Twenty-five years is a long time. 1,057managers have left English clubs since November 6, 1986 – the day that Sir Alex Ferguson was appointed manager of Manchester United.
For anyone born either shortly before or anytime after that date, English football will, largely, seem as if it has always been dominated by the red side of Manchester. When Ferguson retires, the Premier League will be missing a manager that has, as said on BBC Radio 5Live on Thursday night, become something of a reference point.
The argument over who is the greatest British manager of all time serves no purpose and is hugely demeaning to the greats over the years. There have been many fantastic football managers – Clough, Paisley, Shankly, Busby – and they were all great in their own, mostly unique ways. How is it possible to determine who is the greatest?
But Ferguson is one of the greatest. The domination that he and Manchester United have had over English and at, at certain points, European football is just staggering, looking back. From the twelve Premier League titles to twice winning the Champions League, Ferguson could either be loved or hated depending on club loyalties – but always respected and admired.
This past week, everyone has been having their say, from former players to journalists who have had run-ins with the manager. They’ve all mentioned his fierce tongue but added caveats such as his dedication to knowing every little detail about his players, the fact that his door is always open for a chat and, of course, his determination to not only win in the present, but win in the future too.
The mere thought of Ferguson not being in complete control of a situation is alien to someone who was born just under six years into Fergie’s reign. It has got to the stage now where “it won’t happen, because Fergie won’t let it happen” is almost considered a well-reasoned phrase.
I don’t see the signings of Massimo Taibi, the selling of Jaap Stam or his various rants at the press as mistakes. They are examples of Ferguson giving other contenders a chance, or thinking they’ve got a chance – before yanking the chance back again and, most probably, laughing at everyone in the process.
The Scot is always in control. He not only controls the playing staff, but also the staff at the club as a whole. He can even control other managers at times: his mind games are as notorious as they are effective, sometimes simply putting a seed of doubt into his opponent’s mind to force them to reconsider their own side’s set-up. Sometimes he goes one better and gets a destabilising reaction.
One of the things that I admire most about Sir Alex Ferguson is his ability to come back from a defeat. He is a bad loser, but then all the best winners are. Ferguson doesn’t see a defeat as a one-off and then moves on as if nothing has happened: losing means there are improvements to be made. Whether it’s a sound-beating in a Champions League final or a thrashing in the derby, Ferguson’s sides always come back.
You can take a dislike to his general demeanour in dealing with the press and match officials, you can be jealous of his success: but you cannot but admire and appreciate what Sir Alex Ferguson has done for football in this country.
His ability to protect his players when he needs to is commendable while his ruthless awareness of the right time for a player to leave the club is astonishing in an era of overpaid, arrogant stars. He maybe does have his flaws, but they are inconsequential.
Sometimes journalists do need a good telling off. The same goes for refereesand football officials. I’m sure even David Beckham would agree that to hit someone in the face with a boot with one swish of the foot shows nothing other than supreme talent. I can even look past the fact that, after almost 53 years in football, the man still cannot celebrate without looking incredibly awkward.
Like with all the footballing greats in times gone by, you must be thankful for living in an era of one of the greatest football managers of all time. You’ve lived in Fergie Time. Lucky you.