Adam Bird

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Monday, 7 November 2011

Sir Alex Ferguson

Football

Yesterday marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure as manager of Manchester United, a record which is staggering considering the trigger-happy culture which runs through modern day football like a shameful cancer - but then nothing about Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign can be called ordinary.

I was just six years old when Sir Alex Ferguson walked through the doors of Old Trafford for the first time and took over a struggling Manchester United side that had the likes of Norman Whiteside, Paul McGrath and the England captain Bryan Robson. I hadn’t heard of those names at that age, I don’t even think I took an interest in the game at all. But as my interest grew, the one remaining constant is that man, 'Old Red Nose' from Govan in Glasgow, a ship-builders son who has gone on to be knighted, rewrite the history books and become, in my opinion the greatest football manager of all time.

Twenty-five years in the same job, for the same company is a good innings for any man whatever profession, but in footballing terms it is something of an anomaly. I can think of Dario Gradi of Crewe and Guy Roux of Auxerre who was in charge for 44 years, but without resorting to the Internet not many other names roll off the tongue. But its not only longevity that Sir Alex will be remembered for.

Manchester United had up until that point a fine and varied history, defined in the main by their exploits in the sixties, the Matt Busby era and winning the European Cup inspired by one of the finest footballers who ever lived, George Best. All this came after the Munich air crash disaster had wiped out the beating heart of the club and the “Busby Babes” were borne from the ashes. But until Sir Alex Ferguson’s appointment the long search for a league title had been fruitless and numerous managers had come and gone, haunted by the past and each ending in glorious failure.

Often you will read that Mark Robins was the man who saved Sir Alex Ferguson’s job, during an FA Cup tie against Nottingham Forest, Robins scored a late winner, sealing Manchester United’s progress in the competition which they went on to eventually win in a replay, 1-0 against Crystal Palace. But whether that is fact, or another legend that has grown from rumour is neither here nor there, the simple fact is, that triumph was the beginning of a long dynasty of trophy laden years that continues up until this very day.

In those intervening years, we have had the introduction of the Premier League, the money and glamour that Sky television has brought, turning the top level of English football into a monstrous cash-cow where the ‘product’ is more important than the value. The Bosman ruling which give more power to the player, meaning that they can sit and wind their contracts down and sign for another club that is willing the pay them obscene amounts of money. Sir Alex has adapted through all of that as well as fighting on the pitch and coming out on top against a host of adversary's, Howard Kendall and Leeds United, Jack Walker’s Blackburn Rovers, Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle, Arsene Wenger and his Arsenal ‘Invincibles’, Abramovich and his rouble inspired Chelsea and today’s modern day challenge, the might of Manchester City and the middle-eastern powered bastard of a once great club.

The great thing for me as a lower league football fan is that I can appreciate the higher echelons of the footballing pyramid without getting involved in the bitterness and animosity which comes from success by opposing supporters. Yes Liverpool do have a wonderful history and yes they do have two of the greatest ever managers (Paisley and Shankly) on their own roll call. But then, so do Arsenal with Wenger and Herbert Chapman, as do Leeds with Revie and Tottenham with Nicholson and the list goes on and on. But when all is said and done and when one is asked the question. “Who is the greatest football manager ever?” I don’t think that you can look past the man from Govan.

So much has been written, so much will continue to be all the time that the great man is in charge. But for me, a man who can win the amount of trophies he has, with the style and flair that his teams play, the players he has brought through and the manner in which he is clearly held in such high regard from the players he has managed and his peers throughout such a period of change, there can only be one answer.

It’s all a matter of opinion, football is based around that. But all the time Sir Alex remains as Manchester United manager that’s where my opinion lies. Any dissenting voices, at least for now let them argue on. But in ten, twenty years time and we look back, it’s only then we will truly be able to say, and be thankful for that we were the lucky ones and we were around to witness the greatest.

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