was under significant threat for the next few years as no silverware had been coming in and United finished in a miserable position of eleventh in 1989. 

The following season however, he spent big in an effort to try and bring some much needed success to the Old Trafford club. Ferguson finally won his first trophy in English football by defeating Crystal Palace in the F.A. Cup final in 1990, the cup win is often claimed as the achievement that saved Ferguson's job with United.

United improved greatly following the F.A. Cup but were still inconsistent and finished sixth in the league in 1991. There were a couple of outstanding performances such as a 6-2 win over Arsenal at Highbury including a hat-trick from Lee Sharpe and 17 year old Ryan Giggs made his first few appearances for the club that same season.

 United won the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1991 with a 2-1 win over Barcelona in the final thanks to a brace from striker Mark Hughes. Following the European success, Ferguson vowed to win the league title the next season.

The club signed Danish goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, defender Paul Parker and Ukrainian winger Andrei Kanchelskis in a bid to end a 25 year spell without league success. However United were unable to live up to expectations once again, finishing second in the league behind Leeds United in what would ultimately be the final year of the old First Division before the formation of the Premier League.

The first Premier League season began with Ferguson desperate to sign a new striker. He attempted to sign the likes of Alan Shearer from Southampton and David Hirst from Sheffield Wednesday but was rebuffed on both occasions. He finally signed Dion Dublin from Cambridge United.

After a slow start to the season, it looked as though United would go yet another campaign without a league title. That all changed when Ferguson signed French striker Eric Cantona from Leeds United. 

The charismatic striker formed a deadly partnership with Mark Hughes up front and with a ten point margin between them and second placed Aston Villa by the end of the season, United were crowned the champions of England, ending a 26 year wait to achieve this success and with it Ferguson was named the Manager of the Year by the League Managers' association. The following brought even more glory. 

Ferguson signed Irish midfielder Roy Keane from Nottingham Forest as a replacement for Bryan Robson, who was on the brink of retirement. United led the Premier League table from virtually start to finish during the 1993/94 season and Cantona was top scorer with 25 goals in all competitions and Ferguson was named the first Premier League Manager of the Month in August 1993 as United retained the league. United won the F.A. Cup in 1994 with a 4-0 over Chelsea in the final.

United relinquished the league title to Blackburn Rovers in 1995 and also the F.A. Cup following a 1-0 defeat to Everton in the final. Ferguson attempted to sign Marc Overmars from Ajax and Roberto Baggio (who was considered the best player in the world at the time) from Juventus for the beginning of the 1995/96 season. 

He failed in bringing both players to the club but decided to give youth team players such as Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and David Beckham a chance to impress in the first team. A 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season prompted BBC pundit Alan Hansen to claim ''You can't win anything with kids.'' However United were boosted by the return of the previously suspended talisman Eric Cantona and the injured Andy Cole and Ryan Giggs.

 United overturned a twelve point deficit to Newcastle and managed to lift the Premier League trophy for the third time in four seasons. The club also regained the F.A. Cup with a 1-0 win over Liverpool in the final. Striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was signed in time for the 1996/97 season and despite being previously unknown outside his homeland of Norway, he was the club's top scorer with 18 goals as United were crowned league champions once again.

The success however was overshadowed by Eric Cantona's decision to retire from football leaving the club in doubt over who could replicate the influence and greatness which the Frenchman brought to the side.

England international Teddy Sheringham was signed from Tottenham Hotspur as Ferguson looked to replace Cantona. During the season both captain Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs were ruled out with long term injuries and this contributed to United losing the league title to Arsenal, despite leading the table by eleven points at one stage of the season. Ferguson invested greatly in an effort to bring success back to Old Trafford. Jaap Stam, Dwight Yorke and Jesper Blomqvist were all added to the squad in what would turn out to be Ferguson's most successful season of his career.

United won the league with a 2-1 defeat of Tottenham on the final day of the season. The Red Devils saw off Newcastle in the F.A. Cup final with a 2-0 win and the pinnacle of the club's success that year came when United won the UEFA Champions League with a 2-1 over Bayern Munich thanks to two stoppage time goals firstly from Teddy Sheringham and the dramatic winning goal from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

In a post match interview Ferguson stated ''Football, bloody hell. But they never gave in and that's what won it.'' United became the first team in English football history to complete the treble, 1999 was a monumental year for the Scotsman and the club.

Following his achievements over the previous 13 years with the club, the manager was knighted and subsequently became known as Sir Alex Ferguson. United attempted to replace goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel who had left the club following the treble success with Mark Bosnich and Massimo Taibi.

However neither were successful in filling the Great Dane's boots and Taibi has been cited as one of Ferguson's worst ever signings. Despite the problems between the sticks, United retained the league with a record points margin of 18. The club also won the Intercontinental Cup for the first team that season. United attempted to solve the goalkeeping nightmare by signing France World Cup winning goalkeeper Fabian Barthez from Monaco. United became the first team to win the Premier League title three years in a row in 2001 with a ten point lead at the top of the table ahead of Arsenal. Ferguson announced he would leave the following season, not before smashing the club's transfer record not once but twice.

Signing Ruud van Nistelrooy for £19 million and then Juan Sebastian Veron for £28 million. These big name signings were unable to help United win the league title for a fourth successive season as Arsenal were crowned Premier League champions courtesy of a 1-0 over United at Old Trafford in 2002.

Ferguson had patched up his relationship with the United board and signed a new contract for three years. By doing so he once again broke the club and also British transfer record by signing English defender Rio Ferdinand from Leeds United for a fee of £30 million. United managed to regain the league title in 2003 staging a remarkable comeback and seeing off Arsenal. However, it would be four years before Alex Ferguson's men tasted Premier League success again. The beginning of the 2003/04 season saw Ferguson sign the likes of Tim Howard, Eric Djemba-Djemba, Kleberson, David Bellion and Cristiano Ronaldo. Djemba-Djemba, Kleberson and Bellion were hugely disappointing signings but Portuguese teenage winger Ronaldo showed real promise that he could potentially be a world class player in years to come.

In a period of transition, United finished third in the league behind winners Arsenal and Chelsea. However the Red Devils won the F.A. Cup for a record eleventh time in history with a 3-0 over Millwall in the final. The following season saw 18 year old Wayne Rooney join Manchester United from Everton for £30 million (the highest fee ever for a teenager). Argentine defender Gabriel Heinze was another high profile signing as the club looked to regain the league title. Injury to star striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy disrupted United's chances of any silverware and in a rare instance, Ferguson failed to win a trophy in 2005.

In November 2005, long time captain Roy Keane left the club by mutual consent following a rift with Ferguson, Gary Neville was named as the new captain.

Without Keane's influence, United finished bottom of their Champions League group and failed to progress to the knockout phase. Defenders Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra were signed in early 2006 and won their first trophy with the club, that being the English League as United defeated Wigan Athletic 4-0 in the final.

United finished second in the league, their best performance for three years, however it seemed as though Ruud van Nistelrooy was about to leave the club following an argument with Ferguson. The Dutchman left to join Real Madrid in the summer of 2006.

Midfielder Michael Carrick was signed from Tottenham as a direct replacement for Keane. United started the 2006/07 season well and remained in top spot from the tenth game onwards and thus winning the Premier League for the ninth time and their first in four years.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored 23 goals in all competitions which was his breakthrough year with the side. United also performed well in the Champions League that season, reaching the semi final before being knocked out by A.C. Milan, it was the club's best performance in the tournament for five years. Ferguson made several big signings to reinforce the United team. Brazilian midfielder Anderson was signed from Porto, Portuguese winger Nani was signed from Sporting Lisbon, Owen Hargreaves from Bayern Munich and following a drawn out transfer saga, the club captured its star signing in Argentine striker Carlos Tevez from West Ham United.

Despite the stellar signings, the club made its worst start to a season ever under Ferguson. It wasn't long before United recovered and began a title race with Arsenal. Ferguson later stated that in all his years with the Old Trafford club, this was the best squad he had ever assembled.

United regained the league thanks in no small part to the magnificent goal scoring exploits of Cristiano Ronaldo who scored 42 league goals in all competitions. Ferguson would also lead United to their third European Cup triumph by defeating Chelsea 6-5 on penalties in the 2008 Champions League final. Following the incredible triumph, Ferguson once again expressed his desire to leave Old Trafford and planned to leave the club by 2011.

United won the league for a third time in a row.

Beating Liverpool in a grueling for much of the season. The club also won the League Cup, defeating Tottenham on penalties following a goalless draw at Wembley. United were unable to become the first team to retain the Champions League following a 2-0 loss to Barcelona in the final in Rome. Ferguson announced he would remain manager of Manchester United as long as his health permitted and would love the chance to win the Premier League at least once more. Cristiano Ronaldo joined Real Madrid for a world record £80 million in the summer of 2009 and Carlos Tevez also left the club to move to local rivals Manchester City. United retained the League cup by defeating Aston Villa 2-1 in the final but missed out on a fourth league title in a row, finishing a point behind Chelsea.

Ferguson lead United to an unprecedented nineteenth league title in 2011.

The club reached the Champions League final for the third time in four years that same year but once again lost to Barcelona by three goals to one at Wembley. Edwin van Der Sar, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville all announced their retirement at the end of that season. Ferguson spent big in the summer of 2011 in an effort to replace three club legends. Signing the likes of Phil Jones, Ashley Young and David de Gea which collectively cost more than £50 million.

However the club were unable to retain the league title and were beaten to the title by big spending Manchester City despite leading their local rivals by eight points towards the end of the season. United signed Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund and striker Robin Van Persie from rival's Arsenal in an effort to bring the Premier League title back to the red half of Manchester.

These signings paid dividends as Van Persie scored 26 league goals and United won were crowned league champions for a 20th time this year. Following the success, Alex Ferguson announced his retirement from football after 26 trophy laden seasons with the Old Trafford club.

Sir Alex Ferguson's contributions not just to Manchester United and Aberdeen but for the world have football has seen him praised by many of the world's greatest ever players and managers such as Michel Platini, Brian Clough and Cristiano Ronaldo. A statue of the great manager was installed outside Old Trafford in November last year, a fitting reward for a man who revolutionised the club and the English game. So many great players have been managed by Ferguson that it's hard to figure out who was the best player to have played under him. 

From Giggs to Cantona to Ronaldo to Rooney to Van Persie to Scholes to Keane and many others, it is no surprise that the Scotsman has been claimed as the greatest manager of all time. All that is left to say is, David Moyes, you have a real job on to emulate your fellow countryman.

 

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Topics:
Football
Premier League
Manchester United

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