Marking Mancunian mastery
We couldn't celebrate Fergie's time at Old Trafford without also looking at some of his worst moments. Mark Booth runs through the Scot's 10 darkest hours with United...
10. "Climbing a glass mountain" - Manchester City 5-1 Manchester United, 23rd September 1989In a rare moment of lyricism from the Scot, Ferguson said of his side's humbling at the hands of their neighbours in 1989; "It was like climbing a glass mountain." The defeat reportedly left Fergie on the brink of the sack after three trophy-less seasons at the helm, with his British record signing, Gary Pallister, enduring a nightmare afternoon at Maine Road.In his autobiography, Pallister describes Ferguson as being 'in shock after the game, practically speechless'. The Manchester clubs finished the season level on points in the lower echelons of Division One and were it not for an FA Cup win, Ferguson may well have found himself on the managerial scrapheap.9. "Typical Germans" - Fergie’s Double Standards"Typical Germans," raged Ferguson after Bayern Munich dumped his side out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage in April 2010. Ferguson was aggrieved by the way he felt the Bayern players influenced the referee into showing Brazilian full-back Rafael a second yellow card for a foul on Franck Ribery. A red-faced Ferguson fumed: "The ref wasn't going to do anything until they forced him to get a card out. But we've seen that before from teams like that..." United of course would never engage in such poor behaviour, just ask Roy Keane…
8. The BBC BlackoutA 2004 BBC documentary made allegations of corruption against Ferguson’s son, Jason, a football agent: "They did a story about my son that was whole lot of nonsense. It was all made-up stuff and 'brown paper bags' and all that kind of carry-on," Ferguson seethed. "It was a horrible attack on my son's honour and he should never have been accused of that. But it is such a huge organisation that they will never apologise." Ferguson initially incurred a fine for each time he failed to fulfill his Premier League obligation in attending post-match press conferences with the broadcaster. Only this season has Ferguson ended his seven-year Beeb blackout, which has in turn robbed the British viewing public the chance to see at what stage of growth Mike Phelan’s beard is at...
7. Fergie, think of the children...In another moment of paternal point-scoring, last season Ferguson recalled youth prospects Ritchie De Laet and Joshua King from then-Championship side Preston North End after his son, Darren was sacked as manager of the Deepdale side. Ferguson senior later claimed that the players themselves had requested to return to Old Trafford. Whether or not that is correct remains to be seen, but in any case, Preston were promptly relegated and the players in question have yet to feature in United’s first team since their return. And the United chief is presumably not at the top of the Preston chairman’s Christmas card list.
6. The Great DictatorIt’s rare to see a player leave Manchester United without the blessing of their manager. Players seemingly at the peak of their powers have regularly been moved on – David Beckham, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Jaap Stam. But with Cristiano Ronaldo's departure in 2009, it was a case of the star man being prised from Ferguson’s grasp. The club’s enormous debt, the size of the offer and the player’s willingness to leave forced his hand but he didn’t give up without a fight, particularly after Real Madrid accused United of treating the player like a slave. "Calderon makes the great statement, 'slavery was abolished many, many years ago'. Did they tell Franco that?" – undoubtedly a misjudged jibe and one that proved to be nothing but hot air.Ronaldo departed for the Bernabeu in the summer of 2009 for the princely sum of £80 million.
5. The widening of the gapFerguson may have put two more European Cups in the Old Trafford trophy cabinet but the final defeats by Barcelona in 2009 and 2011 will have stung the Glaswegian. What will really have stuck in Ferguson’s throat, and indeed the throats of many Red Devils fans, is the lack of progress in that two-year period, during which the gap between the sides appeared to widen rather than close. United’s midfield may as well have taken seats in the Wembley stands for the 2011 showpiece, such was the Spanish team’s dominance. What’s more, Ferguson’s decision to deploy Michael Carrick and Ji-Sung Park in central midfield, while playing two strikers, left fans and pundits alike questioning the tactical nous of the previously infallible manager.
4. Jaap Stam, Fergie’s biggest regretTwo games into the 2001/02 season, Manchester United parted with their defensive lynchpin Jaap Stam after a £16 million deal was agreed with Lazio. The Dutchman had incurred Ferguson’s wrath after a badly timed and poorly worded autobiography in which the lid was lifted on the behind-the-scenes goings on at Old Trafford.Fergie moved quickly to sell the bald pated centre-half but acknowledges the sale as one of the biggest mistakes in his managerial career. "It was one of the mistakes I made – hopefully I haven't made too many – but that was one," said the Scot, "I got this offer from Lazio for £18.5m. Was it £18.5m? No, £16.5m I think it was, and I says, 'Can't turn it down. He's 30 years of age.' I thought if we could get Laurent Blanc for a year or so and bring the young ones through – like Wes Brown and John O'Shea - but it backfired.î Backfire, it did, United ended the season empty handed after suffering a miserable run of form that saw just one win and six defeats in the autumn.
3. Arsenal seal title at Old TraffordThe 2001-02 season was one to forget at Old Trafford. As well as the Stam debacle the whole club was seemingly operating under a cloud cast by Ferguson’s plan to retire at the end of the campaign.It is believed that this announcement resulted in a loss of his magisterial command over the dressing room and led to the first season in 13 that United failed to finish in the top two or win a trophy. He reversed his decision in February 2002 and signed Rio Ferdinand as Stam’s long-term replacement the following summer. Ferguson has seen challengers come and go over the past 25 years but none have lasted so long, nor been quite so bitter, as the one with Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.Over the 15 years Wenger has been in charge of the Gunners the two managers have, it’s fair to say, not always seen eye-to-eye. Ferguson’s feelings towards the Frenchman were probably not helped when, at the climax of the 2001-02 season, Arsenal did the unthinkable and sealed the league title at the Theatre of Dreams. Sylvan Wiltord firing home the only goal of the game after Fabien Barthez spilled a Freddie Ljungberg effort. Arsenal unveiled a 'Champions Section' banner at Old Trafford, cementing Wenger’s position as Ferguson’s primary adversary.
2. His greatest challenge yet? Manchester United 1 – 6 Manchester City, 23rd October 2011The changing of the guard? Newcastle beat United 5-0 in 1996 and Chelsea beat them by the same scoreline in 1999, but come the season’s end Ferguson had the Premiership trophy in his cabinet and the results could be seen merely as blips.Besides, the Scot could (and would) always point to an injury crisis, a poor refereeing performance or fixture pile-up. But what was astonishing on this season’s humbling against those 'noisy neighbours' was the lack of excuses. Ferguson had the perfect opportunity to blame a distorted 6-1 scoreline on the dismissal of Jonny Evans (with score at 1-0 to City) but broke type by blaming his player’s lack of tactical intelligence and admitting that they found no answer to City’s front four of Aguero, Balotelli, Dzeko and Silva. The words used were 'embarrassing' and 'suicidal' - not normally words in Fergie’s lexicon when describing his own side – this seemed to be a retreat, an acknowledgement that City weren’t going away. How he meets the challenge of City might prove to be one of the most fascinating chapters in the manager’s history.
1. The c**k-up of GibraltarFergie’s relationship with United shareholders John Magnier and JP McManus broke down permanently after the bitter bloodstock row over champion race horse Rock of Gibraltar in 2003. Magnier and McManus’ Cubic Expressions owned more than 25% of the club at the time and the dispute is thought to have contributed to the sale of stocks to the Glazer family, paving the way for 2005’s still very unpopular takeover which has saddled the club in hundreds of millions of pounds of debt. The green and yellow scarf protests are the lasting legacy from what proved to be an expensive extra-curricular venture into horse ownership and, more damagingly, the club struggling to compete for the continent’s top talent. Ferguson has never spoken out against the Glazers despite the fact his hands have been relatively tied in the transfer market and fans calling for him to do so. Perhaps he’s still feeling sheepish for his part in the Magnier/McManus affair and as well he should, seeing as United missed out on a reported three of their Manchester derby tormentors (David Silva, Edin Dzeko and Samir Nasri) due to their wings being clipped, financially speaking. For the knock-on implications through the years, many would argue this was Fergie’s darkest hour.
FEATURE Football, bloody hell: Fergie's top ten moments with United
Sir Alex Ferguson is famous for three things: Being a great football manager, have a malfunctioning backside
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