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Is Sir Alex Ferguson the Greatest British Manager of all time?

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Written by Sean Graham | Chief Features Writer @ Scotzine

After 25 years at Manchester United, he has created a dynasty and turned the club into one of the biggest clubs, if not the biggest club in the world.

The list of honours he has won so far at the club makes for impressive reading….

12 Premier League titles, 2 European Cups, 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, 10 Charity/Community shields, 1 Cup Winners’ Cup, 1 European Super Cup, 1 Intercontinental Cup, 1 World Club Cup

But even with all these honours and the club still in four competitions this season, he has no intention of giving up on the fairytale just yet as his energy and will to win gives him a hunger that will keep him going for many years to come, hopefully.

He went to England with the intention of knocking Liverpool off their perch and he has done a better job than any fast bowler ever could.

Before becoming the king of Old Trafford, Fergie served his apprenticeship with East Stirling and gained a reputation as a strict disciplinarian and he gained the respect of the players as the club’s results improved dramatically.

The problem for East Stirling was now other clubs started looking at their manager and it would not be long before Fergie was given a chance at a bigger club as he left to join St.Mirren.

In his time at Love Street, he not only transformed the side but he increased the expectations of a growing fan base as the people of Paisley came out to watch this fresh, new, attacking side.

Discovering talent like Billy Stark and Peter Weir (who would later follow him to Aberdeen) and Frank McGarvey, Lex Richardson, Bobby Reid and captain Tony Fitzpatrick, this team would go on to win the First Division under Fergie and would have gone on to bigger and better things had he not been sacked by the club-what a mistake that was!

After building a team at St.Mirren he now faced a different challenge as he moved north to Pittodrie as he joined Aberdeen in June 78 replacing Billy McNeill who had left to manage Celtic, but he left Aberdeen in a good way as they finished runners-up the season before.

What Fergie had to do was change the mentality to turn this Aberdeen team into winners-no longer would a point be celebrated against the Old Firm, that would all change…but not straight away!

Signs of what was to come could not have been further away as the Dons lost the semi final of the Scottish Cup in the 1979-80 season, the League Cup 3-0 replay defeat to Dundee United at Dens Park was especially hard to take,as the Dons had been the better side in the first match at Hampden and this gave New Firm rival, Jim McLean the upper hand as he got his hands on the first major silverware of the season.

The Dons and Fergie knew they had to give everything and more to overtake champions Celtic in the race for the title and the Parkhead men must have been favourites to regain their crown especially as they had two home matches against Fergie’s men.

This was something that Fergie loved in his time at the Dons, he loved taking on the Old Firm in their own backyard and beating them!

He was the master at winding his players up on their travels to Glasgow, telling them how everyone hated them, the opposition, the fans, the press, you name it Fergie had the Dons players believing the whole world hated them, I am sure he had to hold Doug Rougvie and Neale Cooper back as they couldn’t wait to get out to take their bows at Celtic Park or Ibrox.

Fergie wasn’t daft, he sent big Doug Rougvie out to warm up in front of the Jungle, just to wind the Celtic fans up!

Aberdeen had boys who would have grown up Glasgow boys and who would have loved nothing more than to put one over on their old heroes.

He and Archie Knox came down to Glasgow to try to make sure they scouted the best talent from under the Old Firm’s noses and convinced them to join the Red Army up North, with anyone talking to Fergie, I am sure that it wouldn’t take much convincing!

Under Fergie, Aberdeen would not just blow away the ghosts of the last title win in 1955 but they would do it in style!

After beating Celtic twice in Glasgow, they knew travelling to Easter Road that if they won and results elsewhere went their way, the title would be their’s.

Aberdeen didn’t worry about anyone else, they set about Hibs and destroyed them with a sensational 5-0 win to end the season as Champions as they ended the season on a 15 match unbeaten run to be crowned worthy champions.

Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen side had arrived!

You could say the rest is history and it was a history that was created by one man.

He laid the ghosts of beating the Old Firm in Glasgow, he laid the ghosts of not winning the league championship and he laid the foundations for the future success that was to follow for the Dons, success that was to lay a marker for years to come.

Although, the measure of the man and his team would be tested after the high’s of winning the league, the following season would come the lows of losing the league and going out of the cups to Dundee and Morton before a lesson as harsh as it was, losing 5-0 on aggregate to Liverpool in the European Cup.

Fergie had to reshape his Aberdeen side for the challenges that lay ahead- pipped by Celtic again in the league, knocked out of the League Cup by Dundee United, out of the UEFA Cup by Hamburg after knocking out holders Ipswich Town in real style at Pittodrie, could this Aberdeen side cope with pressure? Could they rediscover the winning touch?

A Scottish Cup final against Rangers in 82 would go down as the day that would change the destiny of Aberdeen Football Club forever.

Losing 1-0 to a John MacDonald goal, Aberdeen simply turned things up a level and after a fantastic curling equaliser by Alex McLeish, the Dons simply over powered the Gers in extra-time and ran out 4-1 winners.

Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen team that day was a mix of youth and experience: Leighton, Kennedy, Rougvie, McMaster, McLeish, Miller, Strachan, Cooper, McGhee, Simpson, Hewitt subs Bell and Black and that would be similar all through his managerial career at Aberdeen, he would only bring players in who were as good as if not better than the players he already had at the club and they had to fit with the players who were already in the dressing room (this would go for his Manchester United career also)

Fergie knew how to handle players but at Aberdeen they never had any players who thought, “I am a superstar!” like some of the players at other clubs, they played as a team for each other and for their manager.

Back in 1983, Aberdeen football Club embarked on a European adventure which would see them turn from boys to men under their mentor Alex Ferguson..

After dispensing of, with much respect to their opponents-lesser sides, the Dons had their credentials tested to the full as they were drawn against Bayern Munich in the quarter-final.

After a solid away performance earned a 0-0 draw in Germany, people started to sit up and take notice of Alex Ferguson and his Aberdeen side but the job was only half done- a packed out Pittodrie looked forward to the second leg.

The script did not quite go to plan with Bayern taking the lead before the Dons equalised but with 15 mins to go the Dons found themselves 2-1 down and looking out of the competition until a piece of magic and a work of tactical genius by Alex Ferguson bringing on John Hewitt.

The Dons got themselves a free-kick not far from the Bayern box and what looked to be a mix up between Gordon Strachan and John McMaster caught the Bayern defence off guard and that allowed big Alex McLeish to stretch those neck muscles and head the Dons level but still that would not be enough but a minute later that did not matter, the Dons won the ball back straight from the Bayern kick off and Eric Black won a high ball and as the ball dropped, there was super sub John Hewitt on hand to knock the ball into the net and knock the Germans out of the competition

Now the whole of Europe had set eyes on this man Ferguson and his team, they must have felt the same way as the Dons supporters, what could this team achieve?

The Dons knew that Real Madrid could be their possible opponents in the semi-final but instead it was Belgian side Waterschei.

It was the draw that the Dons wanted and they were professional from start to finish.

A magnificent performance and they took a 5-1 lead to Belgium with them after a master class from Dougie Bell whose running and ball playing totally out foxed the Waterschei defence.

The only blight on their run was a 1-0 defeat in the return leg, their only defeat on their Cup run to date but they soon got over that, there was a Final to prepare for, out came the ABBA records as Sweden got ready for a different kind of movement…the Red Army.

Dons fans got there by any and every means possible, Gothenburg may have been wet but it was also a sea of red and white as the Dons fans made it their own for the night.

This was one fairytale from start to finish and even though there was a slight blip after Eric Black scored when Real equalised, John Hewitt the Dons supersub,scored in extra-time make sure that the dream would come true for every Aberdeen fan, player and their fantastic manager who was in Sweden that night, that goal and European run was the goal that dreams are made of.

I am sure that the late Jock Stein who travelled with Alex Ferguson and the Aberdeen team, would have been just as proud watching Alex Ferguson and his men conquer Europe just as Celtic did back in 67.

This was in Fergie’s own words, “My biggest achievement at Aberdeen was winning the European Cup Winners Cup against Real Madrid. Who would have thought a small club like Aberdeen could beat Real Madrid in a final?”

For Alex Ferguson and his Aberdeen side the standard had been set and not even a Scottish Cup final win (1-0 with an Eric Black goal in extra-time) over Rangers could keep the great man happy as the standards had slipped way below his expectations and he let his players know this in no uncertain terms!

He knew, he shouldn’t have slated them in public but he is a winner and with that he wanted to win the cup in style, in truth the players had been really tired but still managed to lift the cup.

Any player walking into Pittodrie after seeing the club win the Cup Winners Cup and then the Scottish Cup with the Fergie rant and all, would know they had to be on their game but that did not scare Stewart McKimmie as he not only became another part of the Fergie jigsaw but he helped Aberdeen become the only Scottish club to win the Super Cup as they defeated old foes Hamburg 2-0 (Neil Simpson and Mark McGhee) at Pittodrie after a 0-0 draw in Germany, Fergie was King of Europe again and his team had been voted the best team in Europe.

Winning the Super Cup and Cup Winners Cup with a team outside of the Old Firm and winning the League 3 times, The Scottish Cup 4 times, the League Cup 1 and in 86 the Cup Double against both the Edinburgh sides as well as continue to bring new blood and youth through, many eyes and tongues had been watching and wagging and the name on everyone’s lips was Alex Ferguson.

Aberdeen had been slowly losing some of their big players, Strachan, Rougvie, McGhee all moving to pastures new but although the replacements who had been brought in had been excellent buys like Frank McDougall, Billy Stark and Tommy McQueen, the question was now being asked, was now the right time for Alex Ferguson to leave Pittodrie?

He had done everything for the club, he had won everything for the club, home and abroad, smashed the Old Firm stranglehold on the title, he would have stayed had it not been for a phone call from Manchester United, a club in need of someone who could get a hold of a dressing room that was slowly getting out of control, if the stories are to be believed.

Fergie answered the call and after a few rough seasons, weeding out the old guard, shaping his own team, winning over the fans when it seemed all was lost with an away trip to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup, up stepped Mark Robins to give the club a 1-0 win and put them on the road to Wembley and a final v Crystal Palace.

After a 3-3 draw and the press having a field day ripping into Fergie’s former Aberdeen keeper Jim Leighton, the Manchester United manager was left with a hard decision to make- keep faith with Jim Leighton or bring in experienced Les Sealey, he opted for Les Sealey, breaking Leighton’s heart but in the end a Lee Martin goal gave United the cup and as they say the rest is history!

Fergie, or Sir Alex or even the Boss to his former players, has dealt with everything in his time at Manchester United, experienced players who have got out of line, kids who think they are too big for their boots, the press who think they can say what they like about events that don’t concern them- Fergie has dealt with it all and in the words of Frank Sinatra, he has done it as he would say, “My Way”.

You only need to see his honours at Aberdeen and Manchester United over the years to see that he should be crown the best boss in Britain over the years, not only has he won all these titles but he has rebuilt his Manchester United side, season after season.

Every player who plays for him, has a respect for him even till this day!

I’ll let the players who have played for the man tell you what makes him so special…

“The man is a genius who was not only a fantastic guy who would help you in any way and as a manager, he is the greatest that has ever lived, his record speaks for itself!

“There have been some great managers, make no mistake about it, Jock Stein, Don Revie, even Walter Smith but Fergie is just a genius and he knows how to handle players.”(Frank McDougall)

“After winning the Cup Winners Cup, surely they would carry the man who led the team to this famous victory on to the pitch? Not a thought of it!

“He came flying off the bench and I think the gaffer slipped and big Ben wasn’t in any mind weather to stop or not, he just trampled over the back of him, I don’t think that he has ever forgiven him for that!” laughed (Eric)Black.

Dons substitute goalkeeper Bryan Gunn had a clearer view: “It was red ash!-as soon as the final whistle went we all wanted to rush out on to the field to congratulate the lads but unfortunately I crossed Sir Alex as he was running out and managed to trip him up and unfortunately the rest of the guys ran out and trampled over the top of him!”

“The next thing I remember was him running towards us with red ash running through his hair and his Adidas coat and he was running towards us, I thought to give us a rollicking but he was running to congratulate Johnny Hewitt for scoring the winning goal!”

“I always remember him (Sir Alex) spending the first couple of minutes trying to get this red ash and red water away from his face as he was being interviewed!”

“When Sir Alex brought his Man Utd side to my Testimonial, I had managed to find a few great pictures of the trip and I managed to get one blown up and I presented him with it at the game as it was a magical moment in his career and I believe it still hangs in his snooker room at home.”

“Well he had set himself standards and he had set his team standards and I suppose we fell below that and I suppose that is what he made him the best manager that there has ever been in my opinion, so who am I to criticise anything that he said as obviously he had an idea why he said it and he has carried on to be successful so I would suggest that he got it right!”

“I worked under a few coaches in my career but none better than him and I must add Archie Knox to that as well, I worked with Archie, he was my assistant manager when I was at Coventry and without doubt you are formed by the managers you work with and I was fortunate to have worked six years with the best in the world and you cannot take some of that or you can’t form your ideas without him coming back into it and the way he did things obviously you are your own individual but you are without doubt marked by that and it definitely helped me in my career.” (Eric Black)

From St.Mirren to Aberdeen to Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson is simply the best manager that I have ever seen.

In his time at Aberdeen he won:

3 League titles, 4 Scottish Cups, 1 League Cup, 1 Cup Winners Cup, 1 Super Cup

Against

Written by Robb Marrs | Left Back in the Changing Room

There is no doubt that Ferguson is one of the greatest managers of all-time. The greatest? That’s very possibly a step too far. He is particularly effective when it comes to league formats – his astonishing accumulation of league titles is breathtaking. His downfall, and only a minor one, is that it has only been able to translate that success to similar consistency in Europe.

Despite his longevity, I don’t think he has ever created a team that has truly dominated Europe or defined an era. That is why I cannot put him, quite, in the same level as Rinus Michels or Helenio Herrera. Indeed, I’m not sure that any of Manchester United’s vintages – as great as they have been – have dominated on a continent wide-scale in the same way as Real Madrid (late 50s/early 60s), Internazionale (mid-60s), Ajax (early 70s), Liverpool (late 70s/early 80s) or AC Milan of the late 1980s.

Indeed, some might argue that the Galacticos team, the current Barcelona team and – controversially – the mid-2000s AC Milan team have been as useful as anything Ferguson has put together on a European scale.

Dominance aside, I’m not sure that we cherish a particular Ferguson United team – as a fan of football – the way we do some of the other truly great European teams. Has Ferguson ever produced a team like the 1968 United team? The 1971 Ajax team? The 1995 Ajax team? The Celtic 1967 team? No. Ferguson’s first win – that cartoonish snatch-and-grab – had much to admire but I would struggle to say that they were the defining team of that era. That side’s best performance was not the final (where Bayern Munchen dominated) but the semi-final against Juventus.

It is perhaps unfortunate for Ferguson that at the time when he has created a level of consistency where his team has reached three finals in four years he has twice come up against a Barcelona team that is already spoken of in the same breath as the teams named above.

All too often the defining games for Ferguson’s United in Europe have been games where Manchester United have lost. Whilst many of us remember the hypnotic majesty of Keane’s performance against Juventus or the two Final victories (the game against Chelsea is one of the best Finals – in terms of quality of both teams – I have ever seen), the definitive games have – arguably been losses: the Ronaldo hat-trick game (United won that game but went out on aggregate), the Backheel of Old Trafford game (which arguably changed the direction of European football), and the 2009 Final where Xavi and Iniesta induced mental disintegration across Manchester United’s midfield. Indeed, one could reasonably add ”the hiding” of 2011 where Ferguson’s team seemed to have gone backwards in the two years since that final in Rome.

It is to Ferguson’s enormous credit that his team has played more games – and won more games than any other side since the reconfiguration of the competition. More than Barcelona, more than Real Madrid, more than AC Milan. If one lauds that achievement (and we should), it is only correct to ask why that has not been turned into a greater number of tournament wins.

Two wins and four finals in the nineteen seasons since 1992 is a relatively poor return given the various factors in Ferguson’s favour. Since 1992/1993 the win/final ratio is:

1. AC Milan – 3 wins/6 finals
2. Barcelona – 3 wins/4 finals
3. Real Madrid – 3 wins/3 finals
4. Manchester United – 2 wins/4 finals
5. Juventus 1 win/4 finals
6. Bayern Munich 1 win/3 finals
7. = Liverpool and Ajax – 1 win/2 finals
8. = Porto, Internazionale, Borussia Dortmund, Marseille – 1 win/1 final

None of those clubs have had such consistency of management over those 19 seasons that United have enjoyed. Real Madrid have had an astonishing 20 managers. AC Milan have had 10 and Barcelona have had 9 (technically 10).

That seems to be the main advantage that Sir Alex Ferguson has held over the other mega clubs that have bestrode European football – he has had time to build and cultivate teams whilst his opponents have chopped and changed manager time and again.

Add to that, in the mid-1990s, he had the greatest flourishing of youthful talent one club has seen (well, at least until this Barcelona team came along) and has had the finances to buy world-class players on a number of occasions.

He has created a number of great teams (I’d say his best were the 1994, 1999, 2003 and 2009 vintages) but whilst each has dominated English football that has not really translated into European form.

Manchester United fans have made the argument that no other team has consistently dominated their national league and done so well in Europe. There may be something in that but only the slightest something.

Manchester United have won the English league title on twelve occasions, and been runner-up on five, since 1992. In comparison, Barcelona (10/4), Real Madrid (6/8), AC Milan (7/1), Internazionale (5/4) and Bayern (10/5). Yes, United have dominated more than any other club in their domestic league – and this may have affected European form – but it is not as if Bayern and Barcelona have are massively far behind them.

It is also interesting that for years we have (rightly) heard that Manchester United start the season badly but seem to motor from Christmas until the end of the season. The back 9, in golfing terminology, is where they do their damage and it is here where the titles are generally gathered. Bar some faltering in the early years of Champions League competition, and one aberration in the mid-noughties, United generally are imperious in the group stages of competition but struggle post-Christmas. There is no shame in that, of course, that is when the competition is at its most difficult.

Some fans have argued that there was a ”Heysel hangover” when English clubs were reintegrated into European football. It is certainly true that English clubs generally struggled upon their return to European football but this only explains failure in those first few years.

Others will say that the three foreigner rule disproportionately hurt English (and Scottish) clubs in the early 1990s. Those worrying about that should look at the make-up of the elevens that started in the European Cup Finals in 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1995.

Either way, it certainly took United some time to acclimatise. Until that dizzying run to victory in 1999, Manchester United’s record had been:

1992/1993 – Did Not Qualify
1993/1994 – Went out in the second round to Galatasaray on away goals
1994/1995 – Failed to get out of a group stage behind IFK Gothenburg and Barcelona
1995/1996 – Did Not Qualify
1996/1997 – Semi-Finals against Borussia Dortmund
1997/1998 – Quarter Finals against Monaco
1998/1999 – Winners

Even if we accept that the three foreigner rule hurt and The Heysel Hangover hurt, we’d expect more. We’d certainly expect more between 1999 and 2008.

In those years, Manchester United were often out-thought and out-played by a series of eventual winners and runners-up.

Some will argue that they were unfortunate but whether it was Redondo and that glorious backheel, the quiet excellence of Bayer Leverkusen, the scintillating genius of Ronaldo or Kaka, or the scheming brain of Mourinho the story between 1999 and 2008 and the story was largely the same. Despite the fortunes at his disposal, the nucleus of a team devoted to the club in Scholes, Giggs and Neville, the big-name arrivals (Veron, Ferdinand, van Nistelrooy, Tevez, Forlan) or the coming of age of young talent (Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney) and the accumulated knowledge of their manager, Manchester United have generally missed out.

There is a school of thought that says Ferguson is not a great tactician and it is true that in these lean years that, over two legs, he often struggled. It is only in recent years that he seems to have mastered the art.

To an extent he struggled more obviously in Europe than any number of less gifted managers or managers who didn’t have the various benefits accorded to Ferguson. Benitez, Hitzfeld, Ancelotti, Guardiola, del Bosque and Mourinho are not, in my opinion, quite in Ferguson’s league but there is a compelling argument to say they are better at European Competition.

Ferguson is one of the greats of the game. That said, a return of two wins in so many attempts suggests both mismanagement and, admittedly, bad luck. At some points, particularly for the majority of the noughties, Ferguson was out-thought or out-classed by the opposition – and he must take some culpability for this. Equally, as above, he’s been unfortunate to get into the European groove at exactly the time Barcelona have hit heights that few of us have seen.

His European school report? Impressive but could do better. With that in mind, he’s got to rank behind those who truly did dominate the European game – who didn’t enjoy the riches, the time and the support that Ferguson has done.

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About Author

scotzine

Andy Muirhead is the Editor of Scotzine and the Scottish Football fanzine FITBA. He is the Scottish Football columnist for The Morning Star and has written for a number of other publications including ESPN, Huffington Post UK, BT Life's a Pitch and has had his work featured in the Daily Record, The Scotsman and the Daily Mail.

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