Marking Mancunian mastery
As FourFourTwo.com looks back on Fergie's Manchester United career, James Maw and Charlie Scott run through the Scot's most important and memorable moments since arriving at Old Trafford on 6 November 1986...
10) 7-1, even Smithy scored!Having suffered a 2-1 defeat out in Rome on an evening marred by crowd trouble involving both sets of fans and Italian police, United knew nothing less than a win would see them through to the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time in five years.In somewhat typical fashion, United flew out of the traps and looked to go for the jugular from the off. Within 20 minutes they lead 3-0 on the night, with goals from Michael Carrick, Alan Smith and Wayne Rooney turning the tie well and truly in their favour. Cristiano Ronaldo - at this stage well and truly coming of age - struck either side of half time, before Carrick added a brilliant sixth on the hour.If Daniel Di Rossi's 69th over-the-shoulder number was little more than a brilliant consolation, it was made to appear worthless when Patrice Evra re-opened United's five-goal aggregate lead 12 minutes later.Although Fergie's side would ultimately be beaten by eventual winners AC Milan in the semi-finals, the emphatic style with which they disposed of Francesco Totti and co should be seen as the dawning of an era of relative success in Europe, with the Red Devils reaching three finals in the four subsequent seasons.
9) The Battle of Villa ParkDuring an era in which these two teams dominated English football, this was perhaps the stand out encounter - it as a game that had almost everything.Ironically, the original match - which took part at the same venue just three days beforehand - had been a relatively tame 0-0 stalemate. Whether it was weary legs, the romantic glow of the floodlights or the knowledge it would have to be settled there and then, the replay was anything but stale.David Beckham put Manchester United into the lead with a beautifully sculpted 35-yard strike on 19 minutes, only for Dennis Bergkamp to level matters with a long-range strike of his own in the second half.Things balance swung further in the Gunners' favour, with Roy Keane sent-off and Phil Neville conceding a penalty for a clumsy challenge on Ray Parlour. Bergkamp stepped-up with the aim of settling to tie, but he was denied by a brilliant Peter Schmeichel save which saw the tie go to extra time.Despite having a man advantage, it was Arsenal that made the game-settling error, with Patrick Vieira's slack pass pounced upon by Ryan Giggs, who punished the World Cup winning Frenchman by scoring one of the competition's most memorable goals, and putting United into the final.
8) Back from 2-0 down at Goodison in 2007The arrival of Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, combined with the assembly of Arsene Wenger's 'Invincibles' at Arsenal, meant United were unable to prevent the Premier League title from going to London between 2004 and 2006. That may not sound too long, but it was the longest title-less spell the Red Devils had endured in 15 years.The amount of cash thrown at Jose Mourinho's side over the past two years meant Ferguson and United were well and truly up against it as far as winning the 2007 Premier League crown was concerned. But the continuing rise of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, along with the signings of Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra the previous January, made United a force to be reckoned with once again.United arrived at Goodison top of the pile, three points ahead of Chelsea with four matches left to play. The title-holding Blues were hosting Bolton, opposition they were expected to overcome with relative ease, having not lost a home game in the league for over three years.United started slowly on Merseyside, and fell 2-0 behind courtesy of goals from Alan Stubbs and Manuel Fernandes. In the meantime Chelsea had come from behind to lead Bolton 2-1. It appeared Chelsea were about pull level with their title rivals, yet United wouldn’t give it up.A scrappy effort from John O’Shea and an own goal from former Red Devil Phil Neville took United level, before Wayne Rooney sculpted a wonderous third to send the traveling fans into raptures. Youngster Chris Eagles put the game beyond doubt, with matters made ever better for United with the news Bolton had ultimately come back to draw at Stamford Bridge.The title was well and truly United’s to lose, and they secured it mathematically after Chelsea were held to another draw at Arsenal eight days later.
7) Bruce AlmightyThree straight draws, including at home to title rivals Aston Villa, saw United slip to second in the table, with the Villa Park side - managed by Ferguson's Old Trafford predecessor Ron Atkinson - leading the way by two points.United knew they couldn't afford to drop points, particularly at home, but nerves hit and Ferguson's side struggled to get a grip on Trevor Francis' Sheffield Wednesday. Things got even worse, when Paul Ince clumsily hauled down Chris Waddle inside the box, and John Sheridan converted the resultant penalty kick to give the Owls a 1-0 lead with barely over 25 minutes remaining.Yet, in possibly the first instance of 'Fergie time', United came back from the dead. Skipper Steve Bruce flicked a glorious header past Chris Woods to bring the home side level. With the news that Villa were being held by Coventry at Villa Park, the Red Devils desperately pushed for a winner to move back top of the pile.And, in what would soon become trademark style, they got it when Bruce nodded a deflected Gary Pallister cross into the bottom corner to send the Old Trafford faithful into raptures, with Ferguson and assistant Brian Kidd famously celebrating on the pitch.
6) Bienvenue à ManchesterLeeds and Manchester United have never been friends. Eric Cantona’s shock move from Elland Road to Old Trafford in1992 did nothing but intensify Leeds' disdain for their rivals. The move was all the more remarkable considering the impact Cantona had made at Leeds. After joining from Nimes, Cantona soon became a fan’s favourite following his instrumental role in leading Leeds to the First Division title in 1991/92.
Yet when Manchester United came knocking later that year Leeds allowed the enigmatic Frenchman to leave the club for a fee of £1.2m, just £300,000 more than Leeds paid for him before he inspired them to their first top division title in nearly 20 years.
Cantona had an immediate impact at Old Trafford, scoring and assisting goals as United won the inaugural Premier League by 10 points. During his time at United, Cantona won four league title in five seasons, with the only non-title winning season being 1994/95, which brings us to Eric’s dark side…
One of, if not the reason United didn’t win the title in 1994/95 was the lengthy suspension handed out to Cantona that meant he missed the second half of the season. On 25th January 1994 during an away game against Crystal Palace, Cantona was dismissed for a retaliatory kick aimed at the Palace defender Richard Shaw after the Frenchman had been fouled. As Cantona headed towards the tunnel, he was baited by the Palace fans, one of whom felt the full brunt of Cantona’s frustration in the form of a kung-fu style kick followed by a series of punches.
United’s season ended trophyless without Cantona to inspire them, and his impact was evident when they returned to championship winning ways with Cantona in tow the following season.
He surprisingly retired from football in 1997 but left a lasting legacy at the club where he was adored. Cantona had become an icon at United, with the fans referring to him as ‘King Eric’ and in 2001 he was voted as their greatest ever player by Inside United magazine.
5) The mission to MoscowRather than giving United the confidence to flex their muscle on the European stage, the Champions League win of 1999 appeared to be something of an albatross round the neck of Manchester United. The Red Devils failed to even get close to matching the heroics of the Camp Nou in the following few campaigns.This failure was made all the more galling by arch-rivals Liverpool’s comparative success in the competition, with the Reds reaching two finals in three years and famously winning the trophy for a fifth time in Istanbul in 2005. There was a real pressure for United to prove ‘that night in Barcelona’ wasn’t just a one off.United had the chance to do just that in 2008, when they traveled across Europe to Moscow for a clash against Premier League rivals Chelsea.It was a rather cagey encounter – as was characteristic of meetings between the two at the time – and Cristiano Ronaldo headed United into a first half lead, only for Frank Lampard to strike Chelsea level just before the break.A tense and tetchy second half saw few clear cut chances – though Chelsea were undoubtedly the better of the two sides. Neither side could find the breakthrough and the match entered extra time, during which Didier Drogba was dismissed for a slap on Nemanja Vidic.With the scores remaining all-square after the additional 30 minutes, the European Cup final went to penalties for the ninth time. Both teams scored their first two spot-kicks, before Ronaldo saw his kick saved by Petr Cech after a staggered run-up. The next four kicks were all converted, leaving Blues captain John Terry with the chance to seal Chelsea’s first ever Champions League crown.But he slipped, missed the target, allowing Manchester United to eventually win after Edwin van der Sar repelled Nicolas Anelka’s effort.United were European champions for the third time – the second under Fergie’s watch.
4) Mark Robins and all thatIt hasn't always been plain sailing for Sir Alex. Back in 1990, after a run of eight games without a win in the league, and with fans calling for his head, the last thing Fergie and his side needed was a third round trip to high-flying Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup third round. Many within the media thought that, had Fergie lost that tie, then he may have found himself politely being shown the door at Old Trafford.
As it happened, 20-year old academy product Mark Robins was there to save the Scot, scoring the only goal of the game as United progressed to the next round. They would go on to win the cup that year, beating Crystal Palace in a replay in the final courtesy of a goal from another academy graduate Lee Martin. Without Robins' goal back in the third round, United wouldn't have been at Wembley come May, and by all accounts Ferguson wouldn't have even been at the club.Yet it is interesting to note that the win against Forest in January bore such an importance that the following three league results, losses to Derby and Norwich and a draw at home to bitter rivals Manchester City were seemingly swept under the carpet on the back of United's extended cup run.
Fergie's team finished the season in 13th place in the league, but crucially for their manager they won the FA Cup. This wouldn't have been possible without Mark Robins.
3) Football… Bloody hell!
With both Roy Keane and Paul Scholes suspended for the final, United were missing their two first-choice central midifielders, and they struggled to maintain Bayern Munich at times. Carsten Jancker and Mario Basler proved a constant thorn in United’s side, with the latter giving Bayern an early lead through a well-taken free-kick from just outside the area.
After going behind after just six minutes, the pressure was on United yet again, just as it had been after going 2-0 down against Juventus in Turin a month beforehand.
United had few chances in the game and were struggling to break down the Bayern defence when Fergie sent on Teddy Sheringham to attempt to get a hold on the match and get his side back into it.
Yet it was Bayern who still looked the more likely of scoring, going close through Mehmet Scholl and Jancker before Fergie threw the last roll of the dice, introducing another striker in the form of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer in a desperate attempt to take the tie to extra-time.
What followed will be imprinted in United fans’ memories for a lifetime. The fourth official lifted the board to signal there would be three minutes of injury time. United immediately won a corner, and after the Bayern defence failed to clear Beckham’s cross, the ball eventually fell to Sheringham, who sent a spinning effort into the bottom corner of Oliver Kahn’s goal.
With the game set for extra-time, United won another corner, and some began to dream.Again Bayern struggled with Beckham’s delivery, Sheringham glancing a header downwards and there was Solksjaer, Fergie’s final subsititue, to poke out his foot and fire the ball into the roof of the net.
United were European Champions, in the most enthralling of circumstances. While the United team celebrated wildly, many of Bayern’s players could barely bring themselves to stand.
The Champions League trophy completed the treble for Ferguson, a feat he is yet to repeat.
2) Liverpool get knocked off their ****ing perchUnited started the 2002/03 season slowly. Draws with Chelsea and Sunderland were followed by stinging back-to-back defeats to Bolton and Leeds with left the Old Trafford side, dethroned as champions by Arsenal four months earlier, languishing in ninth place in the Premier League by mid-September. The pressure on Ferguson was building, with pundit and former Liverpool defender Alan Hansen even suggesting his fellow Scot's job may be on the line. Ferguson's response was forthright; "My greatest challenge is not what’s happening at the moment, my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f*cking perch. And you can print that."Title number 15 was in the bag by the following May, and from that moment onwards, Ferguson had his sights firmly on deposing Liverpool as the most successful side in English league football.In truth, Liverpool never really went close to adding to their 18 crowns, and United, having moved level with their fierce rivals in 2009, United only needed two attempts to seal the historic No.19.Ferguson's side saw off the challenge of Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City - as well as overcoming the upheaval caused by Wayne Rooney's short-term desire to leave Old Trafford - with a draw at Blackburn enough to see them champions yet again. To make things all the sweeter, the landmark success came in a season in which Liverpool failed to even finish in the top five.
1) The miracle of TurinOur choice of Fergie’s top moment may come as a surprise to some, with many thinking the Champions League final win in 1999 is a shoo-in for the number one spot. Yet Fergie and his side wouldn’t have even been in Barcelona if it hadn’t been for a miraculous comeback in the previous round away to Juventus. Within 11 minutes a brace from Filippo Inzaghi had put Juve 2-0 up in Turin, yet remarkably the Reds went in at half-time with the score at 2-2. Fergie has described the period between Inzaghi’s second and the half-time whistle as being ‘the finest display’ he had ever had from a United side. Roy Keane reduced the deficit with a near-post header midway through the half before Dwight Yorke’s diving header pulled the away side level. Between the two goals Keane, who had the unenviable task of marking an imperious Zinedine Zidane was booked for a tackle on the Frenchman, meaning that even if United were to advance to the final, he would not be on the pitch because of a suspension. Yet this only seemed to inspire the United skipper. His dominant display in Turin following his yellow card prompted his manager to describe it as ‘the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field.’ Ferguson went on to say how ‘it felt an honour to be associated with such a player.’In the second half United controlled the game and possibly should have won by more than the one goal, scored by Andy Cole after the referee played an advantage for a foul by Juve keeper Angelo Peruzzi on Cole’s strike partner Yorke. Keane led the comeback with his gritty display in the centre of the park but it was a hugely impressive team performance from Fergie’s men. This night in Turin made the events that followed in Barcelona possible, when after 11 minutes in this tie, the idea of a Champions League final had seemed far out of reach.
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