As a United fan I am in awe of Sir Alex. What he has given to the football club is unbelievable and the job he has done over such a long period of time will surely never be matched by anyone in English football. If any criticism is to be aimed at United’s main man then maybe it could be argued that he hasn’t brought an enormous amount of European glory to the club. Given the length of time over which he has consistently guided United into European football’s premiere competition, the Champions League, he has by his own admission come up a little short. However, Ferguson has more than made up for the slight European disappointments with an enormous amount of domestic success in his tenure at the ‘Theatre of Dreams.
Over his 25 year period at the helm he has weighed in with 12 Premier League titles, 5 FA Cup wins, 4 League Cup successes, 10 Community Shields, 2 Champions League victories, 1 Super Cup, 1 Cup Winner’s Cup, 1 Intercontinental Cup and 1 Fifa Club World Cup win. For me this enormous amount of silverware marks him down as the greatest football manager of all time. Though I have only been in existence for 22 of his 25 years at United I have many special memories of his time in charge and below are my 25 golden memories of his reign (or at least those that I have been alive long enough to recall). The selected highlights aren’t necessarily all about the great man himself but they have all happened in his time at the club and in truth probably wouldn’t ever have occurred if it weren’t for him. So United fans, sit back and enjoy…
1. That win against Forest and the consequent Cup run that ‘saved Fergie’s career’:
This was the season where Ferguson overcame his critics by overcoming an awful start to their league season with survival and a first piece of major silverware as manager of the club. The win over Nottingham Forest early in their run has gone on the record as the “win that saved Fergie’s career”. Though it has since been voiced that he was never in danger of the sack, few are convinced and this remains arguably the most important result of his career and United’s recent history.
2.Fergie’s first league win – The winners of the Inaugural Premier League title in 1992-1993:
The moment Sir Alex led United to the first Premier League title was the moment the world really sat up and took note of what could be about to unfold. No one would have imagined that he could still be at the club 20 years on having amassed a shedload of silverware, but it was clear that Ferguson was a man of enormous resilience and that he had a young squad capable of great things. The writing was now on the wall…
3.The Double Win 1993-1994:
Inspired by King Eric United followed up their first league win under Sir Alex with a their first League and Cup double under his guidance. On reflection, maybe this was the moment the world really sat up and took note of what Ferguson could achieve at the club.
4.Eric Cantona’s Kung-Fu kick:
Without a doubt this is one of the most memorable moments of Sir Alex’s period in charge. It is in fact one of the more remarkable things that I have ever witnessed on a football pitch and one more regularly seen on youtube as part of a shoddy recording of an Argentinian third division match. Though he undoubtedly shouldn’t have done what he did, it is a moment which added to the legend that is Cantona and in a sadistic sort of way just endears him further into the hearts of football fans over the world. There was always the slimmest of lines to cross between footballing genius and sheer insanity when it came to King Eric, and Sir Alex was always on watch to oversee plenty of both the former and the latter from one of the best players he has ever had the privilege of managing.
5.Eric Cantona’s triumphant return from the Kung-Fu kick and the fireman’s pole celebration:
You can’t keep a good man down. One of Ferguson’s finest achievements as a manager was the management of the Cantona-debacle. Sir Alex stuck with his star man through his suspension from the game and was rewarded with the glorious moment that Cantona returned to score against bitter-rivals Liverpool, prompting his infamous ‘fireman’s pole’ celebration.
6.The Golden Generation (The Neville’s, Butt, Scholes, Beckham and Giggs…):
Almost all gone, but certainly not forgotten. The ultimate proof of Sir Alex’s brilliant youth development skills and of the value of producing a consistent line of young talent rather than always investing heavily in the transfer market.
7.”You can’t win anything with kids” Part I:
Hang your head in shame Alan Hansen… Having written off United’s chances of success with this infamous quote, the former Liverpool player and Scotland International was left feeling rather smug when Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle were flying high at the top of the table come Christmas. However, Fergie’s written off young-guns found their very best form in the new year and charged to the title in arguably the most exciting season in the history of the Premier League. The fierce rivalry between the two managers was epitomised by Keegan’s infamous on-air rant directed at Ferguson on Sky Sports where he yelled “I would love it if we beat them!” in rather maniacal fashion.
8.”You can’t win anything with kids” Part II: The FA Cup
Again… Alan Hansen hang your head son… For a man that is usually so brilliantly insightful in his punditry this was a rare moment of blindness, but what a moment of blindness! As well as humiliating Hansen with their Premier League recovery, they also compounded his misery by making it a double with an FA Cup final win over his beloved Liverpool. The moment that King Eric retreated in the penalty area late on against our fierce rivals to fire home a magnificent scissor kick was right up there with my favourite moments as a United fan and I imagine it ranks pretty highly in Ferguson’s favourite career moments as well.
9.Beckham’s 60 Yarder:
This was the moment where the star in waiting burst onto the scene with an outrageous exhibition of his ability, lobbing Neil Sullivan with a pinpoint drive from inside his own half. Sullivan was hardly a mile out of his goal, but such was the accuracy of the attempt it might even have troubled him had he been rooted to his goal-line. The confidence and vision exhibited by Beckham in this magic moment was typical of the confidence and technical ability of Ferguson’s golden generation emerging from the academy at this time.
10.Roy Keane’s night of sacrifice:
Cometh the hour cometh the man. This game epitomised everything that was brilliant about Roy Keane and everything that has been brilliant about the many United sides led by Ferguson. In one of the biggest challenges of Ferguson’s era they had to go to Turin and win but things initially seemed to be going awfully. 2-0 down to the Italian giants and skipper Keane booked and suspended from the final, their backs were well and truly against the wall but Roy Keane was on a mission and he inspired his side to one of the most glorious evenings of Sir Alex’s managerial career. With this brilliant performance he also inspired one of the most famous pieces of commentary of the modern era of English football; “FULL STEAM AHEAD BARCELONA!”.
11.Winning the Champion’s League against Bayern:
“Can Manchester United Score?… They always score”, “Giggs with the shot….SHEEERRRRIIINGGGGHHHAAAAMMM!”, “AND SOLSKJAER HAS WON IT!!!”. Three famous moments of commentary that sum up the best couple of minutes of Sir Alex’s managerial career. That night in Barcelona was agony from the very start, but ultimately ecstasy won out and Ferguson was a Champions League winner for the first time.
12.Winning the Treble:
Couple this first Champions League triumph with success in the FA Cup and winning the Premier League and you get Ferguson’s finest hour as a manager. Inspired by his golden generation of youth academy products and a couple of his best ever signings, he had managed to win all three of the most prestigious pieces of silverware available in one fell swoop. This was the greatest year to be a United supporter, hands down.
13.Yorke and Cole:
Probably more a personal favourite than one of the real highlights of his tenure, but Ferguson’s decision to bring Yorke to the club worked an absolute treat. Some questioned the move initially given Yorke’s lack of experience at the pinnacle of European football, but the partnership forged by him and Andy Cole fired Manchester United all the way to their treble winning success. It became as enjoyable to watch their clear friendship as it was to see them banging it in the net time and again.
It is hard to believe now that Ferguson was meant to retire a long, long time ago but that really was the case. Perish the thought! What would we have done without the old codger?
15.Signing Roy Keane:
Ferguson had been monitoring the progress of Nottingham Forest’s fiery young Irish midfielder closely for some time and knew from the moment he signed him that he could be the man to lead his golden generation. As it turned out his decision to sign him was utterly vindicated and once upon a time Ferguson went as far as to say he was “the best player [he] ever managed”. Quite the compliment…
16.Signing Eric Cantona:
In his time he has made some controversial signings and Cantona was right up there with the best of them. Big talent coupled with an even bigger personality is often a concoction set for disaster but Ferguson knew exactly what he was taking on and made him one of the best players ever to wear the red shirt.
17.Signing Cristiano Ronaldo:
The decision to let Beckham join Real Madrid in 2003 rocked the club, but little did they know the spaghetti-haired Ronaldo would go on to surpass to individual achievements of their former poster-boy. Impressed by his showing in a friendly against United, Ferguson was hot on the heels of Ronaldo II with immediate effect and landed his man shortly after parting company with Becks. Not only had United lost one of their all-time greats that summer but they had also come agonisingly close to landing the world’s best player in waiting Ronaldinho. Had they not landed the world’s best player in waiting-in waiting then this summer could have been a mini crisis, as it turns out though Sir Alex had pulled off yet another masterstroke.
18.Signing Wayne Rooney:
From the moment he curled the ball sweetly around the best efforts of David Seaman in the Arsenal goal as a teenager he was set for stardom. The only thing left unclear in the world of Rooney at this time was which club he would become a star at, but Ferguson worked his magic and landed his man, the rest as they say is history.
19.Fergie Vs. Mourinho:
Enormous respect for each other on and off the field. One of Fergie’s greatest managerial rivals and in private very close ‘friends’, I hesitate with the use of ‘friends’ as you sense that really they have been in too direct a competition to establish a real friendship, but they certainly appreciate each other’s talents and achievements to the maximum. As stubborn as each other, as controversial as each other and in a scaled down sort of way as successful as each other. It all made for a brilliant rivalry which could potentially manifest itself in the form of Mourinho returning to English football as Ferguson’s successor.
20.Fergie Vs. Wenger:
Probably the greatest rivalry of Fergie’s managerial career and like the men involved it has matured greatly with time. Once upon a time Wenger was the new-boy striving to emulate Ferguson’s achievements and every now and then he has looked capable of doing so. Though he hasn’t quite matched the master, they are now both too old, wise, and frankly in awe of each other to quibble too publicly. Having said that, they are still partial to the odd war of words and a spot of the old mind games.
Jaap Stam, David Beckham, Roy Keane, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, the BBC, Kevin Keegan, Arsene Wenger, Carlos Tevez, and Rafael Benitez to name a few… he sure knows how to pick ’em doesn’t he! He simply wouldn’t be the Sir Alex we know, love and in some cases hate if weren’t for his high profile bust-ups.
22.7-1 win over Roma:
This may not have been the most significant result of Ferguson’s tenure, but to come back from losing the first leg of a Champions League quarter final and win the second leg by such a remarkable margin was incredible. It was one of those brilliant evenings at Old Trafford which went right from the word go, the passing was super-slick and the finishing clinical. One of Ferguson’s less celebrated signings Michael Carrick had the best game of his career and played a major part in many of the goals including two fantastic strikes himself. Alan Smith’s magnificent team goal that night spoke volumes about the counter attacking genius of Ferguson’s sides through the years and is probably one of the finest goals scored by one of his United lineups.
23.Winning the Champions League against Chelsea:
Ferguson’s second triumph was more about his brilliant young signings than it was about youth products but it was hardly any less satisfying. After almost a decade without European success United were back at the summit of European football courtesy of a penalty shootout success against modern-era title rivals Chelsea. Inspired by the likes of Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez this was a United side full to the brim with attacking quality and though it did take a shootout, this was a side that played their football the right way and they had also overcome the threat of a Barcelona side on the edge of greatness. This was an outstanding achievement and Sir Alex himself would tell you that this was right up there with his greatest successes as he has always regretted what he regards as a lack of European glory.
24.Holding on to Rooney:
Just about as good an exhibition in man-management as you will ever see from a football manager. Ill-advised, disillusioned and ashamed of himself, Wayne Rooney was on a crash-course with Sir Alex and the upper-echelons of United’s hierarchy which seemed certain to result in him leaving the club. Rarely has Ferguson seemed so defeated as the day Rooney told him he wanted to leave the club, but somehow he managed to work wonders and keep his star man. No one knows just how he did it, but hats off nonetheless.
25.The renewed United-City rivalry:
Maybe this a golden moment still waiting to happen really, but the prospect of City and United battling it out as England’s big-two with Ferguson still at the helm is mouth-watering. Though nothing would hurt Sir Alex more than falling narrowly short of City in a title race, nothing would satisfy him more than narrowly edging them in a title race. Let the renewed rivalry commence…
What an awesome 25 years it has been then. No matter whether you like him or not, I think it is fair to assume that everyone respects his longevity in the game and the achievements which have enabled him to stick around for so long at United. Just as a final little ode to the great man, below is my United XI from Ferguson’s era:
My Ferguson First XI:
Schmeichel, Neville, Pallister, Ferdinand, Irwin, Beckham, Scholes, Keane, Giggs, Ronaldo, Cantona