Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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Ferguson marks a quarter century at Manchester United

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LONDON: Alex Ferguson reaches 25 years in charge of Manchester United on Sunday, embarking upon his second quarter century with the same vigour that he began the first.

Ferguson’s 27 major titles with United make him the most successful manager in British football history but it is his ability to adapt and willingness to change his approach to the game that make him truly remarkable.

The 69-year-old Ferguson’s seemingly contradictory combination of iron will and tactical flexibility has led United great Bobby Charlton to call him “a genius.”

Already the longest serving manager in United history, Ferguson reaches the landmark the day after his side hosts Sunderland in the Premier League in his 1,409th match in charge.

Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford in November 1986 with the grand ambition of unseating Liverpool as the dominant force in English football — knocking them off their perch, as Ferguson called it.

It was a huge task: Liverpool had just become the first side to win the league and cup double since 1971 and counted 16 league titles to United’s meager seven.

But the Scottish manager has brought United an unmatched list of modern honours including 12 Premier League titles, two Champions League trophies, five FA Cups and a FIFA Club World Cup.

Last season’s Premier League title took United to 19 English championships, finally inching past Liverpool’s record 18.

“He’s a genius,” Charlton said. “There are a lot of good young coaches in the game now. But he has a longevity. He was born into it. He was patient, and he was very talented.”

It is almost impossible to imagine any other coach with the ability to harness talents — and temperaments — as varied as David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Eric Cantona, Bryan Robson, Wayne Rooney, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Maybe the mercurial Jose Mourinho could have managed it, but the Real Madrid coach has never stayed longer than 35 months with a club and his history of bust-ups and fall-outs seems to preclude him ever staying put for too long.

While Mourinho has no problem walking away from an unhappy situation, Ferguson has made sure it is always the other party in the argument who has to make way. Beckham, Van Nistelrooy and Roy Keane have all learned that lesson the hard way.

Only once did Ferguson waver, declaring his intention to retire at the end of the 2001-02 season. United’s form plummeted and Ferguson swiftly rescinded his decision, ending United’s attempt to hire then England coach Sven-Goran Erikkson and heralding a period of renewed success.

Ferguson has shown no further signs of retiring but if he ever does decide to step down — as he surely must at some point — it is a safe bet that the public announcement will be sudden. When Ferguson took charge at Old Trafford on Nov. 6, 1986, there was no Champions League. The Premier League and its influx of television cash were six years away, fans stood rather than sat at games.

No manager in British football history has survived through so many major changes, let alone flourished amid such upheaval. (Agencies)

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