“I certainly don’t have any plans at the moment to walk away from what I believe will be something special,” said Sir Alex Ferguson in his programme notes accompanying Manchester United’s fixture with Chelsea last weekend. Forget the Italians, if Ferguson says it’s pasta, check under the sauce. For less than three days later United’s modern-day patriarch has gone. Retired and replaced. The king is dead. Long live the king.
Ferguson’s has been a remarkable journey these past 27 years. From a club on its knees, without a league trophy since 1968, to the global monolith that oozes silverware from every pore. Ferguson has overseen it all.
Along the way there has come more than 30 major trophies, countless rows and the unsavoury support for the Glazer family.
Yet, strangely almost, by the time United’s official announcement came on Thursday there was no surprise in Ferguson’s passing. Perhaps it is the numbness that comes with shock. Or, in truth, that the expectation of the unexpected was so ingrained that Sir Alex’ news, coming out of left field, was at least from clear blue skies.
Victory over Manchester City, such comprehensive victory at that, has proffered a send off better than any could have hoped. Not for this manager did it all end in failure.
And in the passing of time and glory it is so easy to forget just how decrepit the club that Ferguson found in 1986; unstable financially, a squad bent more on drinking than winning, and an opponent in Liverpool that conquered all before it. The perch wasn’t even in sight.
The legacy is complete now. By any measure Ferguson’s reign is without peer. Not at United, nor in England, or globally. And he will leave a club far stronger than he found it.
“The decision to retire is one that I have thought a great deal about,” said Ferguson on Wednesday.
“It was important to me to leave an organisation in the strongest possible shape and I believe I have done so. The quality of this league-winning squad, and the balance of ages within it, bodes well for continued success at the highest level whilst the structure of the youth set-up will ensure that the long-term future of the club remains a bright one.”
There is so much that has already been written; Fergie strolls into retirement having created a surfeit of memories. It is an end none could have foreseen on 6 November 1986 – the day Ron Atkinson was sacked, and Ferguson hired as his replacement.
Indeed, there was little hope that Ferguson would last five years at a club that had sought glory, but failed to deliver in more than a generation. It has been one of the most remarkable tenures in the history of the game.
Then Ferguson is one of the most remarkable men to have graced the sport. A force majeure of control freakery, with an uncanny ability to cajole, bully and inspire. Each has contributed to Ferguson’s success.
As has luck. Barrel loads of it. But then, as Lefty Gomez, the post-war pitcher famously said: “I’d rather be lucky than good.” Ferguson is both and modern United owes him all for it.
But Ferguson’s appointment was a gamble, whatever the manager’s success in Scotland. As it turns out, ending the Auld Firm duopoly and taking provincial outpost Aberdeen to European glory was just the beginning of Ferguson’s iconoclasm.
Yet, United, as Fergie was to learn, is nothing like Aberdeen, and the expectation of success has always been different, even if it was rarely achieved between Sir Matt Busby’s heyday and the late 1980s.
It has long been said that Ferguson’s mission on joining United was to “knock Liverpool off their perch.” In truth that came much later. United, on its knees after Atkinson’s dismissal, had far more modest ambitions.
The club’s final position of second in the old First Division at the end of the Scot’s first full season in charge was entirely false. Simply becoming competitive with Liverpool was the imperative. After all, at Liverpool they said ‘winning is winning and second is nowhere’.
United was nowhere at best.
Most destructively, Ferguson inherited a deleterious culture of alcohol among a clique of senior pros. That Ferguson set about systematically re-engineering the club, and ultimately succeeding, is testament to the enduring influence the Scot has brought on what is now a multi-billion pound institution. And he did it all in Busby’s shadow.
Ferguson ripped apart United’s youth system – a decision that would prove fruitful nearly a decade later – laying the foundations for squad changes ahead.
By the end of the 1988 campaign Ferguson had released, sold or accepted the retirements of seven players. Within two years Ferguson had overseen the departures of more terrace heroes, including Gordon Strachan, Norman Whiteside, and Paul McGrath.
This, however, is United and progressive change, no matter the club’s state in the mid to late 1980s, was never so copacetic. By the turn of the decade Ferguson was under pressure from within, many calling for or anticipating the manager’s departure.
“Three years of excuses and it’s still crap…ta-ra Fergie,” read the now infamous banner following a run of six defeats in eight games during late 1989. Ferguson would later describe the period as “the darkest” he had ever suffered.
If there was a turning point in Ferguson’s tenure then United’s FA Cup win over Nottingham Forest at the City Ground in January 1990 is often the illustration. It has become a Fergusonian cliché, but the pressure to dismiss the Scot had United not secured the 1990 FA cup may well have become insurmountable.
The Cup win was never enough for the Scot though. Ferguson’s assessment that United had become a ‘cup team club’ was always on the money.
Success in Europe came in 1991 with a remarkable, and thoroughly unexpected, run in the Cup Winners’ Cup, triumphing 2-1 in the final against Barcelona. It would not be the last time Ferguson would meet the Catalans in European competition. Once again, however, United failed to put up a genuine challenge for the First Division title.
Not until narrow failure a year later, with Paul Parker and Peter Schmeichel adding to the growing influence of youngsters Lee Sharpe and Ryan Giggs, did United genuinely challenge for English supremacy. It was the first time in 25 years that the club had done so.
The Holy Grail was found a year on amid the late drama of Steve Bruce’s unforgettable headed double against Sheffield Wednesday. Champions of England at last, with Brian Kidd’s praise sent to the heavens.
The deluge started then. The double came in 1994, with the most combative team modern United has known. “So many of them, real tough bastards,” Ferguson would later note. The ‘double double’ came two years later under the magnificent influence of Ferguson’s finest signing, Eric Cantona.
By 1999 United conquered Europe’s best, driven not through expensive acquisitions alone, but by the youthful evolution Ferguson had instigated 13 years earlier.
United may have been lucky that remarkable night at Camp Nou, but it was Ferguson’s due having revived the club root and branch from a generation-long malaise.
In that Ferguson has never been a coach alone. Whether United’s board truly understood this in 1986 is moot; it was a decision that transformed a football club.
The Scot’s chameleon-like ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment has ensured that the club has continually met new challenges. He has personally evolved for the modern era by entrusting an ever-increasing sphere of influence to an army of coaching, fitness, health and science professionals.
There are failures though. Ferguson’s ability to succeed in the market has often been mixed. Eric Cantona, Peter Schmeichel, Steve Bruce, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Denis Irwin – all bought for a song. The Scot also wasted money on a plethora of the average, particularly as the 1990s gave way to a new millennium. The scattergun policy still unearths rare gems, but mediocrity is often a by-product.
Then there are the personality failings: Ferguson’s requirement for total control has seen Paul Ince, David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Jaap Stam leave in acrimony, each before their peak.
Too often, with embarrassing results, Fergie picked fights with the Football Association, media, referees, fellow managers, coaches and, eventually, United’s supporters. Much of it was counter-productive.
“Sometimes I lose my temper,” he once noted. “If someone argues with me I have to win the argument. I can’t lose an argument.”
And no mention of Ferguson’s failings can come without an assessment of his role since 2005. The Scot’s acquiescence to the Glazer takeover, the decision to ‘look after his staff’, and to repeatedly, vocally, support a regime at the height of supporter protest was unnecessarily divisive.
Ferguson’s refusal to acknowledge even the basis for supporter concern was an error. Fans cannot, as Ferguson once urged a travelling supporter, simply “f*ck off and support Chelsea.”
Yet, the bitter after-taste of Ferguson’s loyalty to the Glazer family will fade before memories of the glory will. There is a generation of United supporters that know nothing else but Ferguson, good and bad. Those supporters have experienced little else but unbridled success.
The new journey begins with David Moyes in the dugout, and Fergie in the directors box. Sir Alex’ shadow will surely be long and dark. But that is for the future. In focus for now, the goodbye.
“To the fans, thank you,” concluded Ferguson on Wednesday.
“The support you have provided over the years has been truly humbling. It has been an honour and an enormous privilege to have had the opportunity to lead your club and I have treasured my time as manager of Manchester United.”
It is mutual. It has been a drama, a pleasure, and, frankly, an absolute honour.
40 thoughts on “Ferguson: the man, the manager, the winner, the utter b*stard”
amen. couldnt agree more with every word
Couldn’t agree more. Feel like an idiot now for the times I shouted at the tv saying it was time for him to retire. The announcement was like a slap in the face yesterday. Genuinely hope he enjoys his retirement and I will certainly miss him.
Fantastic, honest appraisal of Ferguson’s time at the club. I found his support for the Glazers and contempt for the fans who were against the Glazer takeover unpalatable, particulalrly as the takeover meant some of us felt we had no choice but to give up our season tickets in protest at this and, on a wider scale, the invasion of nu-football, thus sacrificing one of the loves of our lives, never to return. However, I am immensely grateful for getting us out of the doldrums, making us great again, and providing me with some of the most wonderful memories – Nou Camp 99 still sends shivers down my spine. I can’t thank him for everything he’s done, but I’ll thank him heartily for the rest.
Its the end of an era. I’m glad he is alive to see how much he is appreciated for his contribution to football. Hate him or love him he is one of the greatest to have ever graced the beautiful game. I wouldnt want this piece to souce like a eulogy but a celebration of the greatest manger ive seen in my life time. What a career!
I love you Alex
This hit me harder than I thought it would. I believed strongly he would have gone had we beaten Barca in 2011. So every year was a bonus in my mind. Yet. This was a bombshell. I parked my car and held back tears.
This was my tribute http://www.supersport.com/football/blogs/calvin-emeka-onwuka/Thank_you_Sir_Alex
From cals blog…
“So, I had an agonising wait for Sports Round-up to know the score. When I heard it, I jumped on the back of my friend so suddenly it was a miracle we both did not collapse in a heap.”
..the lucky bastard
Ed – please don’t do a Fergie on us and retire
brilliant article – THANK YOU
One the best for a long time Ed, thanks.
One omission is the Rock of Gibraltar affair where Taggart got slapped by people who know a lot more than business that he does. He chose to pick a fight with the board and lost. It never happened again. He learned his lesson and that continued with the current owners.
danni – yes I short cut the whole horse spunk to Glazers piece. He was culpable, but I’m thinking of doing a fuller thing on that.
LOL – the cock crowed that day I’ll bet
Told these cunts yesterday. They called me a liar.
Never doubt my word. Moyes will be announced sometime today as the new manager.
Fair enough Herbs you were right. So do your contacts know if we are buying Ronaldo or Messi?
without taggart we’re the same as everyone else
after 20 years of us dominating its all up for grabs now
and im not backing moyes tbf
Right, enough’s enough now Herbie – I was willing to accept your disability, but you’ve gone far enough with this horse-shit now.
Stop being a cock, accept that we all knew about this LONG before you did (considering there were at least two separate threads started on the topic prior to your big news!!) and fuck up!!!
(you magnificent WUM beast you!)
We are all loyal, dedicated supporters so lets have some respect. Now whats your take on Moyes? Are everyone happy with Moyes?
Well, I still think you’re full of shit, and I’ve yet to see anything in the papers that proves otherwize… There was an interesting article about Ferguson trying to sign van Percie from Arsenal though… any word on that Herbie?
Don’t be a dick – you called us all cunts for not believing a story we already knew about, way before you did. And you want US to show YOU respect?
Your shorts are obviously on too tight and cutting off the circulation Mike!
Amazing..you don provide tangible proof fergie is going and now you start dragging moyes into it
Sick tbf…next you’ll be telling us Rooney is going
Excellent article Ed. An equally fitting tribute to Fergie from DT in the Guardian yesterday, I’m sure most people have read it as the link to it was retweeted a lot on Twitter!
It just got very real now the Moyes is confirmed. No potential successor was without risk. I suppose the board valued stability (Moyes) more than a short-term fix (Mourinho). Hopefully the players are on board with this appointment. I can’t help but wonder what RVP is thinking: “But Fergie, I signed for you!!”. Can’t imagine Rooney will be changing his mind this time either!
Personally, I think Moyes is a good choice. Firstly, he was Fergie’s man, which says infinitely more about him than what anyone else thinks. And I just didn’t fancy Mourinho in charge, the arrogant twat. And the likes of Klupp would probably be riskier than Moyes, coming from a different league.
Interestingly, on the United website, very first line on the news of Moyes appointment:
“Manchester United Board unanimously approves the recommendation of Sir Alex Ferguson”. They’re making it very clear this was Fergie’s choice…laying all the blame for this one on Fergie!
The next big story is Rooney! He told the club he was leaving. I will leave it as that for now.
I don’t disrespect anyone here, but you acted like a bunch of cunts yesterday and thats no respect to me. Next season I will be writing for united rant but my articles will be coming from information inside the club. Right now Iam in the process of sending one of my youngsters on a trial at the United academy. Have you ever read about Nahki Wells. The Bradford striker from my club, has scored 27 goals this season in just his second year at Bradford. Helped Bradford to reach the League Cup final against Swansea and now the League Two playoff final at Wembley. I coached this player and many others that are in the English leagues now. Wells is now a target for Southampton, Leeds and Burnley. All my players are trained at age 5 years old to kick and dribble with both feet. Once they reach the under 10 team, if they cannot kick with both feet, we ask them to leave and find another club to play for. We strive on producing world class youngsters, thats why West Ham and Stoke scouts are always here checking my players. I’ve got another 17 year old striker at Crawley Town. Jonte Smith in his first season has scored 31 goals. My 18 year old goalkeeper is at Stoke playing for the academy/reserve team.
Lol..I’ve a stoke academy keeper playing for me
Oh btw herbie…what a knob
From what I’ve read, Rooney’s problem was with Fergie, their relationship was beyond repair. He asked to leave, unaware that Fergie was about to leave himself.
So if he wants to change his mind, why not let him? New manager. New slate. If he wants to stay, he obviously still wants to play for United.
Despite his inconsistencies, I would hate him to leave. Can’t see him changing his mind though.
if you want respect, you most definitely joined the wrong forum herbie
you cant knock that record tbf
how on earth is a successful manager in a foreign league more risky than an unsuccessful one in this league
“Unsuccessful” is a bit harsh. Is success not relative? I think he achieved as much as he could at Everton. Without massive investment he was never going to break the domination of the top 4 clubs in the premier league, or the domination of those clubs in the cup competitions. He turned Everton from relegation fodder to consistently finishing in the top 6 or 7 on a limited budget. He achieved what was expected of him, so from that perspective he was successful.
Obviously the expectations at United are a lot higher in line with United’s stature, and success will be measured by silverware. Whether or not he meets those expectations remains to be seen. But he has a very consistent and respected record in the Premier League.
What’s this about Fergie being summoned to a meeting with the Glazers, and promptly quitting afterwards
I think that’s what Red Issue are going to ‘expose’ on sunday
Ed, that period as you have written about before I think way back is critical. After that he never fucked about with the owners again. It cut him down to size and I think a reason why he never said shit about the takeover by the glazers.
Would also be good if you could write a piece on how the Edwards family cashed on the Plc plus how McManus and Magnier built up controlling stakes. I’d like some of the thick cunts on here to know exactly why the Glazers were allowed to do what they did because Edwards and his family put the club in play by going public to make gazillions. Their return on investment would make that of Malcolm look like lose change. United was for all intents and purposes a family business since it was rescued from bankruptcy decades ago, and how ironic now that it is once again a family business.
Cant believe some of the “cunts” on this forum still get wound up by King Herbie the WUM.
George Osbourne once got the hairdryer treatment from Fergie
lolz at the comments n all
Have you guys seen this? Pretty funny…
Lovely piece about Fergie, written by a Scouser nonetheless, you may have seen already, but worth a read if you haven’t.
Jeez, reading that made the hair on my arms stand on end. The human, caring side of Fergie never seems to get the recognition and credit it deserves, but it’s always nice to hear and read about.
I’ve seen the same footage used with a different scenario, but this was well done too; it made me chuckle in several places.
Aye, I’ve seen a few of them as well… there was one a few years back, had me in tears… fuckin hilarious, it was… but for the life of me, I can’t remember what it was about.
Funniest one was the city one when Owen scored…best by far
That one above is shit tbf
I think, the one I’m thinking of had something to do with somebody missing out on a signing… don’t know if it was us, or Chumpski, or Liverpool though… all I remember for sure is, it was funny as fuck.
Just looked that one up… I’d forgotten about that one… that was good as well.