Manchester Utd: Is 2011 Ferguson's Best Champions League Coaching Performance?

Craig HutchinsonContributor IIIApril 26, 2011

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 23:  Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United celebrates after the final whistle during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Everton at Old Trafford on April 23, 2011 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Sir Alex Ferguson has done it all over his 35 year managerial career.

In addition to his two existing Champions League victories in 1999 and 2008, he has also added 11 Premier League titles, nine domestic cups, a UEFA Cup, a Cup winners Cup and has even been knighted by Her Majesty the Queen for his services to football.

One could argue he is the greatest manager of all time.

Yet if the Scotsman goes on to lead Manchester United to his third Champions League trophy at 69 years of age, it will probably be his greatest managerial performance of his career.

Nothing will ever beat the sweetness of his first Champions League success in 1999, being the first United manager to lift the trophy since Sir Matt Busby in 1968 was something special. But he did have a special group of players to work with.

Granted, the comeback he helped orchestrate against Juventus was outstanding, and he did have to deal with the loss of suspended midfield duo Roy Keane and Paul Scholes in the final which saw arguably the most dramatic ending to a football match ever with Teddy Sherringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer both scoring in injury time.

2008 saw the all English final with United facing Chelsea, with Ferguson's men coming out on top via a penalty shootout.

Many of that squad are still at Sir Alex's disposal today, but there has been some key losses to that Champions League winning team since 2008.

Of the team that started that night, Christiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez are no longer with the club, Owen Hargreaves has been perennially injured and barely played since, plus Paul Scholes and Edwin van der Saar are three years older and bordering on retirement.

It's fair to say, in terms of player personal, Ferguson's current squad is not as good as the one that he has three years ago.

So what is the reason for the success so far in the competition?

The resurgent form of van der Saar, Giggs or Carrick? The emergence of Javier Hernandez? The formidable partnership of Ferdinand and Vidic at the back? Wayne Rooney hitting top form at the right time?

All of the above.

And the man responsible for all of the above is Alex Ferguson.

He has managed to cope with key injuries, specifically one to Rio Ferdinand, while being able to adjust his formation, positioning and tactics to perfection in each game to not only ensure success in the Champions League, but also to keep his players fresh for other competitions too.

Tuesday's semi-final dominance of Schalke is concrete evidence of a man completely out coaching his opposite number.

The movement of Chicharito and Rooney pulled the German defense all over the place exploiting space for Giggs, Park, Valencia and even Evra to exploit.

It was as dominating a 2-0 victory as there could have been, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was the only reason United didn't rack up six or seven against the out-classed Bundesliger side.

The smile on Sir Alex's face on the touchline showed the sheer satisfaction that comes with the knowledge that he did his job of preparing the team to perfection and he can start to entertain thought's of whether it will be Barcelona or Real Madrid he will be facing in the final.

Not that Schalke are completely out of it, but with Ferguson's track record, only the greatest Champions League collapse separates him from another final. In addition, the task of beating either of the La Liga giants in the other semi-final is by no means an easy one.

That said, United have already done more with less than perhaps any other season during Ferguson's reign, why shouldn't it continue?

And would a double this season give Sir Alex the piece of mind to retire on top?

Probably not, there's is always a chance to win more next year.

But there is still this year to be played, and so far, Ferguson has played it better than ever.