1000 games for Sir Alex at Manchester United
By John Fernandez
It’s been 26 years, 12 Premier League titles, two Champions Leagues and a host of other honours since the 6th of November 1986 when the famous Scott walked into Old Trafford, but after 1000 games in charge it seems that Sir Alex Ferguson hasn’t given up that winning habit.
So in Sir Alex’s long reign in charge of Manchester United what have been the most important moments?
The first league title of many
When it comes to Sir Alex’s first league title, there really can be no dispute as to the defining decision.
The purchase of the infamous, karate kicking maestro, that is Eric Cantona, who moved west from Leeds for a poultry £1.2m was a masterstroke of management and the partnership which he established with striker Mark Hughes blossomed in the first season they played together.
The goals these two provided were one of the crucial factors in the Red Devil’s title charge that season.
The fact that he stole him [Cantona] for such a small price was just a small indication of Sir Alex's financial nous, something which would become one of the cornerstones of his unique management style.
The 1992-93 season also saw the emergence of a certain winger who would go on to become the most decorated player in Premier League history, Ryan Giggs. Which brings me onto one of the foundations of Ferguson’s success, the famous class of 1992 and Sir Alex’s work in the nurturing of club’s youngsters.
Fergie’s class of 1992
Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers. All players who would go on to achieve huge success for club and country under Sir Alex Ferguson.
These men were the bedrock on which the proverbial Ferguson empire was built, with Giggs and Scholes managing to endure even to the present day for the club.
While these players may have been incredible individual talents, the influence that Sir Alex wove cannot be underestimated on their careers, from blooding them early on, to letting them go when games seemed sparse at Old Trafford.
Take Phil Neville a loyal servant for the club. Nevertheless as his form deteriorated, and Ferguson decided to let him go on to Everton, where he has revived his playing career. His pitch time, with the arrival of Patrice Evra would have been severely decreased; however he could have easily kept him as back-up.
Ferguson though, knew not to keep on a player who would have become unhappy at the club, and so he moved Phil away.
These players though, flourished under Ferguson; Paul Scholes cemented his place in history as one of England’s most technically gifted midfielders. Scholes under many other managers in the modern game may have been discarded as to small and weak to stand the pace of Premier League football, yet Sir Alex took a chance, and in doing so, unearthed a gem for years to come.
Gary Neville became a highly successful club captain and is moving up in England’s coaching staff. Even now the former United captain is being touted as a future national team boss.
Beckham became the captain of England and moved onto pastures new at Real Madrid, however David Beckham’s departure raised questions. Did Sir Alex launch a boot at Golden Balls’ head? Was there a fall out between the two?
The hairdryer treatment
The hairdryer treatment is a phrase that has been coined over the years regarding Fergie’s harsh treatment of players.
It began with Mark Hughes telling the press of how Fergie would discipline players. “He would stand nose-to-nose with you and just shout and bawl and you would end up with your hair behind your head.” Voila, hairdryer.
So which players have suffered from this treatment, well Sparkie (Mark Hughes) is one, but the more well-known application of this treatment has included, but not been limited to, Beckham, Jaap Stam, who left the club shortly afterwards, and Roy Keane. Others who felt the wrath of Ferguson include Gordon Strachan, Paul McGrath, Paul Ince, Dwight Yorke, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Gabriel Heinze.
In his harsh treatment of his top players he has always made it clear that no player is bigger than the club. You can be a prolific goalscorer like Nistelrooy, or a world class centre back like Stam, but no one is bigger then the club of Fergie's method. At Manchester United it's Fergie’s way, or the highway.
Now Sir Alex isn’t one for admitting his mistakes, but with regards to one of these players, Sir Alex has admitted some regret. “At the time he [Jaap Stam] had just come back from an Achilles injury and we thought he had just lost a little bit. We got the offer from Lazio, £16.5m for a centre-back who was 29. It was an offer I couldn't refuse. But in playing terms it was a mistake. He is still playing for Ajax at a really good level.”
No piece on Sir Alex’s history would be complete without a mention of 1999, the year in which Alex Ferguson went from being just Alex. To ‘Sir’ Alex.
Everything, and everyone, seemed to come together during this one incredible year.
Players like Peter Schemichel, Roy Keane and Dwight Yorke all enjoyed their best seasons in a United shirt and the tactics employed by Fergie all came together. An element of lady luck was needed though, which was no more apparent than in the Champions League final, and the mistress who decides if the ball goes one side of the post or the other, was there to help contribute to the perfect season for Sir Alex’s side.
Late goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gonnar Solskjaer earned United an unbelieveable win that night in Munich, and along with convincing wins of the Premier League and the FA Cup, Alex became Sir Alex as his legacy was etched even deper into football history.
Life after perfection?
In the 13 years since that monumental victory talk on the terraces has often debated whether Ferguson can keep finding success, whether he can continue to rebuild, or if the Scotsman can just keep going for another year.
Yet even with constant restructuring, the emergence of challengers in the form of Wenger’s invincibles, Mourinho’s Abramovich dollar inspired Chelsea, and Manchester City Arab revolution, Sir Alex still manages to build a side capable of competing for honours domestically and in Europe.
He continues to amaze in the 21st century, adapting to the changing tactical face of football.
He unearthed the gem that is Christiano Ronaldo and moved him to Spain for over £80 million, he won the Premier League with a squad many regarded as ‘not good enough’ in 2010 and he continues to leave his competititors green with envy by attracting players of the quality of Robin Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa.
It’s obvious that the Sir Alex Ferguson dream at United can’t go on forever, although I'm sure every Red Devil fan wishes it could.
Whoever replaces the United hero is going to have to be a special one indeed.