After 25 years in the business nobody has done it better. Sir Alex Ferguson is entitled to take it easy, kick off his shoes, settle into the most comfortable armchair and just smell the roses. In fact he may well open up the most romantic bottle of red wine, sip a glass with Lady Cathy and then read the Racing Post from cover to cover.
When couples celebrate their silver wedding anniversary they are normally showered with good wishes, glad tidings and bonny bonhomie. But for the famous Sir Alex, this is the anniversary that almost never was and as the headline writers spin out their glowing compliments and adjectives, this might be a right time to point out that it might have gone all pear-shaped after a year at Manchester United.
Still, 25 years later and the man from Aberdeen is still going strong, standing patiently at United’s training ground in all weathers and hungering for more prizes at all levels. Ferguson, of course attracts adjectives in much the way that moths love to get up close and personal with lights. Fergie, undoubtedly is by turns, stubborn, sullen, uncooperative and about as friendly as a bank manager on a Monday morning.
On numerous occasions Ferguson has behaved like a bear with a sore head and when things have gone horribly wrong for United, exploded like the proverbial firework. In the main though things have worked out rather nicely for a man who was almost sacked at United shortly after taking over at Old Trafford.
But of course after 19 League titles. three European Cups, a European Cup Winners Cup, loads of FA Cups, Ferguson can afford to break into a reluctant, grudging smile. Sure there have been the unsavoury run-ins with the FA, the miserable moans and those thoroughly disagreeable flare ups with nosy, inquisitive journalists.
Of course, when life has been good and the trophies have rolled in, Ferguson can be the most charming and engaging Scotsman of all. At racecourses he schmoozes and fraternises with some of the best trainers and jockeys with absolute ease. He strides around Ascot and Sandown , shaking hands, smiling and then slapping the winning jockey’s back with an admirable air of professionalism
And yet it could have been all so very very different. In his first few months at United results were not going according to plan, United were teetering on the edge of the cliff, languishing in mid table in the old First Division and stuck in the swamp. United were sucked into the most nightmarish black hole, travelled to Oxford’s old Manor Ground and reached their lowest point.
It was though in an FA Cup third round tie at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground that a persecuted Ferguson took his under fire United side. Half way through the match, United’s Mark Robins, who seemed to vanish after that game, scored the decisive winner for United. From there on the Christmas lights came back on, the chandeliers started glittering and somebody sprinkled stardust on Fergie’s car.
In the 1990 FA Cup Final after a breathtaking 3-3 first game against Crystal Palace, Manchester United finally woke up and sliced through the Palace defence like knife through butter. From that point onwards United not only won the FA Cup but proceeded to play the kind of football that purists and art critics went into raptures about.
Shortly United then followed up their FA Cup victory with a unforgettable European Cup Winners Cup Final victory against Barcelona, a superbly angled Mark Hughes effort that rolled sweetly into the back of the Barcelona net.
At that moment a production line and nursery of footballing talent was born. Suddenly Mark Hughes, Brian McClair, the magnificently tireless Bryan Robson, a man for all occasions began to flower and flourish as if United had suddenly kept a group of gifted kids wrapped in cotton wool.
It did take quite some time though before the fruits had begun to ripen before the transformation became complete. At the beginning of the 1996-97 season a fresh faced angelic midfield player by the name of David Beckham picked up the ball just inside the centre circle at Wimbledon and chipped the most outrageous shot from the half way line and scored almost sensationally.
Sir Alex Ferguson, still the tetchy, demanding perfectionist, although impressed by the brilliant Beckham wanted more from his willing and able youngsters. No sooner had Ferguson found Beckham he’d also found a whole factory conveyor belt at Old Trafford. Now those highly skilful individuals that were dripping with quality had suddenly risen to the surface.
There was the wily Welsh wing wizard Ryan Giggs, a good old fashioned winger from the Stanley Matthews school of soft shoe shuffle, speed, and greyhound acceleration. In his early days, Ferguson went to all lengths to keep Giggs out of the limelight. This was Alex Ferguson at his most protective, caring and compassionate, gently guiding his young boy in the right direction.
It somehow went without saying that there were more in the Old Trafford orchard. Paul Scholes was born more or less next to Old Trafford and made it abundantly clear that United were the only club he could possibly play for. Scholes plonked himself in United’s midfield and almost took out a mortgage on the position. Scholes would develop into one of the finest, most outstanding and gloriously consistent players England would ever produce.
Then there were sparkling gems such as Nicky Butt, a midfield player, busy, buzzing, highly mobile and full of flair and fertility. Butt was always involved and directly at the heart of all United’s midfield plots, hard working and ferociously dogged.
For Alex Ferguson though there was one player who somehow represented everything he was looking for in a United player. Roy Keane had come through the ranks and waspish tongue of Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest. Keane was a ball of fire, temperamental, desperately energetic and a sending off just waiting to happen.
Keane was appointed as captain of Manchester United and was just a restless, nasty tackling and provocative bovver boy who just loved to be the centre of attention. Some players just look for trouble and some simply find it unavoidable. Keane often took the law into his hands and there were times when you were led to believe that if Sir Alex Ferguson hadn’t disciplined him Keane would have certainly ended up in a dingy prison cell.
So after a silvery period in the Manchester United hot seat Sir Alex Ferguson still reigns supreme and, indeed the one and only United have just named a stand after him. For all of his explosions and leaps of delight Ferguson remains a unique winner. He can be frustrating and objectionable, loyal and understanding. There are times when some could cheerfully strangle him and times when some would wrap the most affectionate arm around his shoulders.
Football was essentially that simple game and Ferguson was never that complicated. When a man wins 19 League titles and so many prizes in the trophy cabinet then perhaps the man’s record speaks for itself.