Arguably the greatest manager in the history of football retired earlier in the week. Sir Alex Ferguson, who gifted Manchester United a total of thirty-eight honours in his almost twenty-seven year reign at the club finally came to an end this season.
In 1990, Ferguson won his first piece of silverware with an FA Cup replay win over Crystal Palace and just three years later gifted United their first top-flight title in twenty-six years and by 2013 he had well and truly knocked Liverpool off their perch, claiming their twentieth league crown, and his thirteenth. His ability to re-generate the same club with different players again and again, and to remain in the self-acclaimed “biggest league in the world” for such a long period of time, is a great testament to the man they call Alex from Govan.
He will always have to compete with names such as Bob Paisley, Herbert Chapman, Brian Clough and Bill Shankly but in terms of success he is unparalleled in the British Isles. On the continent, two Champions League crowns might not compare to Paisley who claimed three in five years with Liverpool but in a much more competitive Champions League era, Ferguson must receive plaudits to be in a special band of managers claiming the title twice since 1993 alongside Carlo Ancelotti, Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Vicente del Bosque. He has also appeared as a manager at the most finals alongside Miguel Munoz, four in total.
He has also coached United to nine domestic cup wins in the FA Cup (5) and League Cup (4) alongside bringing the Cup Winners’ Cup and Super Cup back to Old Trafford in the early nineties prior to that first league crown. He also remains the only British manager to win the Club World Cup.
Ferguson has vast achievements in his long tenure at Old Trafford, I’ll be ranking the top ten, in my opinion.
1) The Treble (1998-99)
The success generated from just one season won’t be repeated in English football for a long, long time. The season started innocuously with a heavy loss to Arsenal at Wembley in the Charity Shield along with two draws to Leicester and West Ham but by January, United really got going.
The highlights in the opening half of the season would be a hammering of Wimbledon at Old Trafford coupled with a vital league win over Liverpool at home thanks to a stunning Paul Scholes strike. The Champions League group containing the likes of Bayern Munich and Barcelona was always going to be difficult and a night to remember would be a 3-3 draw at the Nou Camp when the combination of Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke announced themselves on the European stage.
They would qualify after a 1-1 draw to Bayern Munich, feeding them an Italian passage to the final in Spain against the aforementioned Bayern. The route to the FA Cup final wouldn’t be easy either. A nervous win at home to Middlesbrough followed by a dramatic comeback at Old Trafford against Liverpool was a definite highlight of a record-breaking season.
Fulham were beating alongside replay wins over the London duo of Chelsea and Arsenal, the latter of which generated one of the greatest FA Cup goals in history, as Ryan Giggs beat the crumbled the entire Arsenal defensive structure with one lung-busting run before powering the ball past David Seaman at Villa Park.
The final in of itself was the second step on the stairway to a great season. Arsenal ran United right down to the wire which consisted of a tantalising 2-2 draw at Anfield as well as a four-goal Ole Solskjaer-inspired 8-1 away win at Nottingham Forest which remains the highest away win in the Premier League.
Goals from David Beckham and Andy Cole helped United come from behind against Tottenham on the final day of the season to beat Arsenal to the 1999 Premier League crown. Just a week later, United were celebrating another double when a 2-0 win over Newcastle at Wembley was enough for a fourth FA Cup for Ferguson.
Four days later and Ferguson matched the great Sir Matt Busby’s record in Europe. Bayern cemented an early lead by dominating the mainstay of the match at the Nou Camp but three added minutes at the end of the second half would dramatically reverse a potential Bayern treble into United’s favour from goals courtesy of substitutes Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who wrote themselves into Old Trafford folklore, along with Ferguson.
2) First Premier League title (1992-93)
The first crown was always going to the best the hardest. After a long wait, twenty-six years where United fans had to sit idly by and watch the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool, their greatest rivals pick up the title after Busby’s Babes last won the title in 1967.
Inspiration was garnered from Steve Bruce goals against Sheffield Wednesday at the back end of the season, which is where the phrase Fergie Time originates as Bruce headed in the winning goal in the ninth minute of second half stoppage time. With the likes of Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Ryan Giggs, Peter Schmeichel and Eric Cantona at the height of their powers, greatness was to follow.
3) The first FA Cup (1990)
Almost four years had passed since Ferguson had taken over the reins at Old Trafford from Ron Atkinson and the Scot hadn’t emulated the success he had north of the border at Aberdeen. The Scot just needed the one piece of silverware to prolong his reign in the managerial hotseat at Old Trafford, the replay win over Crystal Palace—the last FA Cup final replay did so.
4) Knocking Liverpool off their perch (2011)
The famous banners at Anfield in 1994 directed to Ferguson and Cantona read “Come back when you’ve won 18” so some seventeen years later, United could boast a nineteenth crown, a twelfth for Sir Alex Ferguson as Manchester United manager. A point away at Ewood Park courtesy of a late Wayne Rooney penalty solidified this as the highlight of the season was born out of an acrobatic overhead kick which would win Manchester United the spoils of the city, beating their fiercest rivals in Manchester City at Old Trafford, 2-1.
5) Moscow final win (2008)
Up until 2013, there have been four Champions League finals dominated by the one nation, Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium would host the all-English final, the third of its type when Chelsea would be Ferguson’s opponents, the London side who stood between Ferguson and his second European crown.
Paul Scholes stole the show in the semi-final against Barcelona where his dramatic early second leg volley from distance was enough to progress them to face Chelsea. Cristiano Ronaldo, who dominated the entire season with 44 goals in all, put United on the scoresheet but after Frank Lampard levelled the game late in the first half, he couldn’t convert his penalty. However, a slip from John Terry and a save from Edwin van der Sar helped United to a third European crown.
6) Quelling London dominance (2007)
Jose Mourinho entered English football after claiming his first Champions League title with Porto in 2004 and immediately brought Chelsea success, winning their first title in fifty years in 2005. Fast forward two years and Mourinho was going for his third successive league title, something which hadn’t been accomplished in the Premier League since United’s dominance from 1999 to 2001.
United would ensure their record stay intact as they beat Manchester City on home soil whilst Arsenal helped former rivals to the Premier League title by stopping Chelsea in their tracks at the Emirates. Highlights from the season came from an astonishing second-half comeback at Goodison Park featuring a sublime Chris Eagles goal as well as an opening day hiding at home to Fulham.
7) Twentieth crown (2013)
Ferguson’s last act as Manchester United manager would be to hand a thirteenth league title crown to his own trophy cabinet, as well as Ryan Giggs’. The cries of ‘Shinji 1, Gerrard 0’ would ring out from the Stretford End as Robin van Persie netted an incredible volley, part of a hat-trick which would sink Aston Villa 3-0 and alternatively, gift United a 20th league title, furthering the distance between themselves and Liverpool in terms of titles won.
8) That FA Youth Cup team (1992)
I spoke about the ability to re-generate different squads for the same club and Ferguson definitely had the ability and determination to do so. The likes of van Nistelrooy, Rooney, van Persie, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra and van der Sar from recent years were all plucked from other sides across Europe but in 1992, one of the greatest youth academies in Britain had a sudden influx of talent.
The likes of the Neville brothers, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and David Beckham would win the youth cup in 1992 and seven years later lift the European Cup. Alan Hansen once famously said that “you can’t win anything with kids.” Apparently not.
9) Eleven FA Cups (2004)
Manchester United lead a lot of tables, such as the amount of Premier League title victories but they added to their FA Cup collection in 2004, with Ferguson picking up his fifth FA Cup as United manager with a 3-0 win over Millwall at the Millennium Stadium. A Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired performance helped United to the last FA Cup they won under Ferguson.
10) Astute Negotiations (1986-2013)
When you look over recent years, money has been thrown at the likes of Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Robin van Persie to bring success to Old Trafford. Ferguson can sniff out a bargain buy as well. In the earlier part of the nineties the duo of Eric Cantona and Peter Schmeichel which allowed a decade of success between them, costing only 1.7 million between. Recently, the likes of Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, two veterans at the club now, barely breached the 10 million mark in 2006.