When one looks at the Premier League over its lifespan, there seems to be a distinct trend. No longer did the sleeping giant that is Manchester United fall within the periphery, instead, they led the pack. This is something that would have seemed like a dream to those supporters who watched United during the 1970s and 80s.
During this time of prosperity, there stands a man that has broken the mould; a man who has taken Manchester United to new heights. Many will ask how Sir Alex broke the mould. The fact of the matter is that Sir Alex Ferguson has constantly managed to win trophies with teams that are in transition or beginning to peak.
You only have to look at the chasing pack to realise what an achievement it is to be at the summit for a sustained period of time. In this period, Sir Alex has seen off Jack Walker’s Blackburn Rovers, Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle, Roman Abramovic-funded superstars, Arsene’s invincibles and hopefully the mega-rich Manchester City.
All of the above seem to have risen to prominence over their respective times as each team built was a team that could possibly, according to the media, bring Sir Alex’s empire to its knees. Each one, barring Newcastle, did manage to wrestle the coveted Premier League trophy from Manchester United, but none could truly claim it for their own.
So what is it about Sir Alex’s teams that just seem to churn out trophy after trophy? Well, many would say it is the luck of late goals and maybe a few favourable refereeing decisions, but is that all it is? Luck?
The reason Sir Alex has won so many titles and continues to win them is his steel - that never say die attitude that courses through his veins and every other player that arrives at Manchester United. Many say that talent trumps everything, but work ethic and pure will to win are much more important than the talent available. Any person can be talented but it is that need to strive beyond what is humanly possible that is what Manchester United are all about.
Gary Neville embodies everything that Manchester United are about. He may not have been the most talented player in the world, but he gave everything he had in every game. It was never a case of wondering if Neville had given his all, but a case of wondering whether he could continue to be this wholehearted.
A player who never really seemed to get this is Dimitar Berbatov. As much as I loved the much maligned Bulgarian, he never really seemed to go the extra mile. In his recent autobiography, Gary Neville spoke of how the class of ‘92 would be told to run five miles, but they would run six just to better themselves. This willingness never seemed apparent with Berbatov. Lack of closing down and inability to show up in sufficient big games ultimately saw the mesmeric Bulgarian leave Old Trafford without showing his true talent.
While other teams have sometimes been much more pleasing on the eye, Manchester United were often called “the worst United side to win the league”. It is this ability to constantly defy critics and bring the best out of the players brought in that truly make Sir Alex the greatest manager of all times.
While Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho have created teams that have challenged Sir Alex, it has always been the next step that has eluded each of these managers. While Wenger’s teams have been “young” and “one more season away from being mature”, Sir Alex has shown that he is the master of smoothness of transition. He took a scrawny Portuguese boy and infused him with a few bargain buys that took the football world by storm. Each of these buys held within them a Manchester United gene. Players such as Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic rose to prominence, not only for their exceptional talents but their never say die attitude.
Many a manager fails at the step that Sir Alex seems to effortlessly glide through. Most see the transition period and trophies as mutually exclusive projects whereas the wily Scot sees these as complimentary. He uses these tough times to gauge how far this team can go and whether or not the players are up for the fight. One only needs to look at the failed Champions League campaigns in which Manchester United have crashed out at the group stages. In each case, major investment was made to realign the squad according to a standard that had been set.
It can be said that Sir Alex brings together the sheer will and determination of a lower league club with the obvious talent that he sees within a player. There are no better examples than Ji Sung Park and Darren Fletcher. Both these players may not be as talented as the greats of Manchester United’s history but they will rank up upon the most recognised Manchester United players of the modern era. Neither has the ability of a Fabregas or the guile of a Pires but what they brought was the winning mentality, guts and sheer determination. I guess that’s just the genius of Sir Alex Ferguson in that he can get the most out of players that others don’t really see.
This is exactly why we need to soak up as much as we can as there will be no other like the Scot. We have been so lucky to have had someone who understands the changes that need to be made and at what stage to make them. We have been given a god amongst managers that has taken Manchester United to new heights and there will be a day that he will leave, and that day will see the curtains fall upon one of the greatest managerial careers the football world has ever seen.
Until then, let’s all revel in the brilliance that is Sir Alex Ferguson and march towards number 20.