Alex Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford in the November of 1986 as a young 44 year old manager with Manchester United lying in the 21st place in the table, below the likes of Oxford and Norwich, and not having won a trophy in the color TV era. Ferguson had a few years of experience in managing a squad after having been the manager of Aberdeen and the Scottish national team for a brief period of time. But Manchester United was a club like no other. They were expected to win titles all the time and having taken over when the club was at an all-time low, Ferguson had a mountain to climb to satisfy the disgruntled supporters.
In the next twenty five years, Manchester United progressed to becoming the biggest club in the world with the largest fan base winning 37 titles including 12 Premier League titles, all under the guidance of Ferguson, who was by now called Sir Alex Ferguson. A loss against any team is now considered an upset while fans flock to watch the stadium even if you get mauled on one odd bad day by your city rivals.
The journey was never a bed of roses though! Ferguson began his life at Manchester with a 2-0 defeat at Oxford followed by a goalless draw at Norwich but results steadily improved as United got their only away victory that season with a win against their fiercest rivals Liverpool as they finished 11th in the table. There was steady progress over the next few years but titles continued to elude them and fans called for Ferguson to be sacked after a 5-1 humiliation at the hands of Manchester City.
The directors would make the decision after a third round game against giants Nottingham Forest. United won the match courtesy a Mark Robins goal and eventually went on to win the tournament that year thus giving Ferguson his first title with Manchester United but most importantly buying him time with the supporters.
The following season United finished runners-up in the League Cup before beating Barcelona to win the European Cup Winners’ Cup and Ferguson vowed to win the League the next season. The League was now rechristened as the Premier League and when United were in 10th place at the start of November, it looked like the fans had to wait another season to see the piece of silverware they most longed for. But the purchase of French striker Eric Cantona from Leeds turned things around for the manager as his partnership up-front with Mark Hughes fired United to the top of the table and crowning them the first ever Premier League champions.
Ferguson followed up this triumph with a league and FA Cup double the next season as United were now marching up the ranks in world football. United finished runners-up to Blackburn the following season before becoming the first team to win the League and FA Cup double in 1996-97 as Fergie’s fledglings (Beckham, Neville, Giggs, Scholes and Butt) went on to become big name players while Ferguson sat in the stands, chewing gum and plotting victories .
Fans in Manchester were now becoming desperate for European success.
After the 1997-98 season promised so much, United were knocked out in the quarterfinal stage by Monaco. The title would come to Manchester soon enough though, and in most dramatic circumstances! After already having won the League and FA Cup double in 1999, United came back from two goals down to beat Juventus in the Champions League semifinal. They trailed again in the final before two of Ferguson’s substitutes came off the bench to score a goal each in the dying minutes of the game to give United an unprecedented treble and create history!
Ferguson, since then, has won seven more League titles including a hat-trick from 2007-09 and knocking Liverpool off the perch as England’s most successful club after winning the League in 2011. There was also another European triumph after United prevailed over domestic rivals Chelsea on penalties in Rome in 2007-08.
While the likes Cantona,Giggs, Beckham, Scholes, Neville, Van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo and Rooney blossomed into world class talents under Ferguson, he has never been sentimental about dumping his star players at the peak of their careers. He was not always right – the record signing of Juan Sebastian Veron was a disaster and so was the tinkering with a highly successful midfield. Ferguson may not be the most media-friendly manager or the favorite amongst the referees but what he does is command a high level of respect from everybody who has anything to do with football.
Ferguson’s hunger to create and innovate has always been a part of his game. At 69, Ferguson still remains a step ahead of his peers. While football has moved on from the 1980s, scoring goals from delicious crosses still remains an important part of Manchester United’s game even as they grow to stay in pace with the modern game.
Half of Ferguson’s current squad wouldn’t even have started walking when he took charge at Manchester United and despite all speculations about his retirement and successors, Ferguson still marches on, focused as ever, plotting the downfall of his next opponent.
And yes, the gum remains an important part of his personality.