In the past week, the football news in the U.K. was heavily dominated by the announcement of the retiring of legendary Manchester United club manager Alex Ferguson. Fergie, as he was affectionately known by players, fans and the media, had been managing one of the country’s most powerful sides for twenty-six years, and his remarkable leadership and footballing savvy helped define a new and unforgettable era in the history of British and international football.
Scottish-born Ferguson was a manager who knew exactly what he wanted from his squad, even if his methods of ensuring the continuing unbridled success of Manchester’s number one clubs caused some controversies. Players feared his “hairdryer” treatment and his anger-fuelled rants in the dressing room, but they also had immense respect for him as a more-than-capable leader, steadfastly devoted to the success of Man U. Not since the golden era of the Busby Boys in the Fifties had Manchester United achieved so much. Ferguson’s unique management style brought out the best in such big-name football stars as Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. He helped bring United from the doldrums that caused the team to sag to the bottom of the tables in the 1970’s, steering the team through victory after victory, trophy after trophy. Ferguson had his eye constantly ‘on the ball’, developing player talents and spending big cheques and transfer fees, all of which soon poised United as the go-to team for professional footballers all over. His successes gained millions of loyal fans chanting “Glory, glory, Man United” . A simple chant that reverberated from the home crowd in the stands of Old Trafford and from thousands of miles away – from the bustling metropolises of the People’s Republic of China to the sun-kissed beaches of Mauritius. A whole generation of these fans have only ever known Sir Alex, and his sudden retirement at the age of 71 in preparation for a hip operation has been a huge shock to the world of football.
Fergie was living the dream and proved that you could be successful regardless of where you came from. It took a special kind of hard work and sacred dedication to the religion of football that propelled a working-class boy from the tough neighbourhood of Govan in Glasgow, to cross borders and social classes to become one of the best bosses in the sport, charting the fortunes of a top-flight English club. When other teams were hiring and firing their managers at the drop of a hat, Fergie was never in doubt of the future of his illustrious career, as the Manchester United cabinet swelled to the rafters with silverware. From playing in the Glasgow streets to guiding his boys as they ran across the hallowed turf of Old Trafford, Fergie had that charisma and determined grit not seen there since Sir Matt Busby a generation before him. His earthy language and close-to-the-bone humour brought him to the level of the younger Jose Mourinho, and just like the “Special One”, Fergie’s pearls of wisdom were highly sought after by the red-top press. Even before his career at Old Trafford had begun, he had already scored a European title while managing his previous club, Aberdeen. Although it took him a few years to replicate that success at Manchester, by 1990, accolades and titles soon were the hallmark of Fergie’s days at work. That the Red Devils’ then owners were prepared to give Fergie the benefit of the doubt even in his less-than-fruitful twilight days showed how much faith they had in him to deliver the silver. He frustrated Liverpool’s mission to be the club with the most titles and ended Merseyside domination of the beautiful game. His superb set of players frustrated other top teams and coaches, most notably Londoner sides Arsenal and Chelsea, and even held back fiercely rivalled fellow Mancunian side Manchester City from establishing themselves as forces.
The Manchester United Facebook page published a special image of Sir Alex Ferguson as its cover photo as he calls time on an eventful 26-year career.
Sir Alex Ferguson will step down as manager at the end of the current season, to be replaced by David Moyes, who is currently with Everton with an 11-year stretch under his belt. His last game as manager will take place against West Bromwich on May 19 2013, before Ferguson takes on a new role as a club director and ambassador.
Fergie’s career as manager presided over an astonishing 894 games won, netting a total of thirty-eight trophies spanning from 1990 to 2013. The impressive haul included:
- 13 Premier League trophies
- 5 FA Cups
- 4 League Cups
- 2 UEFA Champions League cups
- and one each from Cup Winners’ Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, UEFA Super Cup and Inter-Continental Cup tournaments
- along with 10 Community Shields.
During more than a quarter of a century, Sir Alex turned around the fortunes of Manchester United and made it into a global power finding himself as one of British football’s most successful well-known managers. Upon announcing his retirement last Wednesday, Ferguson stated “The decision to retire is one that I have thought a great deal about and one that I have not taken lightly…It is the right time”. Ferguson’s career won him respect across the board. Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore commented “His drive, ambition, skill, passion and vision have not only shaped Manchester United, but in many ways the game of football as we now know it“. His ability to sniff out the best in footballing talent and mould his acquisitions from other top clubs into world-class sportsman earned him grudging respect even from rival teams and their managers, many wishing they had his magic touch. Under his legacy, Manchester United is now listed on stock exchanges and earns a multi-million pound revenue from the sales of football strips, sponsorship and memorabilia alone. The club is now believed to be worth around US$3.2 billion as one of the world’s most high-profile sports brands.
Fergie first spilled the beans on his impending retirement during a corporate golf match. Upon officially stating his departure from the most desired of management positions in football, a flurry of tributes and platitudes from other major personalities in football’s higher echelons paid homage to him. Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA and no stranger to controversy himself, tweeted that Ferguson’s achievements “…in the game place him without doubt as one of the `greats’ “. UEFA president Michel Platini hailed Ferguson as one of football’s “true visionaries“. Outside of the footballing world, even the UK government applauded him. The announcement grabbed the British media spotlight from the buildup to the State Opening of Parliament, where Queen Elizabeth II, who knighted Ferguson in 1999, was setting out the government’s planned legislation. Prime Minister David Cameron, a member of the Conservative Party, hailed Ferguson as “a remarkable man in British football who has had an extraordinary, successful career.
As passionate as Ferguson was about the game and the team, his notorious Glaswegian temper meant a youth fighting with other boys on the streets and then as manager one that exploded when his players were not performing up to scratch. His ‘hairdryer’ treatment sent shivers running down the spines of his charges – a stream of in-your-face invective said to make one’s hair stand on end. At pitch-side, photographers were never short of pictures of Ferguson storming the sidelines, his reddened face etched in anger and frustration with fists firmly clenched. He would be irked by not just the eleven players on the turf, but also club officials, referees, rival coaches and the media, with whom he had a classic love-hate relationship. He would ban reporters from further interviews with him if they published anything or asked any questions that riled him.
In one infamous 2004 incident – dubbed ‘Pizzagate’ – Ferguson was said to have hurled a slice of pizza across the changing room or near the tunnel in a heated exchange with Arsenal. In another involving former Los Angeles Galaxy star David Beckham, Sir Alex, furious at a poor performance against Arsenal lashed out, kicking a boot across the changing rooms that struck Beckham above the eye. This led to bad blood between the two, and tension between David and his wife, former Spice Girl and singer Victoria, and eventually was sold to Real Madrid. Ferguson was allegedly fed up with Beckham’s celebrity lifestyle. Despite this, Beckham who is now back from the United States and playing for French side Paris Saint-Germain said on a Facebook tribute to his ex-manager, “The boss wasn’t just the greatest and best manager I ever played under he was also a father figure to me from the moment I arrived at the club at the age of 11 until the day I left,…Without him I would never have achieved what I have done in my career…He understood how important it was to play for your country and he knew how much it meant to me.“
Ferguson not only made an impact in football, he even changed its lexicon. He introduced the phrase “squeaky bum time” to describe the tense feeling noticeable at the finale of the season. Receiving additional minutes by a referee at the end of match stoppage time became known as getting a bit of “Fergie Time”, especially as that was when United’s strikers would sink in a killer coup-de-grace of a goal, a sweet speciality that Fergie adored.
Now that Ferguson has quit the dugout for good, Manchester United, especially its players must face the challenge of life without the Scotsman. David Moyes, who was especially chosen by Sir Alex himself, above the widely expected favourite Jose Mourinho, will be the successor to Fergie’s enviable legacy. A fellow Scot who comes from the same city as Ferguson, Moyes has managed Everton for just over a decade and while he has not delivered much in the way of trophies there, he has held together a tight team on a budget far smaller than the tens of millions at United’s disposal. Ferguson enjoys a long-standing relationship with his successor, and last year described him as a “first-class manager”. However it is a tough calling to fill the boots of someone as accomplished as Sir Alex Ferguson – and it will be a strong challenge for Moyes to keep the Red Glory flowing and to satisfy fans who have only ever known success.
In honour of Ferguson’s colourful 26 years at the helm of United, here is a selection of some of his finest (and most controversial) quotes and one-liners.
On Ryan Giggs “I remember the first time I saw him. He was 13 and just floated over the ground like a cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind.“
On Gary Neville “If he was an inch taller he’d be the best centre-half in Britain. His father is 6ft 2in – I’d check the milkman.“
On Italians “When an Italian tells me it’s pasta on the plate I check under the sauce to make sure. They are the inventors of the smokescreen.“
On the 1999 Champions League triumph “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. Football. Bloody hell.“
On Liverpool “My greatest challenge is not what’s happening at the moment, my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f*****g perch. And you can print that.“
On Arsène Wenger “They say he’s an intelligent man, right? Speaks five languages. I’ve got a 15-year-old boy from the Ivory Coast who speaks five languages!“
On the referee Alan Wiley “The pace of the game demanded a referee who was fit. It is an indictment of our game. You see referees abroad who are as fit as butcher’s dogs. We have some who are fit. He wasn’t fit. He was taking 30 seconds to book a player. He was needing a rest. It was ridiculous.“
On José Mourinho “He was certainly full of it, calling me boss and big man when we had our post-match drink after the first leg. But it would help if his greetings were accompanied by a decent glass of wine. What he gave me was paint-stripper.“
On whether Liverpool would win the title in 2007 “You must be joking. Do I look as if I’m a masochist ready to cut myself? How does relegation sound instead?“
On Old Trafford “The crowd were dead. It was like a funeral out there.“
On Manchester City’s Carlos Tévez poster “It’s City, isn’t it? They are a small club, with a small mentality. All they can talk about is Manchester United, that’s all they’ve done and they can’t get away from it.“
On City again “Sometimes you have a noisy neighbour. You cannot do anything about that. They will always be noisy. You just have to get on with your life, put your television on and turn it up a bit louder.“
On Wayne Rooney’s transfer request “Sometimes you look in a field and you see a cow and you think it’s a better cow than the one you’ve got in your own field. It’s a fact. Right? And it never really works out that way.“
On Manchester United’s 19th league title “It’s not so much passing Liverpool. It’s more important that United are the best team in the country in terms of winning titles.”
And on their 20th “Look at me – it’s taken 10 years off me today. It’s these tablets, they’re great!”
Fergie on United’s infamous grey kit, following United’s loss to Southampton in 1996.“The players couldn’t pick each other out. They said it was difficult to see their team-mates at distance when they lifted their heads. It was nothing to do with superstition. This club went 26 years without winning the league and we didn’t think about changing the red shirts. It’s nothing to do with that at all.”
Commenting on the change in David Beckham after his departure to Real Madrid in 2003.“He was blessed with great stamina, the best of all the players I’ve had here. After training, he’d always be practising, practising, practising. But his life changed when he met his wife. She’s in pop and David got another image. He’s developed this ‘fashion thing’ – I saw his transition to a different person.”
Giving it both barrels to Arsene Wenger after Pizzagate, 2004.“In the tunnel Wenger was criticising my players, calling them cheats, so I told him to leave them alone and behave himself. To not apologise for the behaviour of the players to another manager is unthinkable. It’s a disgrace, but I don’t expect Wenger to ever apologise, he’s that type of person.”
Many thanks to Sunny Atwal for suggesting today’s article…and to Sir Alex Ferguson, I wish you the best in your retirement and future endeavours. Thank you.
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“Alex Ferguson retires” – The Sun – Football (8 May 2013) LINK
“Alex Ferguson retires: his major achievements in graphics” – Mark Oliver, The Telegraph (8 May 2013) LINK
“Sir Alex Ferguson: A career of achievement at Manchester United” – 3 News/MediaWorks TV (9 May 2013) LINK
“Sir Alex Ferguson’s best quotes” – The Guardian (8 May 2013) LINK
“Classic Sir Alex Ferguson quotes: From squeaky bums to noisy neighbours” – Simon Head, Mirror Football (8 May 2013) LINK
Manchester United Official Facebook fan page (8 May 2013) LINK