Thank you Sir Alex

“My greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f**king perch.”

ImageThose were words of Alex Ferguson in 1993; he had just led Manchester United to their first league title in 26 years. At the time it probably seemed like a good quote but I doubt many took it seriously; United had just won their eighth league title, but the reds from Merseyside had eighteen. Little did anyone know that Ferguson would devote the next 20 years to turning an unlikely quote into a reality.

A legend of the game has retired today; like Clough, Busby or Paisley, he is unique and we will never see the like of him again. In recent years Manchester United have dedicated a stand after him and built a statue in his honour. If they proposed to rename Old Trafford after Sir Alex you would hear no arguments from me. Perhaps that would be going too far however; if Ferguson’s era has manager has lived by one rule, it is that no-one is bigger than the club, though many would argue (myself included) that he comes mighty close!

Full disclosure, I am a 24 year-old Manchester United fan. Sir Alex Ferguson is the only manager of my club that I’ve ever known. When I started Eight-20-Eight, I knew I may blog about sport but I did not want it to descend into a fans running commentary, living and dying with every result week in and week out. I intended to keep my passions as much to myself as possible, but as often happens in life, unexpected events will turn the best laid plans on their heads. In this case I feel I would be doing a disservice to the man if I did not offer some small thanks. There will plenty of United fans out there doing the same and probably as many rival fans offering shall we say alternative opinions.

Image Football is divisive by nature, it rarely produces those that are unanimously liked and Sir Alex no exception to that. He is loved and hated in equal measure but never ignored. Ferguson is a behemoth of the game; a towering personality whose devotion to winning has left enemies and admirers, but whichever category they fall under, 99.9% won’t be able to help but respect the man.

The most successful manager in British football’s history. 38 trophies since 1986; if he were a football club in his own right, he would be more successful than Arsenal, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Everton. Only Liverpool (and obviously United) have more trophies than Fergie. Is he perfect? Not by a long shot. He has flaws which have caused multiple touchline bans, led to the banning of reporters from press conferences and courted controversy and anger from fellow managers, opposition players and rival fans. But that isn’t why they hate him; they hate him because he’s made it work so well for him. Piers Morgan (who is not someone I have any time for) summed it up well in an article written back in 2008, when after spending multiple paragraphs listing his grievances with Fergie, concluded: “The main reason I loathe Sir Alex Ferguson is because he’s a winner.”

I have been so blessed to live through the most successful period in my club’s history and Sir Alex has given me many memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life. There is the obvious ones: Ryan Giggs scoring in the semi-final replay which kept the dream of the Treble alive, two injury-time goals in the Nou Camp to win the 1999 European Cup, the penalty shootout win of 2008 against Chelsea, winning the league in 2003 after going unbeaten since Christmas to claw back Arsenal’s huge advantage, beating the Gunners 8-2 at the beginning of last season, the list goes on and on.
But I leave you with my favourite memory of Sir Alex, a less obvious one, but one which sums up the man’s and determination and strive for victory. In February 2010, United traveled to Italy to play AC Milan in the Champions League. United had never scored a goal in the San Siro much less won there. Milan went 1-0 up after a couple of minutes, but much my delight Paul Scholes equalized for United later in the first half. I probably let out a shout of “Get in!” and treated myself and my housemates to a fist pump or two. On the pitch, United players were also jubilant, jumping around congratulating each other and receiving the cheers of the away fans. Then the camera panned to their manager… he was not smiling or fist pumping or at all pleased. Sir Alex was stood right against the touchline, apparently not interested in the fact his team had just scored a crucial away goal and were back in the tie. Instead, he was using the pause in the game to summon Jonny Evans over to him for an uncensored, easy to lip-read, complete and utter bollocking. Evans had had a shocking first half,riddled with mistakes, but where most managers would have thanked their lucky stars not to be 2 or 3 down, put an arm round the shoulder of their young centre-back and offered encouragement, Fergie’s exact words were “WAKE THE F**K UP!” He was an expert at man-management and knew exactly how to motivate his players; Evans didn’t put a foot wrong for the rest of the game.
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In 1993 you vowed to knock Liverpool off their perch. Mission accomplished Sir Alex, for that I for one will be eternally grateful. Enjoy your retirement, you’ve earned it.
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