Friday, 4 November 2011

The World's Greatest: Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson is regarded today as one of the, if not the best football managers to ever grace the beautiful game, and on the 6th of November this year, he celebrated being at the helm of Manchester United for 25 years! This blog will give a year-to-year analysis of his time at Old Trafford, the highs, the lows since joining in the autumn of 1986.

1986-87 - Sir Alex Ferguson arrives at Old Trafford with his assistant Archie Knox after Ron Atkinson was sacked after a poor run of form. Atkinson saw his United side slump to a 4-1 loss against Southampton, which was ultimately Atkinson's final game in charge, and was the 'last nail in his coffin'. Ferguson came in the following day, with his first win coming against QPR, where United were 1-0 victors. It was an up and down season, with the new manager re-jigging his squad numerous times, bringing in the likes of Viv Anderson and Brian McClair. United finished 11th in the league, with no silverware.

1987-88 - This was Ferguson's first full season in charges of Manchester United, and it proved to be a relatively successful one, again there was no silverware to take home at the end of the season, but he did guide them to a 2nd place finish (9 places higher than the previous year), but both cup dreams ended in the 5th round, with losses to Oxford United in the Littlewoods Cup, and in the FA Cup, to Arsenal. Early signs of Ferguson's eye for talent was shown in this season with new signing McClair running out top goal-scorer for the club, tallying up 24 in the league and 31 in all competitions.

1988-89 - There was renewed hope at the beginning of this season, after a second place finish in Ferguson's previous year in charge, big things were expected. Mark Hughes returned to the United team, and some homegrown talent, in the form of Lee Sharpe was beginning to get first team action. However, United saw poor runs of form throughout different stages of the season, at one stage going nine games without picking up a win. They crashed out of both the league cup (Littlewoods Cup) and the F.A Cup, to Wimbledon (League) and Nottingham Forest (F.A). Ferguson's status as United manager had gone back to square one, as united finished 11th in the League, the same position they finished when he took control two years previous.

1989-90 - Arguably, Ferguson's most significant season in charge. Ferguson's current number two, Mike Phelan was brought in from Norwich to bulster the squad, and Ferguson was determined to bring home some silverware to Old Trafford. The league run turned out to be a disastrous one, with United having their worst final position since their relegation from the division 15 years previous. Ending the season in 13th place, and with the Old Trafford faithful baying for his blood, Ferguson was on the edge of seeing the door, but he had a saving grace; A replay of the F.A Cup final against Crystal Palace. Having drawn the original game 3-3 with Ian Wright making a name for himself with a couple of goals, both sides went back to Wembley where United's Lee Martin managed to get the winner in tightly contested 1-0 victory, effectively saving Ferguson's job.

1990-91 - Ferguson was starting to get a real grip on his United squad and after a five year trophy drought, he was aiming for more silverware, and with the emphasis on the league, he was to try and begin the job to knock local rivals Liverpool off their perch. Mark Hughes was having a prolific season, although United faltered early in their defence of the F.A Cup, being knocked out by Norwich in the 5th round. The aim of capturing the league title fell short again though, with inconsistency becoming a key factor in their 5th place finish, although it was a step in the right direction following the previous two years. United and Ferguson weren't done, and the second trophy in two years was captured with the Cup Winners' Cup being won after a 2-1 victory over Barcelona, with former Catalan striker Hughes grabbing both goals.

1991-92 - After picking up a trophy in each one of the two previous seasons, Ferguson had still not managed to take the ever elusive league title he desired. This was the season the great Ryan Giggs began making a name for himself, after breaking through into the first team and winning the PFA Young Player of the Year award, this again highlighting Ferguson's eye for young talent. This was also the year in which Danish legend Peter Schmeichel was brought in. United dominated the league for the majority of the season, and were in first place up until what Ferguson now calls 'squeaky-bum' time, in which three out of the last four games were lost, resulting in bitter rivals, Leeds United pipping United to the post. Despite this, United and Ferguson managed to bring home the UEFA Super Cup and the League Cup.

1992-93 - The English Division One became the newly formed Premier League, and it was in this year, Manchester United's 26 year league title drought was broken. The new Ferguson era was taking shape, as was the squad, with Fergie bringing in the likes of Eric Cantona and Dion Dublin as well as the current crop of youth proving their worth, with Giggs picking up the PFA Young Player of the Year award for the second year running. Although United and Ferguson were successful in the league, all over competitions proved a miss, with them bowing out early in both the League and F.A Cup's and not even managing to get past the first round of the UEFA Cup, after crashing out on penalties to Torpedo Moscow.

1993-94 - The most successful season so far as Manchester United manager for Alex Ferguson, after winning the league title for the first time the previous year, Ferguson added another Premier League winners medal to the rapidly growing collection. Ferguson's eye for talent was once again shown, bringing in Roy Keane from Nottingham Forest, who proved to priceless in United's glorious season. United also became one of the few teams to win the domestic double, winning the F.A Cup for the second time in Ferguson's reign, and were only denied in the Final of the League Cup, of a domestic treble. United also won the Charity Shield, after defeating Arsenal on penalties.

1994-95 - Ferguson went in to this season full of confidence and on the back of consecutive Premier League crowns amongst other honours. This season was the season of so close but yet so far. Ferguson's real managerial skills were called into question when his star man Cantona was given an eight month ban after a fly-kick to a fan at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace, and this was added to after other big name players were given the cold shoulder. The likes of Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis were all offloaded to other teams. Ferguson ended up one point behind Blackburn Rovers at the end of the season, and were unable to capitalise on Rovers losing their final game of a dramatic last day, after they could only muster up a draw against West Ham. United fans were also disappointed after they then went on to lose the F.A Cup final 1-0 to Everton.

1995-96 - This was the year when Ferguson's eye for youth talent was proven beyond any doubt with the selling of a lot of big stars in the previous year, it was time for the likes of David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Gary and Phil Neville and Paul Scholes to step up. United were once again linked with England forward Alan Shearer, but Ferguson failed to bring him in. Despite the loss of the top stars that had helped Ferguson to his first trophy, the new up and comers didn't do too bad, after Ferguson secured his second domestic double, bagging the F.A Cup and Premier League Crown in the same season, for the second time in three years.

1996-97 - This was the year Ferguson got his best ever Champions League finish with Manchester Untied, reaching the semi-finals, only to be knocked out by Borussia Dortmund. Norwegian star Ole Gunnar Solskjaer joined United to add to the current crop of young talent emerging, with the likes of David Beckham clinching the PFA Young Player of the year award. Ferguson also brought in Ronny Johnsen in defence to fill the void left by Steve Bruce, and despite falling at the second to last hurdle in Europe Ferguson managed to capture another Premier League winners medal, finishing 7 points clear of nearest rivals Newcastle. Ferguson and United were again disappointing in the domestic cups, being knocked out in the 4th round of both the FA and League Cup.

1997-98 - Perhaps Ferguson's most disastrous season so far. Everything was looking up after victories in the Champions League sent United into the Quarter Final, and coming into March they were 11 points clear at the top of the league. However they were pipped to the League by Arsenal, who went on a two month winning streak, ending one point clear of the Red Devils. Ferguson ended the season trophy-less for the first time since 1995.

1998-99 - After the last season ended so poorly, Ferguson and United were determined to not let it happen again. And this, the 1998-99 season was arguably Ferguson's best and most memorable ever. It started off quite poor though, with Ferguson and United failing to pick up a win until the 3rd game of the season, and only winning two of their first five games. Ferguson did however get the league form back on track and it wasn't long before United were at the top of the pile, the title race went down to the wire, with United taking top spot from Arsenal by the same margin Arsenal did United the previous year, one point. United then went into the FA Cup final after narrowly by-passing their North London rivals in the semi final replay, thanks to a wonder goal from Ryan Giggs. With a league and cup double very much on the cards, with an even more unthinkable treble still to play for. Goals from Sherringham and Scholes sealed the trophy for United, so with two trophies in the bag, the attentions turned to the Champions League Final against German champions Bayern Munich. This was the furthest Alex Ferguson had got in the Champions League with United, and after a spirited performance from Roy Keane and the rest of the Untied squad in the semi-finals against Juventus, United were in the promise land. As a Manchester United fan this lives in the memory banks, and will until the day I die, and Ferguson has recently come out and said this was his most unforgettable moment as manager. His side were 1-0 down until the 90th minute, when goals from Sherringham and Solskjaer turned the game on its head in under three minutes. United had done it. Ferguson had done it. The treble was theirs.

1999-00 - After the fairytale ending to the last season, United were in full flight to re-create the magic. Ferguson took the decision to not defend the FA Cup crown in order for his team to take part in the FIFA Club World Championship, as reward for winning the Champions League. However United were worse than poor in this competition, losing to Vasco De Gama, drawing with Necaxa and getting a consolation victory against South Melbourne. The league was a different story however, with United not dropping out of the top two from the third game of the season, and ending up 18 points clear after an 11 game winning streak between March and May. This was Sir Alex's 6th title in 8 seasons.

2000-01 - United had another successful season when it came to the Premier League, finishing ten points clear at the top of the league, once again despite their dominance in the league, they were disappointing in other competitions, crashing out again at the 4th round stage of both the FA and League Cup, and with Bayern Munich coming up against United again, revenge was served after a 3-1 aggregate win in the Quarter Final. Ferguson was very inactive in the transfer market when it came to bringing in new talent during this year, but a lot of people left Old Trafford, with the likes of Bosnich, Cruyff and Sherringham moving on.

2001-02 - In comparison to the last three years, United and Ferguson had an abysmal season in the second year of the new millenium. For the first time since the reformation of the Premier League they finished outside the top two, with poor runs of form throughout the year, including losing 3 in a row to Chelsea, Arsenal and West Ham, along with a total of six home defeats. The Champions League was slightly more successful, and with the Final being held in Ferguson's home town of Glasgow the incentive was really there more than ever. However, United crashed out in the semi-finals to Bayern Leverkusen on the away goals rule, and with disappointing results in the FA and League Cup, United ended the year trophy-less. Ferguson had indicated that this year would be his last in charge of United, but he re-thought and went back on the decision at the end of the year.

2002-03 - This was a season of highs and lows for United and Ferguson. Starting with the lows, United were again disappointing in the domestic trophies, crashing out of the FA Cup at the 5th round stage to bitter rivals Arsenal, with the aftermath of the match dominating the headlines, after David Beckham emerged from Old Trafford with a cut and stitches over his eye. It was speculated that Ferguson was so angry he threw a football boot at Beckham, but it was cleared up that he kicked it and it accidentally hit Beckham. Beckham was on his way out of Old Trafford at the end of the season, with a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid the result. On a positive note, United finished top of the league again, finishing five points clear of Arsenal, to regain their crown. Although reaching the League Cup Final, United were beaten by local rivals Liverpool 2-0.

2003-04 - Arguably Ferguson's best ever signing was captured this year, with Cristiano Ronaldo signing for £12 million, to replace the void left by David Beckham after his £17 million move to Madrid. United were back to bad form in the league, not showing good enough consistency and finishing 3rd behind Chelsea and Arsenal. There was some joy in the FA Cup though, with United beating Millwall in the final in Cardiff. Aside from the Charity Shield this was the only honours United and Ferguson managed this year and it was debatable that this was appearing to be one of Ferguson's weakest sides.

2004-05 - Ferguson began rebuilding this year, bringing in the likes of new English superstar Wayne Rooney. With Chelsea dominating the rest of the transfer market, with their new owner Roman Abromavich injecting endless money, it was them who ran away with league, losing only one game all year. United did have some highs in the season, putting an end to Arsenal's 49 game unbeaten run, beating them 2-0. However, Ferguson and United ended the season trophy-less for only the fourth time in 17 seasons.

2005-06 - Another poor season beckoned for United and Ferguson with them finishing 2nd in the league again behind big spenders Chelsea, but the major disappointment came in the Champions League where they failed to get into the knockout stages for the first time in since 1994. They finished 4th in the group stage not even managing to qualify for the UEFA Cup. Roy Keane moved on to boyhood club Celtic after a serious injury ended his United career, resulting in Gary Neville taking over the armband. United did have one success, coming in the League Cup, after a 4-0 win over Wigan Athletic.

2006-07 - This was the season in which Cristiano Ronaldo started to show his brilliance, and prove Ferguson's eye for talent once more. He won the PFA Young Player of the year award, scoring 27 goals in all competitions. United enjoyed good form in the Premier League, and after two years of the Premier League trophy ending up at Stamford Bridge, Ferguson was determined to get it back. Untied duly delivered, winning the league by six points. Chelsea did get the better of United in the FA Cup though, who then went on to win the trophy, and after the previous years abysmal campaign in the Champions League, they managed to get further, only falling to AC Milan, who with an inform Kaka, took United apart at the San Siro. Ferguson also captured the Premier League Manager of the Season Award.

2007-08 - With Ferguson's main aim when taking over at Old Trafford being to claim the title of top English team from Liverpool, this season gave him the chance to get one closer to the the Red Devils' rivals record of 18. United did go on to claim back-to-back Premier League crowns, finishing 2 points clear of rivals Chelsea. United also got the better of the West London side in the season curtain raiser, beating them on penalties. United weren't finished there, and ten years since their last Champions League success, and 40 since their 1st, it was also 50 years since the Munich air disaster, united reached the Champions League final against Chelsea once again. After beating them on penalties in the first game of the season, they done the same again, dramatically capturing Ferguson's second Champions League with United.

2008-09 - After the successes of the previous year, United were on course for a third Premier League crown in a row, to equal Liverpool's record of winning 18 overall. Again it was a tightly run thing, with United eventually finishing six points clear of Liverpool, with Chelsea finishing 3rd after the majority of the season being on United'e tail. United did win the FIFA World Club championship, and were only denied back-to-back Champions League crowns by a terrific Barcelona side who won 2-0 after a dominant display. Young talent was again scouted by Ferguson, after he brought in Brazilian twins, Rafael and Fabio Da Silva, along with Dimitar Berbatov.

2009-10 - After Ferguson had brought in Cristiano Ronaldo for only £12 million, he had become the hot property in Europe after the last few years, and this became apparent fate Real Madrid tabled a bid for a staggering £80 million, which was something United and Ferguson couldn't refuse. Wigan winger Antonio Valencia was brought in to bulster the clubs resources in replacement of Ronaldo, and he has since turned out to be a very good player, and a very good buy from Sir Alex. United were in search for a 19th league crown, to overtake Liverpool, searching an unprecedented 4th consecutive crown. Thi wasn't to be though as Chelsea pipped United by a single point. United did manage to defend their League Cup though, beating Tottenham in the final, to at least secure some silverware for the year. They were knocked out of the Champions League, seeing a 3-0 lead at Old Trafford slip to 3-2 against old foes Bayern Munich, meaning they won on away goals (4-4).

2010-11 - The main signing this year was that of Javier Hernandez, who has since proved to be one of the best young players in the world. United started by defeating double winning side Chelsea in the Champions Shield. United were in search of the 19th league crown to take them above Liverpool, something Ferguson was determined to do since taking over. After a tightly fought season, again between United and Chelsea, United pulled away towards the end, leaving them nine points clear, capturing their 19th League Crown, to make them the most successful club in England. Ferguson's job was complete. For the third time in four seasons united reached the Champions League final, again being out-classed by the ever improving immense Barcelona side, this time 3-1. Despite this, it was still a successful year, with still no idea on when Ferguson will decide to spit out his gum!

Ferguson major honours list at Manchester United:

Premier League - 11 times
FA Cup - 5 times
League Cup - 3 times
Champions League - 2 times

Ferguson celebrated his silver anniversary at United, and in honour of him, the North Stand was re-named the 'Sir Alex Ferguson' stand, with a statue set to be build outside for the coming year.

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