It’s been nine years since Sir Alex Ferguson was left to rue talk of his retirement disrupting the side enough to finish third, his equal-worst finish as a Premier League boss during a managerial spell that has now reached 26 years. After winning a 13th league title, Manchester United’s 20th in total, it appears the Scot has finally decided to call it quits on a remarkable odyssey that is unlikely to be repeated again, at any level of football management.
It is difficult to mark the retirement of Ferguson without using claims of exaggeration but such is the mark of the man who has won 38 trophies since arriving at Old Trafford that they are simply unavoidable. It is not sensationalist to claim not only Manchester United, but English football as a whole, will be rocked by the impending departure of a manager who has surpassed a whole generation in charge at the very top level. After the final game of the season at West Bromwich Albion, his 1,500th game in charge of Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson will retire.
But then again, it is near-impossible to dwell on the abdication of the 71 year old without reaching for the tray of superlatives to describe his work, in transforming the mid-table club the inherited in the mid-80s to a modern-day behemoth that sets the example to the rest. Ferguson oversaw the transition into commercial age of the Premier League, funded by the £6 million flotation on the stock exchange in the early 90s, to put the club in position for 21 years of sustained dominance. “To knock Liverpool off their f**king perch” was his aim and it was one he achieved two years ago with United’s 19th title, overtaking their rivals’ tally of 18.
There was no greater exposé of his relentless will to win and inexorable desire than his reaction to neighbours Manchester City stealing that championship with the last kick of last season. He invested heavily in Robin Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa and proceeded to steamroller his way to another league title by a margin of twelve points. It is this constant ability to rebuild squads, possibly 5 in total since Eric Cantona, Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson and co. won the inaugural Premier League title back in 1992, that has been a major factor behind his enduring success and remarkable longevity.
Not only that, but every player Ferguson has seen pass through Old Trafford over the course of his dynasty has been ingrained not only in the winning culture of the club, but also the history and heritage. Bobby Charlton especially remembers the manager’s determination to teach the younger members of the club about the Munich disaster in the build up to its 50th anniversary back in 2008.
Respect and understanding of Manchester United as an institution was hugely important to Ferguson and once the adage of “nobody is bigger than the club” was breached, players were dispatched irrespective of reputation or standing; Jaap Stam, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, David Beckham and Roy Keane, amongst others, were all shifted on after falling on the wrong side of a manager who often appeared hideously autocratic in public, but was portrayed as being warm and effusive in private testimony. It was this balance of character that allowed him to keep a firm hand on his squad, but also keep them hungry and willing to play for him.
It was not all great of course. As with all genius that has flaw, Ferguson was no exception. His record in the transfer market was sometimes called into question with the acquisitions of Kleberson, David Bellion, Eric Djemba-Djemba and co. whilst he could have arguably performed better on the contingent than the two Champions League trophies he has eventually had to settle for. It can be an accurate criticism that whilst Ferguson possessed the intensity of focus to guide a club to success over the course of a 38 game season, his limitations were projected brightly when it came down to tactical ingenuity. He also found competition in sharper minds domestically, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti all triumphed over Ferguson before they were eventually toppled once he adapted.
But while many other clubs adopted a revolving door policy with managers in order to move with the times, Real Madrid have been through 25 managers during the span of Ferguson’s stint, Chelsea 17, Barcelona 13 and Bayern Munich 16, whilst the Manchester United manager has remained constant, moving and evolving with the game, sometimes pushing it even further and, like this year, setting the barometer even higher for others to reach.
Alex Ferguson’s retirement will be drowned in accolades, but It has to be said that it is certainly no hyperbole to say that there will be nobody of his ilk coming again in the modern game. He was supremely successful, incredibly driven and indisputably special, in a modern era when managers come and go like the rain, news of Ferguson’s passing has been seismic, there is no greater tribute than that.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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