A Man U can trust

2011-05-21 00:00

LOVE him or hate him, the majority of football lovers across the globe respect him.

It was in 1986 when a then far from knighted Alex Ferguson made the move across the Scottish border to enter the world of English football and manage Manchester United. Ferguson had enjoyed success at Scottish clubs St Mirren and Aberdeen — tasting European success for the first time with the latter. He arrived in England and immediately made it his mission to dethrone Liverpool as the dominant force in English football. He would have to wait more than 24 years to see that dream become reality. A rebuilding phase that included the signings of players such as Brian McClair, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Paul Ince and a returning Mark Hughes would lay the foundation for Ferguson’s first league success as United boss in 1993. His signing of the short-fused Eric Cantona from league rivals Leeds United proved to be pivotal that season.

It was the first of many triumphs to come and when Manchester United meet Blackpool at Old Trafford tomorrow, Ferguson will celebrate his 12th Premier League title with United. More importantly, he will celebrate United’s 19th league win — one more than Liverpool’s 18 — and know that what he set out to do in 1986 has been achieved.

And still, after all of the success that he has enjoyed (including two Champions Leagues, five FA Cups and four League Cups), the 69-year-old Ferguson is hungry for more and has no plans to swallow his chewing gum just yet. “I have no plans to retire. I must say that [my wife] Cathy is delighted. She would have thrown me out,” he told MUTV recently. “The salient point is that whilst my health is good, carry on. You hear many stories of people who come off the treadmill and their system breaks down. I don’t want that happening to me.”

Ferguson has threatened retirement on more than one occasion, but has never been able to leave Old Trafford. He has built a legacy there and has inspired a mentality that, in an age of unthinkable player wages and inflated egos, puts the club first.

The longevity of professionals such as Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs bares testament to that — all three players have devoted their careers to Manchester United. Ferguson has maintained that no player will ever be bigger than the club. It’s always been his way or no way, and anybody who fails to adhere to that way of thinking best start looking for somewhere else to play their football. Over the years, players such as Dwight Yorke, David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Paul Ince and even Gordon Strachan have left United after disputes with the boss.

Though he now devotes even more of his time to keeping his body in shape, Ferguson has long been a believer in healthy living. He was a pioneer in diminishing the once widespread drinking culture of English football, instead encouraging his players to marry young and become family men.

With a third Champions League final in four years around the corner and Ferguson already pondering new signings during the off-season, it would appear that his willingness to continue is heart-felt and not another of his notorious media mind games.

Anybody who watches a Sir Alex post-match interview after a rare United loss will know that Ferguson’s passion for the game is as strong as ever. Throughout his career he has had no problem criticising referees and members of the media and this stems from a hatred of losing. The fact that he still possesses this biased mean streak indicates a desire to win — something that is crucial in any manager’s book.

In fact, some of Ferguson’s rants over the years have resembled that of a father who has had a go at an unqualified high school referee while watching his son compete in a match. While the parent may be out of line, nobody at that ground would be able to question how badly “dad” wanted his son to succeed.

And that is precisely it. Ferguson has made Manchester United and all who are a part of it his baby, and leaving it in the hands of somebody else, as long as he knows he can do better, is simply not an option.

Contemplating a replacement for Ferguson at Old Trafford is almost impossible to do. Jose Mourinho is constantly being linked with the job, but the media-frenzy that accompanies him would surely go against everything that Sir Alex has spent a quarter of a decade eliminating — nobody is bigger than the club.

One thing that Mourinho does have in common with Ferguson is a detestation for anything other than victory.

Whoever does succeed the man who has taken football dominance in England to new heights will certainly have gargantuan sized shoes to fill.

In fact, the first word of advice for the new manager would surely be to never compare himself with his predecessor. Judging by the way things are now, though, that is a bridge that will not have to be crossed for some time.

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