Why Sir Alex Ferguson Is the Greatest Offensive Mind in World Football

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Why Sir Alex Ferguson Is the Greatest Offensive Mind in World Football
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

There's been a lot to like about Manchester United's title-winning season.

From the re-emergence of David De Gea as a world-class goalkeeper at the back to the sheer dominance of Robin van Persie at the top of the attack, the Red Devils' season has been one filled with highlights and things to get excited about.

However, perhaps the greatest achievement and talking point from their 20th league title is that of their veteran manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, who not only chalked up his 13th Premier League title since the tournament's inception, but showed himself to possess the greatest offensive mind in world football.

That might sound like a bold statement, which it is. 

But the reality is that whilst he might not possess the raw attacking style of some and may not see his team score 200 goals a season, Ferguson is a master of offense whose creativity, adaptability and subtlety has been key to United's success this season.

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In 2011-12, United came into their season looking to build on their success of the year before, which had seen them defeated in the Champions League Final.

Their attack was more than fine thanks to the direction and potency of Wayne Rooney, and the emergence of talented wingers in Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and Nani. Throw in the raw talents of guys like Michael Carrick and Danny Welbeck, and United's team was very strong in attack.

And whilst we can look back now, knowing that they didn't win a single title, the reality is that this was a very strong attacking team that produced very good results.

In the English Premier League alone, United netted 89 goals. They scored in every single one of their home games and were only shut out three times all season.

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Between the likes of Rooney, Hernandez, Welbeck and Dimitar Berbatov—who got a starting berth every now and again—United were a very good attacking team, and for all but three weeks of the season, they would likely have won the Premier League because of it.

Yet as we know, that Premier League title eluded them in 2012.

Manchester City—with their dominant duo of Carlos Tevez and Sergio Agueronetted 91 goals en route to their first league title in 44 years. The fact they stole it from United was perhaps the best part of all.

And whilst United only fell one point short of the title in 2012, Ferguson was clearly unhappy with the system in place. He had seen that the rest of Europe was shifting away from the 4-4-2 formation (now considered almost medieval in world football); he had recognized the need to find a genuine playmaker in the No. 10 role, and knew that United's immediate success depended on that change.

So change it he did.

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Despite only finishing one point off the title and boasting one of the best attacks in the world, Ferguson brought in sweeping reforms over the summer transfer window.

His first target was Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa, whom he could use as an attacking midfielder. His next move—which didn't transpire until the season had actually commenced—was to sign Arsenal striker Robin van Persie to play at the top of the United attack, bringing about a much-expected departure from Berbatov as the window closed for the summer.

It was the move for Van Persie that had caused the greatest reaction, though, with Ferguson seeming to make "the wrong decision" in the eyes of many, which included my name at the time as well.

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My most vivid memory of the transfer was this article that I wrote about the Winners and Losers of United-RVP Deal. I heralded that Hernandez would be a big loser, Valencia would be a big winner and that City would lose the Premier League because of the deal (at least I was write about something!).

I read back on that article and found this fascinating comment, which for mine, summed up the mood perfectly at the time for those that doubted Ferguson.

I hate this deal. United should've given Welbeck and Hernandez at least another season to see where their progression went before signing a star striker. If that time came I would've much rather seen a younger striker than the 30 year old, injury prone RVP.

Arsenal offloaded a rapidly ageing, very injury-prone striker to a competitor for $20 million-plus. United took the bait of the shiny trinket dangled in front of them and spent $20 million-plus for a player they don't need. 

How are we going to defend with RVP, Rooney AND Kagawa?

The logic behind such sentiments were obvious—Ferguson had bought what seemed like an unnecessary commodity that could unbalance an already-ordered attack.

In other words, he had tried to fix it when it didn't appear broke.

Michael Regan/Getty Images
Even United's B-team (seen here in the Europa League) was still a very strong team.

Yet again, with hindsight, we can see how right Ferguson was all along. United's attack did need Van Persie, and Rooney wasn't the answer at the top of the attack. Moreover, Hernandez and Welbeck would not suffer, and would both star throughout the season in their respective roles.

The success that United have had this year is incredible.

They changed to the 4-2-3-1 formation, saw Van Persie chalk up an incredible array of goals and saw Rooney show just how talented he can be in the No. 10 role and not as a striker—all without losing any impact from Kagawa in midfield either.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Ferguson figured out how to use those three together, and their wingers as well. He understood the timing of when to play Ryan Giggs and when to not; when to play Tom Cleverley alongside Carrick and when to split the pairing up all together. He helped Van Persie be even better than he was last season, and the success has flown as a direct result of that. 

It is little surprise, therefore, that even with Van Persie, Rooney, Kagawa, Hernandez and Welbeck that strikers are still being linked with moves to Old Trafford.

Every time a striker like Radamel Falcao or Robert Lewandowski is linked with a potential move to United, Ferguson's offensive capabilities are indirectly proclaimed. Any award or achievement that United or Van Persie win this year is also a nod toward the veteran manager.

For in just 12 months, he has completely changed a system around and turned it into something brilliant—even when it seemed like it wasn't broke and wouldn't need fixing. Ferguson made United better, even when we all tried to tell him that he'd got the Red Devils' attack all wrong.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

When we tried to tell him Van Persie was injury-prone, he was too old, he hadn't proven himself, he didn't fit United, he wouldn't work with Rooney, that Hernandez or Welbeck would leave—even when we said all of that, Ferguson's success with United this year has shown that he was right.

He doesn't have the out-and-out attacking instincts of Jose Mourinho, nor the delicate poise and technique of Pep Guardiola or Tito Vilanova.

He doesn't even have the counter-attacking skills of Jurgen Klopp or Jupp Heynckes, nor the attacking complement that either have at their disposal.

Compared to those, he will appear not as brilliant when it comes to offense, but the reality could not be further from the truth, given what we've seen this season.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Sir Alex Ferguson has shown wisdom and subtlety this year—playing every player in the right role, and adjusting his midfield from a diamond to a 4-3-3 to a 4-3-1-2 to a 4-2-3-1 depending on what was needed. The veteran manager has proved he has the brilliance to change and alter a system to work with the players that he's got, and achieve world-class results every single time.

Few could see what he saw at the end of the 2012 season. But he saw the season, learned from it, and made it better in 2013—winning back the EPL title and creating a very potent attack in the process.

And there's not too managers who could do that.

Not as subtly yet spectacularly as Ferguson has done this year at United.

 

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