Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sir Alex Ferguson - 25 years in charge

This weekend marks Sir Alex Ferguson’s 25th year in charge of Manchester United. All week I’ve been reading fantastic tributes to the great man, and it’ll be very hard to surpass what already has been said or written by everyone around the world. But he’s given every single one of us so many different memories, that we all have our own way of putting it into perspective.

It was November 6th, 1986. I was a year old, so I obviously don't have memories of anything. But let's think about the way the world was back then. Argentina were crowned World Cup champions in Mexico in July of that year. Germany was still divided by east and west. Ronald Reagan was the U.S president. The Cosby show was the number one television show worldwide. There was no internet. No mobile phones. No iWhatevers. There were no names on the players’ jerseys. There were no colored boots. Football games were not broadcasted worldwide. No billionaires to own Football clubs. Stadiums were all-standing. No African players were playing in the U.K. Liverpool were the Champions of England. Steaua Bucarest were the Champions of Europe. The Premier league hadn't yet existed. Basic salaries in English football were at £1000 per week…and Alex Ferguson (not a Sir by then) was appointed manager of Manchester United. A football club with a huge history but that hadn’t won the league in 17 years at the time. 

Fast forward 25 years.

Spain are the current world champions, as of 2010. The whole of Europe is united into one European space. The current American president is black. TV shows can be streamed online. Mobile phones have got touch-screens and can connect us with everyone and everything in the world at any given time. Players have got names printed on their jerseys, as they see fit – it doesn’t even have to be their real names (ex: Chicharito). There are more colored boots that range from pink to green, than there are black boots. Football games in the Premier League are broadcasted live to pretty much everywhere in the world, even online. Billionaires own the majority of Football clubs, and those that aren’t owned by Billionaires are lagging behind on the field of play. Stadiums are all-seated now. I can’t even count how many foreigners, let alone Africans, there are in the Premier league now. The average salary in English football is approx £60,000 per week…and Sir Alex Ferguson is still the manager of Manchester United. The most successful football club in England.

A lot has changed in the world in 25 years, and in Football, but he has been the one constant during that time. Most of my childhood memories involve Football, and more specifically, watching Manchester United. Not much has changed since then. I was only maybe 5 or 6 years old when I started supporting United thanks to my uncle who properly brainwashed me, as any good uncle would do to his nephew, and I’m extremely grateful for that; because in the 20 years that I have been watching Ferguson’s different teams, I have become obsessed by the legacy that Sir Alex Ferguson has created. I know I’m not the only one, as I had friends at that same age that also supported United madly (and I’m sure some of them will read this). Ferguson has given us legends and football teams that make us Manchester United fans proud. He has given us memories that are going to last a lifetime, whether we were at the stadium during the game or in front of our TV screens. As commentator Clive Tydesley put it at the time “in 20 years, people will ask you ‘where were you when Manchester United beat Bayern Munich in dying minutes in Barcelona’”, and I’m pretty sure that most people who support United, or even other teams, can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when that game took place in 1999. 

Tydesley’s words can be echoed by so many United fans for so many of United’s games, especially during Ferguson’s era. So many matches, so many memories, so many legends, so many stories, so many last-minute goals, so much drama…it is impossible to put them all on paper, or into one article. It is what makes Sir Alex Ferguson special. He made Manchester United a special club again when he took over. Football fans of other clubs, in England especially, may hate the man, but nobody disrespects him. Everybody wishes they had an Alex Ferguson at their club, even though they won't admit it. Having that person at the head of the club that you support. A man who’s ready to give up everything for the club and who has proved all his doubters wrong time and time again. He is the definition of the word "Legend".

When any of us start working as employees, within 2 years, we start complaining or looking for a raise, or even a new job. We ask ourselves questions about our jobs. Within 5-6 years, if we’re still doing the same thing, we start getting bored. Within 10-15 years, we start planning for our retirement and begin accepting our senior status at a company. Sir Alex has been doing the same job for the past 25 years with the same hunger and motivation. Going to the same office, at the same stadium, doing the same thing. Challenge upon challenge has been put in front of him and he’s been able to surpass them all. From selling his best players, to modern-day player-power, to facing the newly-found billionaires that have flooded football, to changing his entire teams, to pushing the board for a bigger stadium…he has done it all. Everything we have come to know now of Manchester United, has been thanks to this man. Players have come and gone at the club in 25 years, but Sir Alex has remained. His insistence that no player is bigger than the club and that the manager is the most important person at a Football club has always allowed his teams to march on. He’s built teams based on his image of Football, and what a fantastic image it has been so far. Ferguson always says he’ll keep managing as long as he’s healthy enough to do it. At 69 years of age, he still looks pretty healthy, and I know I’m not alone in hoping and praying that he stays healthy for at least another 5 years.

In a few years when Ferguson will call it a day...wait...let's not think about that now.

Thank You Sir Alex!


  1. Superb article Anthony. Few can be said from my side about Man Utd history but I agree that not only football clubs and fans but all athletes and sports fans would love to have a coach like him. have to say, that also the patience and flexibility in the PL has helped him to stay at the club for so long, regardless of his vision, philosophy etc.. that you described above.
    I see a lot from him in Guardiola! But in Barca is almost impossible to stay as coach for so many years. Hope im wrong!

  2. Great passion and a good article. I was supporting Manchester United in 1999 to answer your question, one of the rare moments I did post the Cantona era. I did not want a German team to win the Champions League at the Camp Nou if you were asking why.

    Now as to Ferguson, his numbers and his legacy are already in history's books. Yet, I was lucky to meet Ron Atkinson a couple of weeks ago, and I asked him: "You spent almost 5 years and was the most successful manager since Matt Busby, but you still got sacked. How did Ferguson manage to stay the same period at his early days with not the same success?" Big Ron answered: He was a bit lucky" (not because of winning UEFA cup alone) but because he always managed a win somehow whenever needed to remain as manager most significantly winning the League Cup against Nottingham Forest as the latter was one of the strongest in England. I asked about Cantona's signing, and Big Ron also agreed it was a master class act that helped him establish his status. He also mentioned that winning that title was also lucky because of Steve Bruce's double goals.

    True Ferguson built a club, but he always managed to be lucky in decisive moments. Respect is due nevertheless.

  3. Sergio - You're right. His flexibility and adaptability to the new pressures of the Premier League have been a key! He's been dealing with different types of footballers all his career and now more than ever, he's dealing with these millionaires. And still, he makes them realize that they are HIS players.

    Figo - I don't know if you can say luck played such a big part for 25 years. It played a part several times, but for 25 years, you need much more than luck to be that successful. I also think the last minute goals were never lucky. I've been lucky to witness 2 last minute winners at Old Trafford at games that I went to. And I can promise you, there's no element of luck in the crazy determination that the players have when the moments are decisive. You'll see every single player running like they were about to die. It is that mentality the Ferguson has instilled in his players that has led to the successes that followed, and though I believe at times luck has played a part I agree, I don't think it's been as often as it's made out.

    Fergie never won the UEFA cup. It was the Cup Winners Cup, but the legacy goes that it was Mark Robins goal vs Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup (which United subsequently won vs Crystal Palace in the final) that saved his job. Fergie obviously denies it, but we'll never know.

    As for Atkinson, we'll never know the true reasons why he got sacked. But from what I've been told by United fans that I'm friends with that are from Manchester (and are quite old I must add), he was very unpopular with the fans, and they piled the pressure on the board, which eventually led to his sacking. As for Fergie not getting sacked with his poor results for the first few years...luck? good decision making? We'll never know. But Thank God he stayed :)!

  4. I've been in love before, it's like a narcotic. At first it brings the euphoria of complete surrender. The next day you want more. You're not addicted yet, but you like the sensation, and you think you can still control things.You think about the person you love for two minutes then forget them for three hours. But then you get used to that person, and you begin to be completely dependent on them. Now you think about him for three hours and forget him for two minutes. If he's not there, you feel like an addict who can't get a fix. And just as addicts steal and humiliate themselves to get what they need, you're willing to do anything for love."- By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept