Manchester United: Alex Ferguson and Others Who Changed United History

illya mclellan@illya mclellan @illbehaviorNZSenior Analyst IFebruary 1, 2011

Manchester United: Alex Ferguson and Others Who Changed United History

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    When Alex Ferguson took the reigns at Old Trafford in early November 1986, there would not have been anyone who thought he would still be in the job in 2011. Ferguson is coming up on a quarter century as United manager in December this year, having surpassed Sir Matt Busby's record as longest serving United manager in December last year. Quite astonishing stuff really, considering that, according to figures released by the League Managers Association last year, the average manager in the English game has a 1.4-year tenure.

    Ferguson has reinvented United in the time he has been in charge, taking a team that was second to bottom when he took over to the very summit of European competition. He has also done that which he was hired specifically to do, break Liverpool's hold on the English game.

    In doing this he has called on many players, and there are those who are constantly held up as examples of what it is to be an amazing player for such an esteemed and famous football club. In this piece, we shall take a look at some of the players who influenced things greatly, but who are perhaps not remembered as well as others are.

    Also included are people in the organization who helped pull strings that had major effects on what the club has been able to achieve.

    This article will be a little different than the pieces that continually churn out a parade of United players that everyone fawns over; it will instead focus on some of those who have been left in the shadows in such tribute pieces, and that is the purpose of the piece, to provide something just a little bit different than the usual. 

    Some of the most influential figures in Alex Ferguson's Manchester United history.

Martin Edwards

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    Martin Edwards is a man who was never in a sense "a football man." He preferred to play rugby, the hooligan's game played by gentlemen, rather than football, the gentleman's game played by hooligans. However, when he was given the opportunity to take over as chairman of the club, he grabbed it with both hands. 

    It was under the chairmanship of Edwards that Manchester United were able to convince Alex Ferguson to take over as manager after the sacking of "Champagne Ron Atkinson." Ferguson was approached by several prominent English clubs after his success with Aberdeen, which included three league titles, five Scottish cups and two European trophies. Wolverhampton Wanderers, Spurs and Arsenal had made approaches, though it was in United that Ferguson saw the best possibilities.

    Edwards was pivotal in this, as it was his business sense that had left United in a strong financial position, including his overseeing the then British transfer record of £2.3 million sale of Mark Hughes to Barcelona. Edwards' intelligent organization gave the club the necessary power to really mount a serious challenge on the stranglehold Liverpool held on the English game through the '80s.

    Edwards was also willing in Ferguson's early years to give the Scot a chance that managers of today can only dream of. The club made excellent progress early on, Ferguson taking them from second to bottom in November 1986 to an 11th place finish. The next season he improved again, though it was not until 1990 that Ferguson was able to repay Edwards' faith with a trophy.

    The 1990 FA Cup was the culmination of Ferguson's work and Edwards' trust that the Scot had what it took to turn United's on-field fortunes. It has always been said in the aftermath of this particular triumph that Edwards' was set to sack Ferguson if they had not won the cup, as the club's league form had been poor and the fans were calling for Ferguson's dismissal.

    Edwards' has repeatedly denied this, saying instead that he was happy with the way Ferguson had re-organized the football side of things and that he was never intending to sack the Glaswegian.

    Maritn Edwards is undoubtedly someone who influenced Ferguson's march to glory, and without his belief in the abilities Ferguson brought to Old Trafford, things may have been very different over the last 20 years of English and European football.    

Mark Robins

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    Mark Robins is the very player who scored a goal that many see as "the goal that saved Ferguson's United career." It was the third round of the FA cup in an away game to Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest, who were seen at the time as cup specialists and as favorites for the tie. United were struggling this season and the only chance they had at Silverware was in the FA Cup, as they had already crashed out of the League cup and were lying near the relegation spots in the league.

    Robins was subbed on and became a hero, nodding home a Mark Hughes cross, to win the match and start a revival of sorts that lead to the Manchester side finally taking the trophy after a final replay (the first match ending 3-3, necessitating the replay) in which they triumphed over Crystal Palace.

    The crucial goal that Robins scored in that third-round tie has become almost an object of United folklore, as there are many who firmly believe that Ferguson would have been sacked had he not won that match.

    The fans had been baying for his sacking and the media had jumped on this, causing Ferguson to later reminisce that that period was "his darkest time in football management." 

    Robins was extremely unlucky in his Old Trafford career after this, occasionally popping up with a few goals, but being stymied by injury and the form of his fellow strikers. He eventually was sold to Norwich City, with whom he enjoyed some glorious times, including being instrumental in the Norwich sides leading of the Premier league for several months in the 1992-93 season before they fell away to finish third.

    Mark Robins could well be the reason Ferguson is in the job still; though Edwards has denied he was going to sack Ferguson, it is one of those things that may never come to the true light of day. Either way, Robin's goal was a massive boost and led to United winning the cup, and subsequently winning the Cup Winners Cup the next season.   

Steve Bruce

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    Steve Bruce was signed by Alex Ferguson in 1987 from Norwich City. 

    He went on to become a permanent fixture in the United side and later the team's captain for several seasons, forming a formidable partnership in the center at the back with Gary Pallister. 

    The Visit of Sheffield Wednesday to Old Trafford in the 1992-93 season was tumultuous and ultimately triumphant for Ferguson's side, as they managed to overturn a one-goal deficit with two-headed goals from stand-in captain Steve Bruce. This match is seen as extremely important in breaking the spirit of United's principle challengers Aston Villa and, of course, giving United the belief that they could go all the way to the title itself.

    Steve Bruce in this match epitomized the never-say-die attitude that has come to characterize United's play over the years. The center back scoring two headers in the dying embers of the match reversed a defeat that would have been devastating to morale and given Villa a boost that could well have spurred the Birmingham side to top honors.

    The goals Bruce scored in this match were certainly a big part of creating the new legend of United that has grown during Ferguson's managerial reign and a reason that he is included as one of the most influential players of Ferguson's United career. 

    Bruce went on to captain the United side to a famous double in 1993-94, becoming the first English captain to do so. He stayed on at the club until the 1995-96 season when he transferred to Birmingham, closing the book on a United career that saw him become one of the most famous English center backs to never wear the three lions, but the first Englishman to captain a double winning side in the twentieth century.   

Roy Keane

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    Roy Keane, of course, is remembered as an influential United player for his work ethic, ferocious will to win and an unfailing tendency to inspire controversy. However, in this article, it is one of his goals that is remembered and also his stunning performance over the entire match in Turin, that turned the Champions League semifinal in United's favor.

    United had already gone to Turin having only drawn at home, giving Juventus an advantage through the away goals rule.

    Keane picked up a yellow card, which ruled him out of the final, and proceeded to play his own final in that match, dominating the midfield and inspiring his teammates to overturn the deficit, he himself scoring the goal that started the fightback.

    This game in particular was one that gave United the belief that they were ready to challenge the European elite. Juventus at the time were one of the giants of world football, and United defeating them here proved that Ferguson had molded a side ready for glory.

    This win and Keane's inspirational performance setting the benchmark for United sides to come, the sedulous spirit that resonates throughout the organization, the belief that slowly breaks opposition sides down.

    Keane is without doubt one of the most influential players of Ferguson's 24 years in charge. His performance in this particular game, giving United the boost to go on to the final, which unfortunately he missed through suspension, and the chance for another player to make his mark in United folklore.  

Teddy Sheringham

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    Teddy Sheringham was brought in at United by Ferguson in an effort to compensate for the loss of Cantona, after the Frenchman's surprising retirement. He actually started his United career on an individually poor note, missing a penalty against his former club Totteham Hotspur. 

    He made several contributions over the time he was at the club, but one game in particular defined his United career and made him one of the most influential men in Ferguson's United career.

    The Champions League final in 1999 was petering out into a one-nil win for German giants Bayern Munich, who had in truth played very well in shutting United out of the match, the absence of Roy Keane being felt especially by United's midfield who were at times a shadow of the unit that had been so resolute throughout the preceding rounds.

    The game was then turned on its head, as United snuck two goals in three minutes. Sheringham scored the first and crucially flicked the ball on for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to stab the winner into the roof of the net, giving United an historic treble, including the legaue trophy, the FA Cup and the Champions League trophy.

    Sheringham is a rather obvious choice for such a list, but his influence on Ferguson's United was inarguably huge as he not only scored the equalizer in the CL final, but he also got a goal in the FA Cup triumph that preceded the European final.

    In a relatively tame lead up to this frenetic period, he had been a fringe player at best, making up part of the side and filling in when needed. This was all to change in phenomenal fashion as he scored two goals that would forever immortalize him as a United hero, maybe not a United great, but definitely influential and definitely a United hero.  

Carlos Queiroz

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    Carlos Queiroz is included here for the obvious reason that he is someone that Alex Ferguson trusts and listens to. The two men have worked together well and Queiroz has been trusted by Ferguson to almost take over proceedings on occasions. Ryan Giggs stated in his autobiography that Queiroz had “large amounts of responsibility” within the club and had been entrusted to “train us, prepare us for games, organise the team and decide the things we need to work on.” 

    He was also instrumental in the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo, enabling United to make the decision to go with C. Ronaldo instead of Quaresma. He later recommended the acquisitions of Anderson and Nani, who have just this season started to really make their mark as United players.  

    Queiroz has been attributed with bringing in a more disciplined defensive style to Manchester United, which some fans have decried, though this style was critical in ensuring United's progress to the 2008 Champions League final. Even in the final itself, against a strong Chelsea outfit, Queiroz's tactics looked to have come to the fore again, United taking a measured approach to things, though in the end, getting a huge slice of luck when Terry slipped and his spot kick struck the post. 

    In terms of influence in the middle of the last decade, Queiroz made his mark, a staunch ally of Ferguson and a sharp eye for talent, he is certainly someone who was a considerable help to Ferguson and United taking the plaudits for two league trophies in a row and also the Champions League trophy win in Moscow. 

    Queiroz is perhaps one man who has done the most to influence things at United in terms of the football and the direction of the club in the last few years, besides Ferguson himself. Instrumental in bringing in key players, his footballing philosophy has been included and integrated into Ferguson's own, making the club and the Ferguson stronger for the new knowledge and development of theory. 

Alex Ferguson

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    In an article on those who have influenced Ferguson's tenure, it would be a little odd to not include the man himself. After all he is obviously a dedicated student of the game, always adapting and re-working his notions and ideas so as not to fall behind and lose touch with what is being done on the cutting edge of football management. 

    His team currently sit at the top of one of the world's most difficult competitions, 24 years after he took over the club, and nine years after he first said he would retire. After he retracted his retirement, he was criticized by many, but went on to prove these hacks completely wrong when he won two consecutive titles as well as a second Champions League trophy. 

    His career as a player and his childhood give good insight into how he has maintained his drive and determination. The son of a shipbuilder, he would have no doubt learned a solid work ethic and appreciation for rewards that are achieved through hard work and industry. He was a highly regarded striker during his playing career and in 317 career matches, scored 170 goals. An excellent return by anyone's standards. His drive and dedication seem to be unwavering, and he can still turn a match with a tactical change, something that some managers lose over the course of their careers. It is fitting that he is admired so much by one of the most admired managers in the game, Jose Mourinho, this being a testament to Ferguson's character and achievements. 

    Alex Ferguson has changed the history of Manchester United and still carries on making history with the team, for how long he does, is the question, though, for this writer. It would be a very odd thing to not see him in charge of United, it just would not seem right.