Before the weather intervened, when he was going to take his Manchester United team to Stamford Bridge later today he would have been setting yet another milestone. Now the date passes without a game, but he becomes the club’s longest serving manager. When he took the hot seat at Old Trafford back in 1986, and certainly over the next couple of seasons, nobody in their wildest dreams would have believed that he break the record of Sir Matt Busby who managed the side for twenty-four years, one month and fourteen days.
In this, his twenty-fifth year at the club, Fergie is desperate to lead United to a record breaking nineteenth title, to break the record they currently share with Liverpool. A result at Chelsea today would certainly make that become a real possibility.
When Sir Alex took over at United he famously said that he wanted to ‘knock Liverpool off their perch’. At that time, United had seven titles to their name and Liverpool had sixteen.
In the twenty-four years that have passed, United have won eleven league titles to Liverpool’s two. It goes on. They have won five FA Cups to Liverpool’s four, four league cups to Liverpool’s three and two Champions League’s to Liverpool’s one. He has achieved what he set out to do and just one more league title will leave a legacy that would be impossible to follow.
Of course it is not just Liverpool that Sir Alex has had to try to overcome. There have been serious challenges over the years from the likes of Leeds, Newcastle, Arsenal, Chelsea and more recently, Manchester City. He has risen to each challenge and kept United as the team to beat.
The most remarkable thing about Sir Alex is that at the age of sixty-eight (he turns sixty-nine on New Year’s Eve) and with twenty-five major titles with Manchester United to add to the ten he won with Aberdeen, he still seems to have the same drive, determination and hunger that he had when he started out.
Like him or loathe him, he has been at the top of the game, in the glare of publicity and managing a team that everyone wants to beat for a very long time and shows no sign of easing off. You can’t fail to admire him for that.
Another reason to admire him, whether begrudgingly or not, is the way he sends his teams out to play the game. Yes, over the years he has been involved in controversy regarding his haranguing of officials and the same attitude from some of his players and he has been rightly criticised for it and punished, despite what Rafa Benitez may say, by the FA. On the other hand, his United sides have all played fast, attacking football and generally, for the neutral and the United fans, been a joy to watch.
He has spent a huge amount of money over the years but many of his finest players have been home grown or brought in for very little. He hasn’t bought his success. He has nurtured young players who have shown incredible loyalty to him and he has got the best out of players who others had written off. He still commands the same respect and carries the same aura around him with his players as he did twenty years ago, and that is remarkable.
I have never been sure if I like Sir Alex or loathe him. I guess it is divided in fairly equal measures. One thing I am certain of, however, is that I have the utmost admiration for him and regard him as the greatest manager of my lifetime.
I salute his achievement today and know that whatever happens at Stamford Bridge he will be making headlines and doing anything and everything he can to get a result and take his side to yet another title.
I wish he had gone to Watford rather than United!!
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