Sir Alex Ferguson's 5 Greatest Achievements at Manchester United
It was revealed today that Sir Alex Ferguson will be stepping down from his position as Manchester United manager at the end of the season. The tributes are already in their thousands, and there will be more to come over the next few weeks.
However, even though he's hanging up that famous coat, he will never cease to be a legend for United and world football.
In chronological order, here are five of his greatest achievements at Old Trafford.
Winning the Premier League for the First Time in 1993
They often say that winning your second title is even harder than the first, but doing it that first time must still be pretty difficult.
It was hard to decide if the first Premier League triumph or the FA Cup win in 1990 was the bigger catalyst for what happened next, but this just about pipped it.
A thrilling comeback against Sheffield Wednesday not only ultimately won United their first league title in 26 years, but also set in motion the never-say-die attitude that has come to be synonymous with Alex Ferguson era.
This is where it all began.
Seeing off Arsene Wenger: 1998-2013
As has happened several times since, a challenger to United’s domestic dominance appeared on the horizon in mid-1996.
Arsene Wenger, who is often credited with revolutionising English football, is the polar opposite to Ferguson. A calculating and intelligent man who intellectualised the game, Wenger brought a very serious threat to Ferguson and United, building a strong Arsenal side who claimed the English Double in his second full season at the club, in 1998.
Some managers may have crumbled, but Sir Alex did the opposite, buying well in the summer and going on to not only win back the league and FA Cup the next season, but also winning the Champions League.
The feud went on though, with the title swinging back and forth between Manchester and London for the next few years, until Wenger’s regime peaked with the “Invincibles” in 2004.
Wenger’s last major trophy was in 2005; Ferguson’s will be his 13th Premier League title in a couple of weeks’ time. That is how to act in the face of adversity.
The Treble in 1999
When Manchester United won the Treble in 1999, in England, and many other places, it was completely unprecedented. However, the campaign was fraught with difficulty.
Two epic semi-finals—one in the FA Cup against Arsenal, the other in the Champions League against Juventus—forced the team to find every last bit of resolve.
Going down to ten men against Arsenal at Villa Park, Ferguson’s men held on to the death, including an injury-time penalty save by Peter Schmeichel and a Nicholas Anelka goal that was ruled offside. A spectacular solo goal from Ryan Giggs in extra time rewarded United for the efforts, and a jubilant Ferguson celebrated with Steve McClaren as his players booked their place at Wembley.
In the other semi-final, just 12 minutes into the match United found themselves down 3-1 on aggregate, away in Turin, facing being knocked out by Juventus in the second leg. A stunning header by Roy Keane and an equaliser from Dwight Yorke put United back in front on away goals in the first half, before Andy Cole sealed the victory in the 85th minute, taking the ball around Angelo Peruzzi, who was flailing on the ground having brought down Yorke.
The crowning moment of it all was the Champions League final at the Nou Camp, against Bayern Munich.
An early free kick scored by Mario Basler put the Germans in the lead, and United were on the back foot for much of the game. Bayern hit the woodwork twice, with multiple other chances, and it appeared that United’s Treble dream was over.
Then came one of the most famous moments in sporting history.
A 91st-minute corner saw a scuffed Bayern clearance fall into the path of Ryan Giggs, whose shot rolled past Sheringham, who swung his foot at it and the ball bobbed past Oliver Kahn for the equaliser. Two minutes later, Sheringham headed a Beckham corner onto the boot of Solskjaer, who drove the ball into the roof of the net. Cue bedlam.
Ferguson’s decision to replace Yorke and Cole, who were in form but hadn't performed, with Sheringham and Solskjaer, was no doubt the deciding factor in the match.
Seeing off Jose Mourinho, 2007
While Chelsea still pose a threat to the United juggernaut today, the original challenge was mounted by Jose Mourinho back in 2004-05.
Backed by Roman Abramovich’s billions, Mourinho put together a seemingly infallible side, going on to win back-to-back titles in 2005—Chelsea’s first in 50 years—and 2006.
But Ferguson’s promising talents, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, were maturing into the players we know them as today, and the year after (2007) United wrestled the league title back.
After disagreements with Abramovich, Mourinho quit Chelsea later that year, leaving Ferguson to resume his domestic dominance. The two managers still share a good friendship today.
Rebuilding the Club
It’s amazing to think that in 1990, United fans were calling for Ferguson’s head.
Alarmed by the drinking culture in the dressing room, Ferguson wasted no time in making his expectations clear – anyone who wasn’t on board was quickly moved on.
An FA Cup triumph in 1990—Ferguson’s first trophy since winning the Scottish Cup with Aberdeen in 1986—turned his fortunes around, and the club put its trust in him, making funds available for summer transfers.
But the Ferguson philosophy had already been implemented upon his arrival, when he set up the United youth academy as it is today and had his scouts scour the local area for young unknown talent. The idea was to always have rolling waves of youth coming through the ranks; those who made the grade, such as the beloved Class of ’92, would be free players moulded in the Fergie image, while the others could be sold for profit.
The result was a much more financially safe United, and the effects were soon seen as Giggs, the Nevilles and Scholes et al. went on to form the back bone of the team for the rest of the decade, and in some cases are still playing today.
True to his belief in youth, Sir Alex can retire safe in the knowledge that there are talented ranks of youngsters coming through, and they will be guided by the vastly experienced players who have been there and that—I doubt he would have retired were he not certain that the club is in a healthy position.
Ferguson is ingrained in the club, down the very deepest level. His desire to win and play attractive football have made Manchester United what is today; had there been no Fergie, United might still be just another also-ran.
“I saw a club with this rich, fantastic history, and I wanted to restore it to the former glories.”—Sir Alex Ferguson in his autobiography, Managing My Life.