On this day 23 years ago, a certain Alexander Chapman Ferguson was appointed as the manager at Manchester United. Today Sir Alex is the most decorated manager in British football history.
His tactical genius, inspirational personality and tremendous focus have put him in a league above others. Probably the only indispensable chink in the Man United armory, his achievements speak for themselves but to dominate the game for two decades takes more than just tactical astuteness and good man management skills.
Eye for talent
“If we look after him the right way he is going to be one of the stars of football.”- on Ronaldo
Sir Alex’s ability to unearth raw talent and develop them into superstars is probably unmatched, though Arsene Wenger too is accomplished in this regard. What separates him from the rest though is that he doesn’t just spot a player’s skill; he can also judge one’s character and ability to perform under pressure. This was seen in the Champions League final when, Anderson, a teenager in his first season at the club, stepped up and coolly converted his penalty whereas, some more experienced and accomplished players failed to do so. Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, Vidic and Ronaldo were all relatively unknown when they arrived at the club but were instrumental in the European cup wins. Cantona, Schmeichel and van der Sar were signed in bargain deals.
“You can never allow the players to run the football club and you can never allow the supporters to run the football club. Somebody has to be in charge, and the manager is the best man.”
He is known to maintain very high standards both on and off the pitch. His strict policy has seen superstars like Beckham, Stam and Nistelrooy thrown out of the club when they crossed the line. He also managed to bring the best out of Cantona, who had previously been involved in several scuffles with teammates and bosses. He has also helped hot-headed players like Rooney and Ferdinand get a grip over their temper. His now famous “hair-dryer treatment” has been lashed out to some of the biggest names in football.
Protecting his players
“Wayne understands, as Ryan Giggs understood and Cristiano understands, we will not ask him to climb the mountain tomorrow. The big danger with young players is always that you ask too much of them too quickly. We will let him mature and develop as easily as we can.”
Though a tough taskmaster, he has always protected his players during their rough patches. He kept Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney away from over-exposure to the media when the burst to the scene as “Wonder-kids”. He has constantly protected Rooney despite criticism for his lack of goals, stood behind Cantona during his infamous Kung-Fu kick incident and saved Ronaldo from the public’s wrath after the 2006 World Cup
Hunger for titles
“At the end of this game, the European Cup will be only six feet away from you and you’ll not even able to touch it if we lose. And for many of you that will be the closest you will ever get. Don’t you dare come back in here without giving your all.”- At half-time in the 99 Champs League final
Sir Alex is a born winner. He hates loosing and instills the same feeling in his players, an attitude which has seen his team win the Champions League final after trailing for most of the game and on another occasion saw Utd bounce back from a 3-0 deficit at half-time against Spurs to win 5-3. He has postponed retirement plans on several previous occasions insisting that he still has the desire to win more titles.
Whether it was the problem of getting his team accustomed to the different style of play in the European tournament in the 90’s or the more recent issue of the Rooney-Tevez pairing up-front, Sir Alex has always managed to find a way out of difficult situations.
When he started out his rivals were the likes of Souness, Venebles and Dalglish who despite being about the same age have faded away which shows that he has constantly evolved with the changing cultures in the football, in the process introducing revolutionary ideas and tactics (and even phrases like “squeaky-bum time”). While his attitude and tactical knowledge have put him at the top, it’s his personal drive and ability to evolve which have helped him stay there for more than two decades.
“They say he’s an intelligent man, right? Speaks five languages! I’ve got a 15-year-old boy from the Ivory Coast who speaks five languages!” on Arsene Wenger
Sir Alex has at several times used the media to his advantage. Now famous for his mind games and mischievous swipes at opposition managers, he on several occasions has also lavished praise on his players in public. Never one to be afraid of taking a gamble, he dropped Jim Leighton ahead of the 1990 FA Cup final, signed a certain Eric Cantona, already famous for his indiscipline, and replaced most of his double winning squad with youngsters, in 1994, which prompted Alan Hanson to say “You’ll never win anything with kids”. Just like this time, he has forced his critics to eat their words on several occasions.
When this fiery Scot took over a talented but title hungry Man Utd in 1986, his sole aim was to knock Liverpool “off their perch”. 23 years on, he has achieved so much more. He has taken the club to heights that were not reached even during the time of the legendary Sir Matt Busby.
Unlike several other managers who now lay more emphasis on a patient and disciplined approach, as the financial stakes increase constantly, he has achieved it all while playing “the beautiful game” the way it should be played. As famous for his catchy one-liners as for his style of chewing gum, Sir Alex is held in the highest esteem among fans and rivals alike.
With his declaration that he wants a third Champions League title before retirement (straight after he won his second!), the man who reportedly was about to be sacked in 1990 has once again warned his rivals that the fire in him still burns.
“Alex has given Manchester United the most fantastic ride, and he has made the club what we always thought it was – number one” – Sir Bobby Charlton