You know what they say – ‘the only thing constant in life is change’. The minute you get comfortable and think you have things sussed, something happens and everything changes. Change is inevitable, it is how you deal with change that defines you; if you can remain successful at what you do, stay true to yourself and not falter from your course regardless of what happens around you. This is hard enough to achieve in everyday life…imagine what this is like when you are under the microscope living life as a Premier League football manager.
Very few managers have been able to evolve and change over a sustained period, success can easily be short-lived, one minute a hero turns in to a villain at the first sign of trouble – it is sometimes easy, and sensible, to bow out at the top. To last as a football manager for more than a couple of seasons is an achievement nowadays, to last more than 5 seasons is almost a miracle, to last any longer than that is something that deserves a lifetime achievement award…
We know Sir Alex Ferguson celebrated his 25th year anniversary in charge of Manchester United last year, but he has just hit the landmark of being in charge of Manchester United for 1000 league games. Arguably, no other league in world football has seen as much change in such a short space of time as the Premier League has, but Fergie has kept adapting. The Premier League is young, its inaugural season was the 1992/93 season, but who is the only manager who remains from that opening day of the Premier League? Fergie.
When the man from Govan first walked through the Old Trafford gates almost 26 years ago, Manchester United, football, and indeed the whole world, were very different places to what we known them for today.
The Glaswegian, whose greatest achievement in Scottish football was, ironically, to break the Old Firm’s duopoly on the Scottish league, took the stage in M16 and football couldn’t have been more different than it is now. Fergie came in to a culture of ‘kick and rush’ football on the pitch, whilst off it, the average bonding session for a team revolved around beers and cigarettes post match, after some players had probably sunk a couple of pints pre-match just for good measure. Manchester United hadn’t won a league title for almost two decades when Fergie took over, that is hardly imaginable now.
When Sir Alex Ferguson took charge of his 1000th league game last weekend, he sat down knowing that he had outlived hundreds of players at Manchester United during his reign, not to mention 156 Premier League managers that have come and gone since ’92. As Robin van Persie struck the winner against Southampton to seal his hat-trick, he was just the latest in a long line of superstar players that pail in significance next to Sir Alex. When Fergie started out life as Manchester United manager, Robin van Persie wasn’t even 4-years-old.
As Fergie jumped off his seat on Sunday afternoon to celebrate that van Persie injury time winner at St. Mary’s, it summed up a vitality that Ferguson still has when it comes to football - celebrating on the touchline as if he was the manager of an FA Cup minnow who had just registered a famous ‘giant killing’, rather than a man who had just recorded his 599th league win in a career that re-wrote history at one of the world’s biggest football clubs.
The fact that winner was struck in what, at least on these shores, will forever be known as “Fergie Time” made it all the more fitting as so many of the highs in the former Aberdeen manager’s career were achieved in the dying seconds.
Those same dying seconds that, less than four months ago, presented Fergie with arguably the hardest moment he’s ever had to face at Manchester United, as Manchester City – the “noisy neighbours” as Ferguson described them – stripped Sir Alex of a thirteenth Premier League title that had been within touching distance.
League titles should be any real Champions bread and butter. You can’t expect to rule the world if you can’t rule your own back yard and Ferguson will have to wait to add to his tally of 12 league titles. However time has shown that there’s nothing that Sir Alex loves more than a challenge. From within the club one of his first choices was to get rid of crowd favourites Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside whose off pitch antics weren’t considered an example by Fergie. From the media – Alan Hansen and the famous “You don’t win anything with kids” statement. And challenges from other clubs, whether the traditional rivals – Liverpool and Arsenal – or the new (and incredibly rich) kids on the block – Chelsea and City over the last few years.
Fergie has moulded and shaped Manchester United into the club they are today, changed with the times and instilled a mentality at the club that gives Manchester United a culture comparable to any top club in the world. It hasn’t been all plain sailing for Fergie and in recent years he has even come under intense fire from an increasing number of United fans who, while forever grateful for the on-field success, began questioning the Scotsman’s backing of the Glazers and their ownership.
For a man who so often has considered his working class roots a badge of honour rather than something to be ashamed of, his unequivocal support in favour of the American owners has left a sour taste in many around Old Trafford, who accuse Sir Alex of being bigger than the club.
An accusation that would probably trigger the famous ‘hairdryer’ treatment, given that throughout his managerial reign at Old Trafford Sir Alex has maintained that individuals, albeit talented (Van Nistelrooy), loved by the fans (Keane), or boasting a superstar status (brand Beckham) can never aspire to be bigger and more important than the club itself and Fergie is one manager that isn’t afraid of change.
That, in a nutshell, is why, despite the controversies regarding referees and a less than shrewd conduct throughout the recent transfer windows, as well as what many regard as a lack of tactical innovations Sir Alex Ferguson is one of the greatest managers to ever grace this sport.
Fergie’s impressive record speak for itself – 12 league titles, 2 European Cups, 5 FA Cups and 4 League Cups plus various other trophies. However, numbers alone don’t tell the whole story as the man’s aura is of such magnitude that he is highly regarded and admired not only by his current and former players, but also by his rivals. The real victory in Sir Alex Ferguson’s career is that he could have so easily have been left behind, clinging on to the football of the 80s and 90s, but instead he changed with the times and not only that, set the standard.
1000 League Games is a massive achievement and the scary thought is, he is not done just yet.
Want to meet a Manchester United legend at Old Trafford? Well Champions League sponsor Ford are giving you the opportunity to do so! Their Open Doors programme celebrates the new Ford B-MAX, with its ingenious extra-wide door opening. All you have to do is hit this link www.fordopendoors.co.uk press enter and you will find the Manchester United competition and it could be you heading to Old Trafford to meet a United legend. Good luck…