Sir Alex Ferguson: A Manchester United Legacy 34 Years On

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26th MAY 1999, UEFA Champions League Final, Barcelona, Spain, Manchester United 2 v Bayern Munich 1, Manchester United team with manager Alex Ferguson celebrate with the trophy following their win (Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

34 years ago to this day, Sir Alex Ferguson took the reins at Manchester United, and rest is footballing history. Ferguson took a Red Devils side that finished 11th in his first season and built possibly the strongest footballing legacy ever known.

What followed were 38 club titles spanning 27 years with the club, as well as 16 managerial honours. Now, he is widely recognised as one of the greatest football managers of all time. Let’s look back over his brilliant 27-year tenure, as well as the legacy he left at Old Trafford.

Sir Alex Ferguson: A Manchester United Legacy Started 34 Years Ago

Dominance Into New Century

When Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford, Manchester United were going through a tough spell. They had not won a league title since 1967 under Sir Matt Busby, and endured many a season in mid-table. Success didn’t come immediately after his arrival from Aberdeen, and United experienced many years of growth. But it seemingly never stopped coming thereafter. After winning their first Premier League title in 1993, a dominant ten years followed; Ferguson managed to orchestrate eight title wins in ten seasons from 1993 going into the new century.

Signing Eric Cantona from close rivals Leeds United in 1993 was a shrewd move that paved the way for more success. Many other talents were handpicked from English rivals, who would later become crucial players. Andy Cole and Roy Keane arrived to bolster their squad, and ‘Fergie’ also worked to incorporate players from within as well. The class of ’92, also known as ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’ would all go on to be invaluable players for the club, and set the standard of youth talent.

Relax and Rebuild

The start of the new decade saw less success than the previous decade for Manchester United under Alex Ferguson. Chelsea were a rejuvenated force under new owner Roman Abramovich, while Arsenal had their famous ‘Invincibles’ season. Key players, the likes of David Beckham and Juan Sebastián Verón left for pastures new. However, the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo would be another chapter in a brilliant footballing legend.

Manchester United had to contend with a Chelsea side who looked unstoppable in José Mourinho’s first spell. Limited success saw rumours of a possible retirement on the horizon, but there was yet desire left in him. Rio Ferdinand arrived for a record fee for an English player at the time, but his failure to turn up for a drugs test proved costly to United’s title chances in 2004. There was also uproar at the arrival of the Glazers on the scene as new owners.

Another Decade, Another Rival

The end of the decade saw the return to power of Manchester United; after three years without one, United won three successive Premier League titles between 2007 and 2009. Cristiano Ronaldo was beginning to show that he was not simply a flash in the pan. Wayne Rooney starred as possibly the most gifted English player of his generation.

There was success in Europe as well, a second Champions League title came after the first all-English final against Chelsea in Moscow. Their rivals in London did steal one Premier League back under Carlo Ancelotti.

However, it was the arrival of a new side that would change the face of English football. Manchester City, backed by oil-rich Sheikh Mansour, would become a new force that would demonstrate the importance of money in the modern game. Claiming their first ever title on the final day of the 2011/12 season, Ferguson seemed determined not to let them have the last laugh in his swansong year.

Defining Moments

‘And Solskjaer Has Won It!’

The victory that encapsulated what Manchester United were like under Alex Ferguson. Ruthless, trophy-hungry, with that all important never-say-die attitude. Trailing for almost the entire match after Mario Basler gave Bayern Munich a lead, somehow United pulled a rabbit out. Teddy Sheringham gave United life one minute into added time and, just moments later, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made history. A corner from David Beckham, a flick-on from Sheringham, and Solskjaer poked into the roof of the net. Cue the scenes of the Norwegian’s kneeslide, and Peter Schmeichel‘s cartwheel. The Bayern players needed lifting off the ground, such was their despair. ‘Fergie Time’ had hit the international stage, and had secured a historic treble for United.

‘I Would Love it if We Beat Them!’

Arguably not one of his most memorable moments, as it centred more on Kevin Keegan imploding. Yet, this was the perfect example of mind games becoming synonymous with how Ferguson managed. In the 1995/96 season, Newcastle United has established a 12-point lead at the top of the Premier League. The ‘Entertainers’ had stormed the league, but Alex Ferguson was determined to brave Keegan’s tempest.

After squeezing past a Leeds United side with ten men and Lucas Radebe in goal, he took to the media. After questioning whether Leeds would try as hard against Newcastle as his own side, Keegan’s anger was plain for all to see. One self-destruction later, an image of Keegan slumped over an advertising hoarding summed it up. All hail Alex Ferguson, the king of mind games.

A Fitting Send-off Against The Baggies

Ferguson’s last match in charge of United was a game fitting for footballing royalty such as himself. They had already won their 13th Premier League title under the Scot, with a Robin van Persie hat-trick against Aston Villa. Yet, Ferguson’s swansong encounter was a match for the ages, a 5-5 thriller against West Bromwich Albion.

The Red Devils led 3-0, and then 5-2, but football won the day in a game truly memorable for all. United had beaten rivals Manchester City by 11 points, their newest rivals. As such, his 1500th and final game for United will live forever in the annuls of footballing memory.

His Legacy: Living on or Casting a Shadow?

It is no secret that Manchester United have never quite been the same since Alex Ferguson left the club. Their recent lack of success has in fact seen them become a laughing stock online. José Mourinho claimed finishing second with United in 2018 was his ‘best achievement’, despite finishing 19 points behind rivals City. Being United manager comes with very high expectations, and that has been the undoing of many to try and move this excalibur.

It seems the Red Devils have never managed to instil quite the same ruthless philosophy that Ferguson had. David Moyes was handpicked by his predecessor, but didn’t last a season. Louis van Gaal’s brand of football was criticised for being too boring. Mourinho, thus far, has enjoyed the most success of any United manager since Fergie, with a Europa League and League Cup title to his name. Now, it remains to be seen if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can weather the storm and build his own legacy at Old Trafford.

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