Sir Alex Ferguson retires – we look back at his achievements

Sir Alex Ferguson
Sir Alex Ferguson’s 26 and a half year reign will come to an end against WBA on Sunday week.

As the news is slowly sinking in that Sir Alex Ferguson will retire at the end of the 2012/13 season, we’ve taken some time to reflect on what the great man has achieved over the years. Whether it be the signing of Cantona, “knocking Liverpool off their F*cking perch” or the treble – we have it covered here. Please do share your memories of Sir Alex and the lasting legacy he will leave at the club and for English football in general.

What is Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest ever achievement?

Bricki: Go against the grain and suggest the season we claimed the title back off chelsea. They were a machine at that time and to best them with a side in transition was a magnificent achievement.

Nik: Continuing the great ethos placed on youth at the cub started by Busby, and more, developing a structure that allows talent to progress from grassroots all the way to the first team; recruiting the very best coaching staff and creating an environment of success emphasising the commitment to the ‘play if ready’ mantra – a la the class of ’92. Otherwise, I’d have to say seeing off Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2007 was some feat, when the world of football was convinced the Portuguese’s stronghold – backed by Roman – on the Premier League was unrelenting, and quite possibly forcing Fergie’s ‘early’ retirement. His success since then, including the 2008 Champions League win against the same club, has been nothing short of mesmeric.

Rob: [Disclaimer: this is an extremely long-winded answer]

The world is an oblate spheroid with circumference 40,075km, aged 4.54 billion years*, but it is also the indescribable surge of love and joy when your newborn opens their eyes for the first time.

OK, let me start again.

1500. 49. 38. 26. 20. 13. These numbers have been quoted endlessly over the past few days, and we all know what they represent. But these numbers are mere placeholders, withering attempts to remind ourselves that his accomplishments – the surreal, absurd, frankly impossible accomplishments of this man – have truly happened, in our lifetimes, for our fortunate eyes to see. For all the records, all the trophies, all the mind-boggling numbers, none of them really express what Sir Alex’s reign means. A quick summary of what it means: a will to triumph borne out by so many memorable comebacks; the vision and love of new challenges that saw him surmount every domestic rival; a commitment to youth that emboldened the club’s traditions and wrought his finest generation; and the deep intuition that helped him inspire his ‘ordinary’ players to greatness and his best players to immortality.

Most importantly – for me – Sir Alex embodied the simple, non-negotiable joy of loving and supporting Manchester United. For a true sense of the man, without artifice or charming deception, witness the beautifully childlike state of his being when United score a goal. Every kick, every push, every last-minute winner, every heartbreaking loss meant as much to him as it does to us, something you can see from his first, nervous day at the club straight through to the present. A unique bond we had, and have – forged from his relentless success, in the fires of this thing we love – United.

What is his greatest achievement, you ask? For millions of people – rich or poor, upper-crust or downtrodden – he has made our world an indescribably better place.

* Sorry, Christians! OK, no I’m not.

Doron: The goings on in May 1999.

Herzog’s child: Peculiarly, I’m not going to go with a football moment. I believe his greatest achievement is his sustained retention of the traits that made him who he is. His most staggering characteristic is his insatiability. Prolonged success is wonderful, and rare, and there’s a very clear reason why it is not achieved by many – it’s a long and draining experience and few are conditioned to keep it up for long. Fergie, however, is rarefied. The terror of failure hounded him throughout his tenure. It hurts him. The catastrophe that ensued last May was unbearable to witness, but I knew going into this season that we had the greatest source of ammo in football: a hurt Alex Ferguson. Many are castigated for being sore losers, but berating those who don’t lose well misses the point: they don’t lose well because success to them is the only option. Fergie was a terrible loser and he used its pains to ensure he won well and frequently. Even when a trophy was secured, there was always an utterance towards the next battle. The reason why he stayed so long is because the addiction to winning, his obsessed pursuit of another hit, was ceaseless. Hes approached everything with an almost youthful hunger. The next time always felt like it was the first time. I suspect his mind is a psychologist’s paradise. It would have been easy to bow out a decade ago. We know now it simply wasn’t in him. Being him and not succumbing to the many changes that the sad ageing process brings about is, to me, his finest achievement of all.

Stretford_End: In terms of trophies and success, it has to be the treble in 1999. Having lost out to Arsenal the season before, Ferguson was even more determined to prove a point. There were some fantastic games along the way, with the obviously climax in the Nou Camp on May 26th – but it was an unbelievable time. The game in Turin is still probably my favourite match of all time. Even though Inzaghi had scored the two first half goals, to give the Old Lady a 3-1 aggregate lead, you still knew that United could easily get back into the match. That belief and desire is instilled by the manager.

His greatest achievement as a manager must surely be his ability to keep evolving with the demands of modern day football and change his tactics or transfer acquisition. The likes of Graham, Kendell, Wilkinson and Dalglish were top managers when he signed in 1986. He has seen all of them off, Wenger, Keegan, Mourinho, Benitez, Mancini. If he has lost out, like to Arsenal, Chelsea and City – he bounced back time and time again and ensures United are top of the pile. A quality you just can’t teach.

Who is Sir Alex Ferguson’s best signing?

Herzog’s Child: I’m inclined to say Keane, for symbolic as well as football reasons. Better technical players have been signed during Fergie’s career, of course, and in terms of aesthetics, Keane wasn’t a magician – but he symbolised something deeper. For me, he was the player Alex Ferguson would have been if he had magically been able to deploy himself onto the pitch during matches, especially when times were tough. That relationship ended sourly, but for a long time they were the perfect duo. Combative, disgusted with a collapse in standards, haunted and driven by the fear of failure, their combination saw us through many of our richest moments. Keane’s absence, even now, still feels somewhat weird. We have achieved much without him, but we’ve been a lesser beast since his departure. The reason why is because when he was there, you felt guarded. Not just by ability, but by something even more – leadership, perhaps, and a personality that you don’t find often in any sport. He was something more than just a footballer. It’s partly why we experienced such surreal highs during his career at United. So I’d pick Roy Keane – simply because got what the whole thing means and was made for us.

Bricki: Denis Irwin, summed up the ethos of hard work and doing a job to bring the best out of others. Didn’t want any adulation, just wante to succeed.

Stretford_End: His best signing in terms of ability was Ronaldo in 2003, hands down. In terms of impact? I would have to pluck for my hero Eric Cantona as he was the catalyst that aided United’s quest for that first title in 26 years. Ferguson has spoken of the confidence the Frenchman had, which rubbed off on the players around him. There were games where he wouldn’t touch the ball for an hour, but then go and score the winner. 1995/96 was an unbelievable season, with Cantona showing his class in the second half of the campaign. Goals against Newcastle, Coventry, Arsenal, QPR, Tottenham – they were all vital in the quest to overturn the 12 point gap. Eric for me.

Doron: It’s hard to look beyond Cantona. We may have won a title without him but he was unquestionably the catalyst for continued success and was an inspiration to the younger players at the club.

Nik: There are so many candidates, but it has to be between Schmeichel, Cantona and Keane. For me Keano edges it. His 8 years at the club were simply sensational, literally dragging the side along with him at times as United dominated domestically (and on occasion, in Europe). Clough’s advice to Keane was: ‘you get it, you pass it to another player in a red shirt’, and he certainly cherished the ball like no other. But his game had much more than this, he was the complete footballer and Fergie’s voice on the pitch – passing, tackling, strength, leadership and goals; and more, a fantastic tactical brain and a reading of the game that has not been matched since.

Rob: Eric. For simple “value for money” it’s probably Schmeichel, Ronaldo wins on talent, and the midfield craters left by Keano’s departure are still observed to this day. Yet Cantona is the greatest because of what he represents: the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of the most inevitable winning force in English football history.

SAF legacy to United and football?

Bricki: He helped to bring Football back into the heart of the nation. Perfectly timed along with satellite television to raise profile of club and game. His commitment to youth and bringing the best out of players raised the bar for other sides to match. Without SAF I don’t think you have the oil money or anything like the demand to be involved in football.

Rob: As a football manager, we’ll never see anyone like him ever again, a mirror for the glorious contradictions of the sport. In the era of specialists and technical directors, he oversaw everything at the club; constantly described as an “old-school manager” he helped modernise Manchester United – from the end of the drinking culture to elite training methods to squad rotation to international preseason tours. Derided as a tactical novice, his later years saw him implement and tinker with strikerless systems, “false nines”, defensive wingers and (everyone’s favourite) Rafael and Park in central midfield**. A pragmatist on the pitch, his teams combined flair, strength, speed and ruthlessness in various ways over the years, playing always with the drive of men who are sometimes beaten, but never conquered. Over the years, he consistently improved himself as a manager – the Sir Alex of 2013 is unarguably better at his job than the Sir Alex of 2008, who was already the greatest of all managers. At United, we will never have it as good as we did under Sir Alex. Perhaps more than anyone in the history of sport, he understood that happiness is fleeting; the joy of success fades faster than we expect, so living in the past is a road to misery. His legacy, then, is that United must always look forward, aiming to be better than it was before, even when this appears impossible to do.

** Affectionately known as The Inexplicable Void.

Doron: His legacy to United is the winning mentality but his legacy to both United and the wider game has to be faith in youth and reinvention. He’s shown that you can have a style of management but you have to adapt over time and embrace changes. His ability to do that and rebuild with youngsters and a good existing core is unrivalled.

Nik: His approach and absolute dedication to the game of football, one that all managers can have, and should, learn from; his unique blend of tactical knowledge, player identification (including the keen eye for when a player has surpassed his use), squad development and rotation and most importantly, his understanding of player and team psychology.

Herzog’s Child: I’m not going to say too much about this, as I feel the process of attempting to put the indescribable into words is discomforting. I will say this: every single football supporter, particularly in England, will miss him. Those who love him will miss loving him and those who hate him will miss hating him. He divided opinion for reasons that are obvious, but like any supreme personality he was never dull. It’s why even those who oppose him most will concede, even quietly, that they respect him. Football is more than just a game, of course. It’s not a matter of life and death, but it matters. It is a form of art and I will never let anyone tell me otherwise. Like all forms of art, the true beauty of football does not lie in its composition – it resides in the escape that it offers to those who seek a relief from the storms of daily life. As preposterous as it reads, the tireless workings of an old man who I will never know or even meet has made my life and the lives of so many others better. In the coming months and years, as I accustom myself to this change, that’s how I will remember him – someone who made my existence a bit better. I believe that’s the most beautiful gift anyone can give.

Stretford_End: Sir Alex believes in investing in youth, which is apparent in the recruitment of his successor, David Moyes. His dogged determination, ruthlessness and desire to win created winners and inspires people to be more competitive and not accept second best. This cannot be summed up any more than when he declined the chance to meet one of his heroes, Frank Sinatra. The legendary singer never got the chance to meet United’s manager, because he was too fed up following a defeat away at Charlton! Nothing mattered more to him than Manchester United winning and of course, winning the right way – the United way.

Greatest ever Sir Alex Ferguson team? (Collection of players over the years)

Bricki: Schmeichel, Neville, Ferdinand, Pallister, Irwin, Keane, Robson, Scholes, Ronaldo, Giggs, Cantona. 4-3-3

Stretford_End:Schmeichel, Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Irwin, Ronaldo, Keane, Scholes, Giggs, Cantona, Van nistelrooy

Nik: Schmeichel, Irwin, Stam, Rio, Evra, Ronaldo, Keane (c), Robson, Giggs, Cantona, & Van nistelrooy

Doron: I’d pick that team of 1998/99 but my greatest combined team would be:
Schmeichel; Neville, Ferdinand, Stam, Irwin; Ronaldo, Scholes, Keane, Giggs; Cantona, van Nistelrooy
(Left out Robson as I never saw him at his peak myself).

Rob: Schmeichel, Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Scholes, Keane (C), Robbo; Giggs, Ronaldo, Cantona.

Herzog’s Child: Team: Schmeichel; Neville; Ferdinand; Vidic; Evra; Ronaldo; Keane; Scholes; Giggs; Cantona; Van Nistelrooy

Greatest Sir Alex Ferguson moment?

Bricki:The shock on his face in the video where Phelan pops the balloon. That focused that he doesn’t see the man next to him with a bright yellow balloon.

Rob: This is an impossible question, but for the ludicrous perfection of it all, Nou Camp ’99 will never be beaten. “Football, bloody hell.” A team crafted so exquisitely in his image, providing him with the most beautiful ending it is possible to imagine. It meant Fergie’s first European Cup – given his love of that competition, imagine how that felt for him – and the apotheosis of his greatest generation. The culmination of an amazing series of highs, yet to be bettered by any drug.

Herzog’s Child: I’m going to be needlessly leftfield here and go with something that occurred before he ever won a single thing with us. The year was 1988 and the quote, thanks to the kindness of retrospection, is now more glorious than it ever was before. The landscape at the time was ominous and to make such a wild prediction was weird and bold, particularly given Liverpool’s lamentable dominance and United’s sustained struggles. Casting those relentlessly future-obsessed eyes towards the oncoming years, he said “This isn’t just a job. It’s a mission. We will get there, believe me. And when it happens, life will change for Liverpool and everybody else…dramatically.” Just read that again and, taking in the year and what shape United were then in, contextualise it. Think of those who would have, rightly, laughed at the time. Then move from year to year right up until this very moment 25 years on, with all the sadness and surprise of the last few days, and realise how that wild and bold prediction came true.

Doron: After United beat Chelsea in 2011 to all but secure a record-breaking title he paused and bowed to the Stretford End before going down the tunnel. He understood how we felt, it was a moment when the manager briefly became a fan.

Nik: ‘That’ Brucey header is certainly one I remember vividly, and has proved absolutely crucial, but in truth every moment has been truly savoured.

Stretford_End: Surely has to be the galloping on to the pitch following Bruce’s header against Sheffield Wednesday, doesn’t it? In 2003 he advanced onto the Highbury turf to salute the crowd after the 2-2 draw, which he thought gave United advantage in the title run in – I loved that approach he had in massive games. There have been so many over the years, but the 92/93 game against Wednesday is the best,

Sum up SAF in three words?

Bricki: football, bloody hell

Nik: The impossible dream

Doron: The greatest ever.

Rob: “I’m a winner.”

Stretford_End: The best ever

Herzog’s Child: Made life better

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