Sir Alex Ferguson: Youth, legacy and attacking football

Sir Alex thinks Glazer protests a distraction, while Giggs eyes his job
Sir Alex Ferguson has won thirteen league titles with Manchester United over the years

In just over a week’s time, the greatest manager that ever sat down in a dug out will retire from the game, leaving a lasting legacy and many, many memories. Sir Alex Ferguson has decided the time as come for him to move on and here we’ve got the account of three Reds who saw the Fergie evolution, the impact he has had on the club and football in general. From the 1990 FA Cup final to Keith Gillespie to Moscow 2008, our contributors have covered it all. We will never ever see the likes again.

Keith

Follow Keith on Twitter @TheMancunianRed‎

I first started watching United in 1969. We all knew Busby would be hard to replace, but never realized just how difficult it would prove. Very few fans, if any, thought we would have to wait 26 years before we won the league title again. United were loved by most fans in those days, you either supported them or they were your second favourite team. No doubt many fans today find that hard to swallow. We played great attacking flowing football and we played football the right way. The clubs ethos and standing in football had been created by Busby. Numerous managers were appointed and were given considerable funds but found the pressure too difficult to handle.

Fergie had already proven himself a winner by his achievements in Scotland most notably beating Rangers and Celtic to the title and winning the Cup Winners Cup. However his knowledge of the English game was limited and he found managing a club the size of United very different. Teams would love playing United, they would lift their game and enjoy being in the media spotlight. Atkinson’s West Brom beat us 3-5 at OT and it is believed that had a major impact on him being appointed United manager. Furthermore while we had some wonderful players many were not winners. They could produce brilliant displays and take your breath away but other weeks they would go missing if it wasn’t their day. Olsen for example was known to produce the goods at OT but go missing at away grounds. They wouldn’t fight for every ball every week, which is required if you are going to win the title. You have to match the fight of the opposition and then the extra ability you have can make the difference.

When buying players Fergie would research their character, he wanted winners. His coaching ability is questionable as is his tactical ability but he understood his weaknesses and brought coaching staff to the club to rectify his weaknesses. I think his greatest quality was to get his players to perform to a high standard each week. His European record never matched his Premier League record perhaps because of his weaknesses tactically and perhaps because he never allowed his team to take it easy in a league season, allowing them to become a cup team. Playing to a high level each week must take its toll out of the players.

Fergie is incredibly strong mentally he came through a period where most United fans probably wanted him out of the club in his early days and even when that was happening was willing to sell two of the fans favourites McGrath and Whiteside. I remember going to the FA Cup final against Palace in 1990 and many fans actually wanted us to lose the game in hope that Fergie would be given the boot. The media of course found attacking SAF much easier in those days because he did not have any proven history in English football and the fans tended to support the criticism of the boss.

While Busby left the club a fantastic history he also left the club with an aging squad and key players who believed they were bigger than the club and caused problems on and off the pitch. United also only bought 3 players between 1964 and 1972 at a time when there wasn’t that much talent coming through the youth team. Fergie leaves United with a squad full of youth and potential. However it does lack the number of top class players other United squads have had throughout the team. There would be considerable disagreement what our best first team is now while in the mid 90s the late 90s and the last Champions League winning time there would be few disagreements on the first team.

I confess to being gobsmacked by the appointment of Moyes I expected a proven winner with Champions League experience. Moyes is said to be very similar to Fergie, in some ways I can see this in others I’m shocked by the comparisons. I’m certain Fergie would have won something with Everton and then seeing the limitations he would have looked to a club where he could have furthered his career with a club with more potential. I could never see SAF not winning a major trophy for 10 years and staying with the same club. United going for Moyes reminds me of similar mistakes the club made replacing Busby. Moyes has better players and more money but the pressure will be considerably more and each game will be like a cup final. Also he looks like he will have to fight it out with Jose and a City side which will again spend big.

I will back Moyes and genuinely hope he is given years to achieve his goals but personally I think United have picked the wrong man. I wonder how much autonomy Fergie had in his selection? Did he go for a friend? Did he think his reputation might be spoilt had we won the CL after he left? Maybe I am being very unfair to the great man, I hope so.
Fergie is the best British manager ever his achievements in Scotland could even be said to be more impressive than those at Old Trafford. He has managed and been successful at every level of football, having no funds to breaking transfer records. His longevity and ability to adapt to the changing requirements of management has been staggering. He started off managing players where he had total control to managing multi millionaire players with their agents. How difficult must it be to motivate players who have heard your team talks and views on football for not just years but over a decade and keep them fresh? He hasn’t just built one of two or three great teams he repeats it over and over again, sometimes without any gap where one great team just gets replaced incrementally seamlessly. His ability to get the mix of youth and experience to create teams that last for years and therefore have the players within to create the following future great teams is unsurpassed.

Fergie is renowned for his total control at Old Trafford, can he stay out of it? Even if he thinks he is fighting Moyes’s corner will Moyes see that as interference? If we go through a bad patch, how will Moyes cope with SAF always being so close? Personally I would not like SAF to be in that position. I think Liverpool made the right decision not appointing Shankly a member of the board and just allowing Paisley to do what he needed to do. BTW Paisley I don’t think won the title in his first season.

If Moyes doesn’t win anything in his first season I don’t expect him to be at the club for three years. Jose taking control of Chelsea and City with their financial clout mean I think only the very best manager can keep United competitive I don’t see any evidence Moyes can have a comparable record of achievement to that of Fergie.

Having said this – I do think it is essential United fans back Moyes and give him our support and I will be doing this once he takes over. With his lack of trophies he needs to convince fans he is a winner and an early trophy can make a big difference. I really hope I’m proven wrong and I will support any decision he makes, you have to let managers manage and see whether they have what it takes. I seriously hope he comes to Old Trafford and we play attacking cavalier football. I would hate to see us win trophies playing boring football.

Tony

Follow Tony on Twitter @mrmujac

No-one knows for sure what Matt Busby said to Alex Ferguson during his interview for the job as the seventh post-war manager of Manchester United, but it is fair to assume that investment in youth was high on the agenda.

What he thought of the youth set-up when he arrived is not accurately recorded, however, the word ‘shambles’ was thought to be among the words he used to describe the most famous youth set-up in England.

When Ferguson named his first ever United team to face Oxford United at the Manor Ground on the 8th November 1986 it contained four youth players, none of which had been brought to the club during Ron Atkinson’s five and half years in charge.

The team that day was: Turner, Duxbury, Albiston, Moran, McGrath, Hogg, Blackmore, Moses, Stapleton, Davenport, Barnes.

That season the young Reds defeated Wrexham comfortably in the in the opening FA Youth Cup tie before losing at home to Leicester City. While the alarm bells were ringing, it might have been a one-off as Leicester had a decent team.

In October 1987, I saw my first game under Ferguson as United drew 2-2 with Nottingham Forest at Old Trafford. Changes at first team level had already occurred with McClair and Anderson joining the club and Gary Walsh, who started that day, becoming the first youth team player to be given his debut under the Scot. Within five weeks all hell had broken loose!

On the 8th December 1987 the Manchester United youth team had been defeated 1-2 at home by lowly Mansfield Town in the opening round of the FA Youth Cup in front of only 561 people. It is reported that while Eric Harrison had harsh words for the team, Alex Ferguson went ballistic!

The team that day was; Pollitt, Mortimer, Jackson, Lydiate, Heseltine, Wratten, Robins, Graham, Andrews and Lawton.

While Mike Pollitt has gone in to reach over 500 league games in a long career only Mark Robins came through the system to make any sort of contribution to the United first team. The remaining players were deemed to be simply not good enough.

Fergie ran in the changes almost immediately. He discovered that United had more scouts in Scotland than in the North-West. He asked for recommendations from his scouts but they were apt to play safe and not take risks. Fundamentally, the best teenage talent simply went elsewhere.

It seemed a far cry from his days at Aberdeen when Ferguson had five players under 19 in the successful European Cup Winners Cup side as he regularly ‘pinched’ the top teenage talent from under the noses of the two Glasgow giants.

“He was fantastic with the lads,” remembered of the Aberdeen scouts at the time. “There is nobody better than him at working with young players. He is like a magnet – he attracts them towards him. They all want to do something special for him”

Ferguson made youth a priority for Manchester United. He changed the scouting network. He set up Centre’s of Excellence across the country and in Northern Ireland. He installed Les Kershaw as Director of Youth Development and brought back Nobby Stiles and Brian Kidd to the coaching fraternity. Then he let them get on with the job of recreating the best youth system in British football, replicating the culture established by Matt Busby and Jimmy Murphy with the Busby Babes.

By 1995, United had won two FA Youth Cups, were finalists in another and reached two semi-finals. Twenty-eight juniors had come through the ranks including the likes of Martin, Sharpe, Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, the Neville brothers, Butt, Gillespie, Casper and others. Ten of those players would go on to represent their country.

The youngsters brought a sense of spirit, continuity and community to the club as they steadily progressed from one junior team to another. While some first team players took time to settle when they joined United, the youngsters never seemed to suffer in the same way. For the new kids coming through, being at Manchester United and winning things was in their nature and they carried that confidence right into the first team helping the club to glory over the next twenty years.

In 1996 the double was won with six youth players included in the FA Cup Final squad and seven players picking up Championship winners medals. By 1999, half the first team were made up of youth products as the club celebrated winning a historic treble. In 2002/03 he named eleven youth players in the squad, with eight starting, for the Champions League match away at Deportivo La Coruna. Three years later he actually named nine starting former youth products in a League Cup tie against Barnet, bringing back memories of Matt Busby’s tenure.

Alex Ferguson had not only achieved everything possible at first team level, he had done it with youth at its core. While his record with youth development is unique, it has also been undertaken with while maintaining the highest standards of professional performance at one of the biggest clubs in the world of football.

Finding junior talent at lower league level is relatively easy…developing the best players in the world consistently for twenty-six years is nothing short of miraculous!
Ferguson Youth Stats

  • 96 junior players given first team debuts (51% of total players and a British record) with at least one player coming through in every one of his 26 seasons in charge
  • In 2000/01 an average of 6.33 youth players per game
  • Over 6,000 Manchester United first team appearances by junior players
  • 49 youth players have become full internationals with over 1,300 international appearances
  • Over 100 current and former Manchester United juniors playing professionally around the world
  • Four FA Youth Cups (only Matt Busby has more)
  • 1,498 consecutive first team games with a youth player in squad
sons of united

Daniel

Follow Daniel on Twitter @Luzhniki2008‎

Back in November 2011, I wrote the article below about how Sir Alex Ferguson was celebrating being in charge of Manchester United for 25 years and looked back on all he had achieved up to then. Now, a year and a half later, Sir Alex Ferguson has announced that he is retiring from the club at the end of this season, bringing to an end his truly remarkable reign as manager of the club. He leaves the club in a fantastic position as the Champions of England once more and the future looks very positive for his successor David Moyes from next season.

For me, as a Manchester United supporter throughout the Alex Ferguson years it has been a truly memorable experience and I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey watching Sir Alex and his players and staff transform our club into the world beating side it became. I started going to United matches a few months before Alex Ferguson was appointed. My first match was against Southampton at home in September 1986, with Ron Atkinson in charge. After that I did all the home matches from then on and a lot of the away games. I can still remember all the news and reaction to Ron Atkinson being replaced by Alex Ferguson as our manager. For the 1987-88 Season our family got Season Tickets at Old Trafford and we still have them to this day. We have also been to most of the away games since then and a lot of the European aways since the 1990s, so we have been able to witness in person so many of the truly great matches Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams have been involved in. Although they were tough to witness at the time, I am even glad I was there for the lowest moments, such as Liverpool away in April 1992, West Ham away in May 1995 and Sunderland away in May 2012. Those low moments have only made the club stronger and taught us to appreciate success when it comes and never, ever take it for granted.

I’ve been very fortunate to have met Sir Alex Ferguson a number of times while following the club and I am pleased to say he has always found time to talk to us, pose for a photograph and sign autographs, which has always meant a lot. At matches, especially the away games he has always acknowledged our great support and has on numerous occasions made sure that our players appreciated that support and gone over to applaud us after matches. Our fans have always appreciated these small gestures, in return for the support we have always given them.

Although it is so sad to see him retire, I also feel a sense of relief that he is leaving in this way, with the club as Champions and Ferguson’s reputation still as high as it has ever been. It is also a relief that Ferguson will not suffer the same fate as what Jock Stein suffered on the touchline at a Wales vs Scotland when he died of a fatal heart attack while the match was taking place. Ferguson was Stein’s assistant that night and it must have left a lasting impact on him, especially making sure he never ended up like that.

Hopefully, Sir Alex Ferguson can now thoroughly enjoy his retirement, whilst still being involved at the club as a Director and Ambassador. He can also finally sit back and thoroughly appreciate all that he has achieve throughout his life in football. He has enriched the lives of the players, staff and fans of all the clubs he has been involved with, especially at Manchester United. For that we will be eternally greatful to The Boss.

My original article, written for his 25th Anniversary as manager of Manchester United:-

November 2011 marks a special celebration for Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United and all its supporters, with it being the 25th anniversary of Ferguson becoming United’s manager. It has been a truly remarkable time having him as our manager, and we have achieved unbelievable success with him. This anniversary means a lot to me personally as well as, at the start of this season, it was my 25th Anniversary of supporting Manchester United home and away at matches – so I am extremely proud to have witnessed what Fergie has done for our club right from the start.

When I started going to matches at the start of the 1986-87 season, United were struggling on the pitch, under manager Ron Atkinson, and had not won a league title since 1967. The pressure was on Atkinson and by November 1986, following a shocking 4-1 League Cup defeat away at Southampton, the club decided to sack him. I remember being told this news as I finished school and was surprised about that. Atkinson’s replacement was soon announced as Aberdeen manager Alex Ferguson. Fergie had enjoyed huge success at Aberdeen, winning league titles, domestic cups and even a European Cup Winners’ Cup, breaking the dominance of Rangers and Celtic up there. In addition, he had been in charge of the Scotland team at the Mexico 1986 World Cup, following Jock Stein’s shock death. I particularly remember Fergie at that World Cup, as I remember watching him in Mexico visiting victims of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake.

It really impressed me that he was taking time out to do that. Fergie wanted a fresh challenge at Manchester United, trying to restore the club back to greatness again and he would soon realise what a challenge he would be taking on with this. At Fergie’s 1st home match against QPR on 22nd November, he was presented to the fans, directors and club officials on the pitch before the match. That was the 1st time that I became aware of what a special person he was. As the directors and club officials went up to congratulate him – patting him on the back and shaking his hand, Fergie immediately backed away from this, clearly saying ‘don’t congratulate me on anything yet, this is just the beginning for me here.’ This action by Fergie really stood out for me and I remember it clearly to this day.

Right from the start, Fergie set about addressing every area of the club and how it needed to be improved and the benefits of all this would be felt for many years to come. Fergie clearly saw himself as the club manager and not just the 1st team manager, which would prove to be hugely beneficial. His workrate during his early years at the club were truly remarkable and set the scene for how he still continues now. As well as rebuilding his 1st team squad in those early years with great signings like Brian McClair and Steve Bruce, Fergie completely transformed the clubs scouting and youth system too. Had Fergie not done that, it is questionable how many of the likes of Giggs, the Nevilles, Beckham, Butt and Scholes would have made it to United’s first team like they did. On the pitch, it was a difficult time for Fergie and United for the rest of the 1980s. They finished 11th in 1986-87, having been in the relegation zone when Atkinson was still manager that season. In 1987-88 the club finished 2nd, a big improvement, but not enough for Fergie who stated at the end of that season ‘This club should not be accepting 2nd best’ – a statement he has instilled in the club ever since. In 1988-89 the club finished in 11th and in 1989-90 finished 13th. Until 1990, the club had not gone on any decent cup runs either, which put added pressure on the manager. Losing 5-1 to Manchester City in September 1989 was the lowest point for United fans at the time. However, things would change and it was good riddance to the 1980s for Manchester United.

United’s 1990 FA Cup run was the real start of the special times for United and Fergie. I was fortunate to be able to go to all those FA Cup matches that year and it was a truly great experience. Right from the start of his time at the club, Fergie had stated the importance of United’s support and always made time for the supporters, particularly in his early years at the club. During that cup run, United and Fergie had an amazing support behind them. In each round they were drawn away from home and at each of these games we took a great following to the games. Nottingham Forest away in the 3rd Round was a very tough match, as they had a great cup side back then, managed by Brian Clough. It has been said many times that had United lost that match then it is likely Fergie would have got the sack – we’ll probably never know. Jimmy Hill, working for the BBC that day famously said on TV before this match that United looked like a beaten side – how wrong he was to be. From there, United went on to beat Hereford, Newcastle and Sheffield United in the following rounds. At Sheffield United, particularly our support was magnificent and Fergie identified this too, making sure that every player went over to applaud our fans at the end of the match. The semi-final against Oldham was a great match, as they took us to a replay at Maine Road. It was the same in the final against Crystal Palace as they took us to a replay too, which we won 1-0. That win marked the start of an incredible run of success in the 1990s and proved that the club had been right in backing Fergie. The FA Cup Final replay also showed Fergie’s confidence in making difficult decisions for the team to succeed, as he dropped the out of form Jim Leighton, in favour of Les Sealey who would have one of the matches of his life. Since then, Fergie has had to make numerous difficult selections and leave players out, but to his credit these decisions usually work out for the best.

United, on their return to Europe in the 1990-91 season won the European Cup Winners’ Cup beating Barcelona in Rotterdam, which was another massive boost to the club. Confidence was growing and Fergie was starting to assemble his 1st great side. He had been forced to let players like Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside go, but was bringing in quality replacements. He spent big amounts on players like Paul Ince, Gary Pallister and Mark Hughes, but at the same time found some true bargains in Lee Sharpe, Andrei Kanchelskis, Denis Irwin and Peter Schmeichel. These were some of his greatest signings, along with snatching Ryan Giggs from under Manchester City’s noses, and meant that in the 1991-92 season the club could realistically challenge for the title again.

In the end, that season would end in severe heartache as United, faced with a huge fixture pile up due to great domestic cup form, lost the title to Leeds United – following defeats to Nottingham Forest, West Ham United and Liverpool in the space of a week. To his credit, after the defeat at Anfield, Fergie came out and congratulated Leeds on the title win, even though he was hurting so badly at the time, like our supporters. This only served to make United stronger, especially Fergie, as he would prove on so many occasions in the following seasons. The 1992-93 season was a landmark season, especially with the signing of Eric Cantona for a bargain £1.2 million in November 1992 from Leeds United, as United won their 1st League title since 1967. The atmosphere and scenes at Old Trafford as we were presented with the trophy in May 1993 were amongst the best ever seen there that night. It really was like a tremendous weight had been lifted off the club’s shoulders by Fergie and his players. It would get even better the following season, as United, with new signing Roy Keane, went on to win the club’s 1st ever domestic double. Not only was it a successful season, but also Fergie’s side played such entertaining and attacking football. The 1994 side is seen as one of Fergie’s best ever sides by supporters everywhere.

Focus for Fergie and the club then also turned to the European Cup, or Champions League as it became known. The 1st attempt in 1993-94 was a disappointment as United lost on away goals in a controversial 2nd round match against Galatasaray in Istanbul. The 1994-95 season was also frustrating for United in their 1st season competing in the Champions League group stages form. Hampered by the rules of the time limiting the number of foreign players in the side, United suffered bad defeats to Barcelona in the Nou Camp and to Gothenburg in the Ullevi Stadium, which meant that they did not get past the group stages. In the Premier League, United failed to lift the title, losing out to Blackburn on the final day of the season as we drew at West Ham United. We also lost to Everton in the FA Cup Final. The situation was not helped by Eric Cantona’s lengthy ban for his kung fu kick of a Crystal Palace supporter who had given him severe abuse in January 1995. At the end of that season, Fergie decided it was time to make some big decisions for the long term benefit of the team. He decided to allow Paul Ince and Mark Hughes to leave, followed in controversial circumstances by Andrei Kanchelskis. In their place, along with Andy Cole, who was signed in January 1995, Fergie had decided to give home grown players a real chance in the team. Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Phil Neville, Gary Neville and Nicky Butt had been given some 1st team opportunities prior to this, but now they would be 1st team regulars for all matches. This proved to be another inspired decision by Fergie, although at the start of the season it was questioned, especially after losing to Aston Villa, which prompted Alan Hansen’s ‘You’ll win nothing with kids’ quote on TV that night. Fergie again knew best, as these home grown players, together with the returning Eric Cantona and established players like Schmeichel, Pallister, Irwin, Keane and Giggs, helped United win a domestic double again in May 1996. Clinching this with a 1-0 victory over hated rivals Liverpool in the FA Cup Final proved to be the perfect ending to the season.

For the 1996-97 Season, Fergie strengthened his side with some overseas signings – some of whom failed to make an impact such as Karel Poborsky and Jordi Cruyff, while others, especially Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would prove to be hugely successful. United again won the league in 1996-97 but the Champions League campaign ended in frustration with semi final defeats to Borussia Dortmund. This season also marked the end of Eric Cantona’s hugely successful time with United. He will always be remembered as an iconic player for United and Fergie’s way of managing him to the best possible effect played a huge part in this. 1997-98 season, with Teddy Sheringham replacing Eric Cantona, was another frustrating one as Arsenal won the domestic double and we were knocked out in the quarter finals of the Champions League. However, this disappointment proved to be yet another example of making Fergie and United much stronger and more determined to avenge this.

The 1998-99 season would prove to be a truly historic season for United as the club achieved the historic treble of the League, the FA Cup and the Champions League. Fergie strengthened the side with some excellent new signings with the likes of Jaap Stam, Dwight Yorke and Jesper Blomqvist which added the finishing touch to what was needed for his side. He also successfully managed to rotate his squad meaning we could compete in all 3 competitions. Not only did Fergie land these 3 trophies but he was also rewarded with a very well deserved knighthood in June 1999, becoming Sir Alex Ferguson. That 1999 squad is another that is seen as one of Fergie’s best ever sides.

United would retain the Premier League in the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 seasons, plus they won the Inter-Continental World Club title in November 1999. However, they were knocked out in the quarter finals of the Champions League in both seasons by Real Madrid and then Bayern Munich. However, the biggest shock was when Sir Alex made the announcement that the 2001-02 season would be his last as United manager, as he had decided that he would retire then. There was lots of speculation as to who would replace Sir Alex but in February 2002 he made another announcement that he would be staying on as manager, which was a huge relief to our supporters.

Despite the signing of big money players like Juan Sebastian Veron and Ruud van Nistelrooy, it was a frustrating season, as Arsenal won another domestic double, whilst we also went out in the Champions League semi finals to Bayer Leverkusen. That season also saw the controversial departure of Jaap Stam early on in the season, which was questioned by so many people, as Stam was a hugely popular player at the club. United bounced back winning the league the following season, but again lost out to Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter finals. The summer of 2003 also saw the shock departure of David Beckham, following the breakdown in the relationship between David Beckham and Sir Alex. In addition, United let Fabien Barthez leave, as the problems finding a successor to Peter Schmeichel continued.

Seasons 2003-04, 2004-05 and 2005-06 are probably best described as transitional seasons for Sir Alex and United. The club won the FA Cup Final in 2004 and was severely unlucky not to retain it in 2005 as we lost to Arsenal on penalties in the most one sided FA Cup Final for years. We also won the League Cup in 2006, but we did not win the League or Champions League. There were some big name departures over this period including Ruud van Nistelrooy and Roy Keane. Keane’s departure was quite dramatic, following a very open and honest interview Keane did for MUTV in 2005 which was subsequently never shown, as it caused huge conflict between Keane and Fergie’s backroom staff. The real positives during this time have to be the signings of hugely talented teenagers in 2003 of Cristiano Ronaldo and in 2004 of Wayne Rooney. These 2 would go on to play a huge part in United’s future success and prove to be 2 of Sir Alex’s best ever signings. In addition, Sir Alex signed some great players without paying too much in Edwin van der Sar, Park Ji-Sung, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra.

Season 2006-07 saw United return to form winning the Premier League and reaching the FA Cup Final where we narrowly lost to Chelsea. It was the following season, with the addition of players like Nani, Anderson and Carlos Tevez, that United would reach the top level again. We retained the league and won another Champions League Final beating Chelsea on penalties in the final on a truly amazing night in Moscow. That trip to Moscow is one that will stay clear in my mind forever more – it truly was an emotional rollercoaster – something which we have seen so much over the years under Sir Alex’s management of United. The 2008 side is seen as another of Sir Alex’s greatest teams, alongside the 1994 and 1999 sides and it creates a lot of debate amongst supporters. To build 3 truly great sides like that is lasting proof of what an incredible manager Sir Alex Ferguson really is.

Since that night in Moscow, United have remained hugely competitive for the top honours. We retained the league in 2008-09 and again reached the Champions League Final in Rome, where we lost to Barcelona. In addition we won the World Club Championship in December 2008. In 2009-10 we narrowly lost out to Chelsea in the league on the final day of the season, whilst we were knocked out of the Champions League in the quarter finals by Bayern Munich. We also won back to back League Cups in 2009 and 2010. In 2010-11 we won a record 19th League title, overtaking Liverpool’s 18 titles – a truly remarkable achievement, especially for Sir Alex Ferguson who famously demonstrated his hunger and determination to match and surpass Liverpool’s league title haul by declaring that he wanted to ‘knock them off their f****** perch’. He certainly succeeded. We lost to Barcelona again in the Champions League Final at Wembley, which was a frustrating night, but hopefully will again be something which makes Sir Alex and United more determined to make amends for. The signings of young players like Javier Hernandez, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, plus chances being given to players like Tom Cleverley points to an encouraging future for the club again.

The challenge of winning more silverware and building another great United side still clearly remains very strong for Sir Alex Ferguson and there is no sign of him retiring any time soon. At almost 70 years old he has the energy and enthusiasm for life that would put people half his age to shame. In his 25 years in charge of United – the world of football has changed immensely, but he has kept up with these changes and adapted accordingly. He has built up a strong back room staff at the club who always give him the support he needs. He has had a number of assistants at his side – Archie Knox, Brian Kidd, Steve McClaren, Carlos Queiroz, Mike Phelan, Rene Meulensteen and briefly Walter Smith – some of whom have gone to manage teams themselves, with mixed success.

It is also clear that Sir Alex’s management had an effect on his players as so many of them have gone on to become managers – like Strachan, Bruce, Hughes, Ince, Keane and Robson. Whenever Sir Alex talks to the media it is always big news. His books that he has written, especially Managing my Life in 1999, are compelling reading and I look forward to his next book that he writes, probably to be released in line with when he retires. Sir Alex will be remembered for many reasons for what he has achieved and it goes way beyond the trophies that he’s won, for me. I admire his work ethic, his determination, him giving youngsters a chance at the club, the way he has always been accessible to our supporters and his knowledge of the club and its history. It really has been an honour to have supported United over the last 25 years with Sir Alex in charge.

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