This year, Sir Alex Ferguson is celebrating his 18th year in charge of Manchester United and on Tuesday (against Lyon ), he will be celebrating his 1000 th game in charge of the club. I would therefore like to pay a special tribute to this man, because it is not everyday that someone celebrates his 1000 th consecutive game at the head of such a team.
When Alex Ferguson was appointed as manager in 1986, many United supporters felt that this was the man that would lead the team back out of wilderness. Indeed, he had broken the Celtic/Rangers stranglehold in Scottish League with Aberdeen . In just eight years, he took them to the Scottish championship three times, four Scottish Cups, the Scottish League Cup and even the Cup Winners’ Cup. At that time, that was success United could only dream of.
Unlike Sir Matt Busby who had managed the club earlier, Alex Ferguson was never a great player but he had many other attributes that made him such an accomplished and exceptional manager. A fanatical determination to succeed as well as superb future planning ensured that Alex Ferguson started with building both the present and future of the club. He had inherited of a club that had won very little during the 18 years preceding his arrival but during his reign at the top of the club, things were going to very much change.
Realizing that one of the main problems was the neglect of the junior sides, he put together an ambitious membership scheme, launched in 1987 with a target of 40,000 members.
In 1987/88 United finished second in the leagues, despite obtaining a massive 81 points and losing only five times, scoring a total of 71 goals. In the FA Cup, United reached the fifth round while in the League Cup they were out during the Fourth Round. Three major signings were Brian McClair, Viv Anderson and Steve Bruce.
The 1988/89 was a very disappointing season for Alex Ferguson and United, especially after the very good performance in the previous season. In the League, United finished 11 th. In the League Cup they were knocked out in the Third Round and in the FA Cup, they managed to reach the Sixth Round. Major signings were Mike Phelan, Neil Webb, Gary Pallister and Paul Ince. At the end of the season, the board was considering Ferguson ’s future but wisely decided to retain his services, hoping that the silverware would soon come.
Despite another poor showing in the League, United won the FA Cup in 1990. The turning point of the season and possible of Alex’s Ferguson reign at Old Trafford came with a narrow 1-0 quarter final win over Nottingham Forest, many believing that Mark Robins’ solitary goal saved Alex Ferguson from the sack. Any threat of Ferguson losing his job ended after two memorable meetings with Crystal Palace in the final, United winning 4-3 on aggregate.
In 1990/91, the first European trophy came to Old Trafford since 1968 as United defeated Spanish giants Barcelona 2-1 to lift the European Cup Winners’ Cup. In the League Cup, they lost the final against Sheffield Wednesday. In the League, United finished sixth. They also shared the Charity Shield at the beginning of the season with Liverpool . Major signings were Peter Schmeichel, Andrei Kanchelskis and Paul Parker.
In 1991/92, United saw their first league title in 25 years cruelly snatched from their hands by Leeds United in the closing week of the season. The attempt to retain the European Cup Winners’ Cup ended as from the second round but the European Super Cup made its debut in the United trophy room. The United youngsters won the FA Youth Cup.
In 1992/93, United finally ended their 26 year wait for the Championship by lifting their first ever FA Premier League Championship. Major signings were Eric Cantona from Leeds United and Roy Keane.
In 1993/94, United paid a fitting tribute to Sir Matt Busby by becoming only the fourth club of the century to achieve the coveted League and FA Cup double. United came within one victory of an unprecedented treble but were denied a unique place in the history books as they lost the League Cup final 3-1 to Aston Villa.
In 1994/95, the only silverware to come to Old Trafford was the FA Youth Cup. Bobby Charlton was knighted for his services to football and Alex Ferguson received a CBE in the Honors list.
The 1995/96 season started poorly, but ended with history being made. No big players were brought in and instead Alex Ferguson put his faith in homebred youngsters like Nicky Butt, Gary Neville, David Beckham and Paul Scholes. That coupled with the return of the talisman Eric Cantona, from suspension. By Christmas, Newcastle United had established a 12-point lead and looked uncatchable. A remarkable run in the New Year saw United lose only two games from 24 as Newcastle were overhauled in April. A win at Middlesbrough on the final day ensured United were Champions for the tenth time, but more remarkably they also became the first club to win the League and Cup double twice. It was the ninth time United had won the FA Cup and one of Alex Ferguson’s finest hour as his gamble on youth paid dividends.
United started the 1996/97 season as they had ended their last: by winning silverware. In a spectacular dislplay in the Charity Shield, they beat Newcastle 4-0. That season, attentions turned to the European Cup. 2 setbacks from Juventus and another from Fenerbahce put their qualifying hopes in doubt. However, they won against Rapid Vienna to reach the final stages for the first time under Alex Ferguson. A 4-0 demolition of Porto , saw United reach the semi-finals where they were unable to defeat Dortmund and fell short of their first European final since 1968. In the league, they retained their crown, with two games to spare.
1997/98 was a disappointing season, with no silverware. Major signing was Jaap Stam.
1998/99 was the season of all seasons for Manchester United and Alex Ferguson. “Champions of Europe , Champions of England, Winners of the FA CUP… everything their heart desired…” And yes! United became the first English team to win the Treble… and what a Treble it was. After 31 years, they won the European Cup again, defeating Juventus and Bayern Munich giants on their way to glory. United won the European final with a thrilling display, scoring twice in added time to win 2-1; surely Alex Ferguson’s finest moment. Alex Ferguson was knighted for his services to football.
The rest of this success story we all know: United won the league in 2000, 2001, 2003 and the FA Cup in 2004. Under the reign of Sir Alex Ferguson, United became first team to retain the League title for three successive seasons.
Undoubtedly the manager who has won the most titles in the Premier League, with 16 trophies, Sir Alex Ferguson has known how to build one of the most successful teams. He had announced his retirement from football two years ago, but, hungry for more success came over his decision. He has not always made the right decisions, but to err is, after all, human. Some would say that he has already won it all or that the time for him to leave has come, but whatever happens now, no one can deny that Sir Alex Ferguson has made of Manchester United what it is today: one of the best football clubs in the world. So, as the man celebrates his 1000 th game in charge of the club this week, I saw Three Cheers to you Sir Alex Ferguson. May you lead us to success and glory, over and over again.