Sir Alex Ferguson: Manchester United history & managerial career profiled

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'Fergie' is regarded as one of the all-time greats, having won armfuls of silverware in his 1500 matches in charge of the Red Devils

Sir Alex Ferguson is considered to be one of the greatest managers of all time, not just for Manchester United but in world football.

The Scotsman was noted for his success at Old Trafford, where he won 22 major domestic titles, two European Cups and the Cup Winners’ Cup of 1991.

Such a formidable track record allowed him longevity unparalleled in the modern game, with Ferguson in post for the Red Devils from 1986 until he elected to retire in 2013.


Manchester United appointment


Sir Alex arrived at Manchester United having first attained legendary status at Aberdeen, where he guided the Scottish club to three Premier Division titles, four Scottish Cups, a League Cup, the European Cup Winners’ Cup and the 1983 European Super Cup.

Having cut his managerial teeth at East Stirling, he moved to St Mirren and then the Dons, while he also led Scotland to the 1986 World Cup following the death of Jock Stein.

He took charge of the Red Devils on November 6, 1986 when the club was at a low ebb. They sat second bottom of the First Division table, 21st out of 22 sides, but there were to be no immediate miracles as he set in place the foundation of a team that would go on to dominate English football for two decades.

Ferguson worked first to improve the discipline and fitness of the team, which allowed them to stabilise themselves and finish the season in 11th. Although a second placed finish followed in the 1987-88 season, there was a slip back to mediocrity and by the middle of 1989-90 a concerted campaign to see Ferguson sacked.

Competition Years
Premier League 1992-93, 1993-94, 1995-96, 1996-97, 1998-99, 1999-2000, 2000-01, 2002-03, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2010-11, 2012-13
FA Cup 1989-90, 1993-94, 1995-96, 1998-99, 2003-04
League Cup 1991-92, 2005-06, 2008-09, 2009-10
Charity/Community Shield 1990 (shared), 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011
Champions League 1998-99, 2007-08
Cup Winners' Cup 1990-91
European Super Cup 1991
Intercontinental Cup 1999
FIFA Club World Cup 2008

A 1-0 FA Cup win over in-form Nottingham Forest is often cited as a turning point in his career at Old Trafford, with United building on that surprise away win in the third round to go on and win the trophy.

The following year, the side remained inconsistent but managed to win the Cup Winners’ Cup, defeating Barcelona 2-1 in the final.

It would be the 1992-93 season that brought the club their first league title since the days of Matt Busby in 1967. Buoyed notably by the signing of Eric Cantona from Leeds, United finished the season brilliantly to move 10 points clear of second-placed Aston Villa, showing a characteristic that would become a trademark of Ferguson’s sides through the years.


Fergie’s Fledglings


David Beckham Manchester United

Another league title followed in 1993-94 but the Red Devils missed out on three-in-a-row due to a final day draw with West Ham which handed the trophy to Blackburn Rovers, which in turn prompted a clear out of veteran players and room for a string of academy graduates to be given a chance.

Amid criticism, Ferguson blooded the likes of Gary and Phil Neville, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt, all of whom would be stalwarts during what was perhaps United’s peak period of dominance.

The manager’s trust in his players was absolute, despite BBC ‘Match of the Day’ pundit Alan Hansen infamously prophesising: “You can’t win anything with kids.”

With Cantona now back after an eight-month suspension for fly kicking a Crystal Palace fan, United overhauled Newcastle’s apparently insurmountable 12-point lead at the top of the table to win the league, an achievement for which Ferguson was granted a new four-year deal.

A new adversary loomed in the form of Arsenal and their new boss Arsene Wenger. Although the pair would oft have a fiery relationship in the press, Ferguson was full of praise for the Frenchman guiding the Gunners to the 1997-98 title, stating: “I think it's good for my young players to lose on this occasion.”


Man Utd win the treble


Manchester United 1999

The peak of Ferguson’s managerial career came in the 1998-99 season, when he guided the club to the treble – the only English team ever to have achieved this feat. 

After a slow start to the season, they would go on to win the league, though it was in the FA Cup and Champions League where they served up their most dramatic football, the type of which was by now known as Ferguson’s hallmark.

In the FA Cup, they were threatened with an early exit at the hands of Liverpool but scored twice in the closing five minutes to eliminate their great rivals. Then followed a thrilling tussle with Arsenal in the semi-finals which was decided in a replay, with Ryan Giggs famously scoring the winning goal after running half the length of the pitch by despairing challenges.

United’s incredible mental strength was on display in the Champions League, too. After eliminating Barcelona in a group that also contained Bayern Munich, Inter were seen off in the quarter-finals before the steel of the team became evident in the semis. Trailing 3-1 on aggregate away to Juventus, they appeared to be heading out before storming back to progress.

That fixture was notable for the performance of captain Roy Keane, who had received a booking that would prevent him from playing the final. The Irishman was emblematic of the combative spirit that Ferguson wanted to see from his players, particularly that evening in Turin.

“It was the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field. Pounding over every blade of grass, competing if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose, he inspired all around him. I felt it was an honour to be associated with such a player,” Ferguson later told The Times.

The 1999 Champions League final was one of the most remarkable in history, with United scoring twice in extra-time through Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer having trailed Bayern Munich 1-0 for the majority of the match.

After the game, Ferguson uttered one of his most famous phrases: “Football, bloody hell.”


Retirement U-turn and transition


Sir Alex Ferguson Manchester United

Despite the ongoing threat of Arsenal, Ferguson built a team that won the title three years in succession, becoming only the fourth side in history to achieve that feat.

It was at this juncture that the manager announced his intention to retire from the game at the end of the 2001-02 season, though after several months of ruminations he elected to make a U-turn on the decision. 

Nevertheless, the season ended in disappointment as United finished third in the league and missed out on playing the Champions League final in Ferguson’s hometown of Glasgow, a fact he would later admit to being his greatest regret during his time in charge.

It was around this point that the team went into another era of transition, though that did not stop them picking up another league title in 2002-03.

During the following summer, Cristiano Ronaldo joined the club but, Arsenal were irresistible and won the league undefeated.

The following year saw the club’s firepower further bolstered by the arrival of Wayne Rooney from Everton, though they finished the 2004-05 season trophyless. Ferguson reached a personal milestone, however, by marking his 1000th game in charge of the club with a 2-1 win over Lyon in the Champions League.


Renewed success


Manchester United Champions League 2008

Once again, a foundation of success was slowly growing, though, and the 2006-07 campaign brought a ninth Premier League title before a 10th followed 12 months later.

The major achievement of 2008, though, was a second Champions League success. After drawing 1-1 with Chelsea at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, the match went to penalties, with United coming back from the dead in the shootout as John Terry slipped while taking a kick that would have won the Blues the trophy.

While they continued to dominate domestically, further European success would elude them as Barcelona’s era of comparative Champions League dominance began by beating United 2-0 in the 2009 showpiece in Rome. They would subsequently lose to Barca again in the 2011 fixture at Wembley.

A landmark 19th title had preceded that match, which was Ferguson’s 12th personally. It made the Red Devils the most successful club in the history of the English top flight, symbolically overtaking Liverpool.

Number 20 arrived two years later, with the title sealed with four matches to spare. It was overshadowed, however, by Ferguson’s announcement that he was to retire from his post.

His final match in charge, his 1500th in total, was against West Brom and finished in an incredible 5-5 draw – a fitting finale given the excitement he had brought to the club throughout the years.

In the 2012-13 campaign, he was awarded the Premier League Manager of the Season gong for the 11th time in his career, having also won the UEFA Manager of the Year award in 1998-99.


Post-Retirement


Sir Alex Ferguson Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Manchester United

Ferguson, who was awarded a CBE for his services to football, has stayed on at Manchester United as a director and an ambassador.

Indeed, he has been marked with a statue at Old Trafford for his achievements with the club, while he has also had a road near the stadium renamed to Sir Alex Ferguson Way.

Perhaps the most notable honour that has been bestowed upon him, however, is that the largest stand at Old Trafford has been renamed the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand.

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He is regularly spotted among the crowd at the Theatre of Dreams with his wife, Cathy.

Additionally, he has been appointed as a UEFA Coaching Ambassador while he has lectured at Harvard University in the USA.

On May 5, 2018, he underwent emergency surgery after suffering a brain haemorrhage but has since returned to watching United, with current manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer having turned to his former boss for advice and even a team talk.

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