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Monday, 8 December 2008

Each And Every One Of Us

.........should realise how lucky we have been to see the greatest manager ever to walk the planet, manage the club we all follow - Manchester United..

United did the double last year !! Champions of England and Champions of Europe but no one seems to have celebrated it or even recognised the fact they did it. Probably because we have had to put up with the precocious antics of Ronaldo, then listen to the idiot Sepp Blatter declare all players are becoming slaves, albeit on £100,000 per week !! Then we had Euro 2008 followed by The Beijing Olympics and voila, here we are, another season.

I hear a lot of people putting Sir Fergie down, pushing aside his records and all he has achieved with United. I think it's an English thing. They gave Capello 28 minutes into his first game with England before booing them !! They love failure for some reason they even court it. They expect to fail, then they fail, then they get bitter because they failed. In the same vein, they wont recognise anything Fergie does until he is long gone !!

This is sad, a great shame. The simple truth is, no matter who believes it, Sir Alex Chapman Ferguson CBE, is the greatest football coach/manager to ever walk this planet it's as simple as that and there is no argument possible to even contest it !

In statistical terms, Ferguson's career is, quite simply, incredible and would be so even if it were fiction. The end of last season brought him a tenth English league championship in 21 seasons as United's manager. No other manager in English history even comes close: Bob Paisley won six with Liverpool, Matt Busby five with United and Herbert Chapman four with Arsenal and Huddersfield in the 1930s. If we look outside England, Rinus Michels won five league championships (4 with Ajax and one with Barcelona) whilst Fabio Capello won seven (4 at AC Milan, 2 at Real Madrid and another at Roma; another two at Juventus were taken off him because he CHEATED !!!

Only in Scotland is Ferguson's achievement matched: Jock Stein, his friend and mentor, led Celtic to 11 Scottish titles. All due respect to Scotland and their FA, but it's not quite as competitive up there so I personally think Fergies achievements are a lot better.

In all, United have won 702 (58%) of the 1210 league games played under Ferguson to the end of May 2008. That surpasses even the record of Matt Busby: 576 (50%) wins out of 1141 games. And Ferguson's teams lost only 18% of their competitive games, compared with 26% under Busby. Since the inception of the Premier League, Ferguson's record has been even more remarkable, beyond belief in fact.

In the 16 years of the Premiership, United have totalled 155 more league points than Arsenal, their nearest challengers, 221 more than Chelsea and 244 more than Liverpool. That's nearly 10 points a season better than Arsenal on average,nearly 14 points better than Chelsea and more than 16 points better than Liverpool - astonishing margins. In the process, United also played the more attractive football consistently, averaging 1.97 goals per game (compared with 1.69 for Arsenal, 1.58 for Chelsea, and 1.6 for Liverpool) and defended better (conceding 0.87 goals per game compared with 0.88, 0.98 and 0.98 respectively for their main rivals).

If all that were not enough, Ferguson has also brought United two European Cups, a European Cup-Winners Cup, five FA Cups (a record for a manager) and two League Cups, 20 major trophies in all. Against that, Michels won a total of 14, Paisley 13, Capello 9, Busby 7 and Chapman 6. But there's more. Before joining United in 1986, Ferguson led Aberdeen to 3 league championships, 4 FA Cups, one League Cup and a European Cup-Winners Cup in Scotland.

There's also the matter of two European Super Cups (one with each club) and an Intercontinental Cup (United became, so far, the only English winners of that trophy). That's 32 major trophies overall, ahead even of Stein's 29 in Scotland (and as I said achieved in a much tougher competitive environment). Along the way, there have been three English League and FA Cup doubles (the first to do it twice and then three times), and one League and European Cup double. Above all, in 1999 Ferguson led United to the treble of League championship, FA Cup and European Cup, the single greatest achievement by any club in English football history and something unmatched in Europe's main leagues (England, Italy, Spain, Germany and France).

You could not make it up. However much partisanship might colour our perceptions of the relative merits of the great managers, indisputably Ferguson stands pre-eminent in the history of English and European football. Yet statistics do not give us the full substance of the man. It is all too easy to forget, that Ferguson took over something of an empty shell in 1986, a club living on fading memories of the Busby era, as much about tabloid notoriety as football achievement.

With a ferocity that many found difficult to live with, he removed the drinking culture that he found, got rid of some outstanding players who had lost their way, confined the media to the fringes of the club's business, resurrected the club's youth development system, built a professional training and coaching system still unsurpassed in England, and demanded and got (as the price of being at the club) a unity of purpose and clarity of focus that turned talented players into winners.

Perhaps his greatest achievement has been that he has managed to blend the demands of a more tactical and defensive modern game with the attacking verve and individual swagger established by Busby as the United way of playing, a way that made a provincial club the best supported team in the world.

It was a challenge that defeated previous United managers (including even Busby in his late years) but Ferguson's teams have managed to provide plenty of scope for individual expression within the framework of team organization.

Thus, players like Cantona, Giggs, Rooney, Ronaldo, Scholes, Sharpe, Yorke, Cole, Beckham, Anderson and others have developed into artists who could stretch the imagination of those lucky enough to watch them while they still played winning football.

These skills have been paraded through four successful United teams built by Ferguson.

If the first (1990-2) was something of a transitional side, the other three - 1993-4, 1999-2001 and 2006-8 - have all been great ones.

The treble in 1999 must rank that side as the greatest of them, indeed as the greatest in English club history, not only for the magnitude of the success but also for the flair and style with which it was done. It exemplified what all Ferguson's teams are about - skill and flair embedded in a high level of organization and a ferocious team spirit.

All this makes Fergie something more than a successful coach and places him in the ranks of those great managers who can 'build a club', as the saying goes, men like Michels, Stein, Shankly, Clough, Nicholson, Wenger.

In this company, Busby stands supreme: we cannot begin to imagine what it took to turn a bankrupt, provincial club without a stadium into one renowned throughout the world, to change the idea of football in favour of youth and flair, to drag English football into Europe, to resurrect the club after the Munich air crash (by contrast, Torino have never recovered fully after losing their great team in a 1949 air crash) and to win the European Cup just a decade after Munich.

Yet Ferguson, too, belongs here, adapting the Busby legacy to new realities and taking the club to new heights.

It is only in his relations with the media that Fergie can be considered less than successful. If it is true he has had to deal with a more unscrupulous and contemptible press than any that Busby, Shankly or Stein faced, it is also true that his constant conflicts with them have done neither himself nor his club any favours. It has encouraged a sustained campaign against the club by the London media so that United's enormous contribution to the community and to Unicef and other charities gets a Chinese-government type media blackout !!! It has also led to a media caricature of Fergie with little basis in reality but with a life of its own.

The ranting bully terrorizing his players does not square with their fierce loyalty to him or with their unshakeable will to win games from seemingly hopeless positions or with the flair and joy they so often bring to their play.

Nor does it square with the esteem in which he is held throughout football, or with the appreciation by other managers of the support and generosity he accords them or, for that matter, with the help and friendship he has extended to individual journalists facing crises in their lives.

The wealth and fame he has achieved in football, and the political and business circles to which he has access as a result, have not altered his friendships, most of which go back to his youth, or his focus on family ties or his social values.

Perhaps that is a truer reflection of the nature of the beast than the media picture......

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Sam said...

Thanks for those interesting facts. I agree that Sir Alex has indeed done an awesome job for himself and the club. He has selflessly given his time and energy to groom a great club - Man Utd. And in return he has received those remarkable trophies and the knighthood. A truly great manager.

Ian Thomson said...

I'd add two points Carly:

1) Fergie's greatest achievement was winning the ECWC (in the days when it was a relevant tournament) with Aberdeen; a year in which the quarter finals included Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Internazionale, and Real Madrid.

2) He's not just the greatest football manager ever...he's the greatest manager ever. In any sport. In any field.