Sir Alex Ferguson; The Best Ever

May 2nd 2011; a day that will now forever be remembered for the quashing of an ideological icon as Osama Bin Laden, the spiritual face of both Al-Qaeda and mainstream terrorism, was brought to his knees by American forces in the early hours of the aforementioned 2011 Monday morning.

May 2nd 2011 was also a day, however, when another ideological icon, Sir Alex Ferguson – he of the Manchester United institution – may have woke up feeling like a quashing may just have befallen him as his relentless pursuit of absolute pre-eminence hit something of a roadblock with an unusually timid display from his men in a game that could, theoretically, have sewn up yet another title for football management’s proverbial energiser bunny.

I say unusually timid as Alex Ferguson coached teams – particularly domestically – have typically shown themselves, time and time again, to be anything but the living embodiment of  timidity, as they were on Sunday, instead, a deep and vicarious reflection of their evergreen manager; fire, brimstone, pride and that inane air of knowledge of just how good they are. This, allied to the odd psychological sprinkling of siege fuelled truisms have been the mantra by which Alex Ferguson has lived out his prophetically brazen fantasies of “knocking Liverpool off their perch…” when taking up the reins of the world’s biggest club back in 1986.

November 6th 1986; a day in which the fabric of Manchester United football club would be changed immeasurably forever, and the formation of – what many would have you believe – football’s very own Al-Qaeda and, in Alex Ferguson, their very own Osama Bin Laden. The comparison, perhaps, a tad extreme, but the impact and reverberations felt by an entire fraternity every bit as significant and every bit explosive.

Back then and on that day in 1986 few could surely have envisaged that Sir Alex’s Manchester United career was about to mirror that of the UK charts at the time as Nick Berry’s “Every Loser Wins” was, just a mere 2 days away from being replaced in the number 1 spot by Berlin’s “Take my breath away,” as, for the following 26 years, Alex Ferguson has proceeded to give Utd who were habitual losers the institutionalised winning they longed, and had 20 years before enjoyed, and taken that club’s and the footballing world’s breath away several times over.

But, Sir Alex’s story of unrivalled success, didn’t just happen there and then in an immediate blaze of Stretford glory. The land of riches Sir Alex now finds himself in has pretty much been a model built up, established and sustained the, from top to bottom, at his say-so and the time it took he and the club to get there is well documented. Not so well, however, is the foundation to what, in my opinion, along with this season’s overachievements, is giving me the confidence to proclaim the man, the best ever: his time at Aberdeen.

Sure, Sir Alex has, during his time at Utd, has had the benefit of considerable financial clout, and whilst that does not always guarantee success it would be churlish to suggest that it hadn’t helped in what he’s created. What he was able to create at Aberdeen, however, was the same kind of institutionalised winning under much more confined circumstances; circumstances which have crutched pretty much ever manager since.

Aberdeen, one of Scotland’s “other clubs” amid the annual pass the parcel that is waged between the Old firm at the head of Scottish football, appointed Sir Alex Ferguson in 1978 after his dismissal – a dismissal he maintains was wrongful – by his 2nd club St Mirren in 1978. After a series of early disappointments during that first season, the Ferguson effect was in full swing the following year as Aberdeen’s 2nd ever league title was secured and the Old Firm well and truly knocked off their perch by the upstarts from Pittodrie.

The following year brought about the first of three consecutive Scottish cup victories and four in all. Other successes included a league cup victory and a further 2 league titles, further cementing Aberdeen’s place at the head of Scottish football during the era.  All this was child’s play, however, when placed alongside his greatest achievement with Aberdeen; victory in the 1983 cup winners cup final – a victory secured with a win over the mighty Real Madrid after having already put paid to German Giants Bayern Munich, one year removed from a European cup final defeat to Aston Villa. This win was followed by a European super cup win over European champions Hamburg to complete a quite remarkable 5 year period at a club that will probably never have it so good ever again.

For Ferguson to have accomplished this on a budget, even then, not anywhere near the team’s he was putting to the sword and with a team of local talents is testament to the strength of Ferguson’s character and the brilliance of his management in getting players of that ilk to believe they’re of much greater ability than they actually are. And it’s this, more so than the 11 league titles, 2 European cups, 5 FA cups, 4 League cups, 1 intercontinental cup, 1 world club cup and the slew of personal accolades he probably now uses as doorstops, that will secure his place as the management game’s greatest exponent.

This innate act of getting players to respect, to understand and to appreciate the sweet simplicity of his methods and his wants has for over 35 years been his greatest asset and, with yet another team currently performing above and beyond what many believe to be their actual ability Ferguson is on a personal crusade that could see him take Manchester United to that promised land he spoke of back in 1986 of “knocking Liverpool off their f*****g perch” by surpassing their 18 league titles and winning another European cup by defeating either the “the greatest club side ever assembled” or the most expensive club side ever assembled, with a team so full of holes they’d make a more than serviceable sieve.

Instead of trying to force a style and a system on players clearly not up to it, Ferguson keeps it simple and allows the system to fit around the limitations of the players he has. That’s never been evidenced more so than it has this season with a central midfield crux, I’m sure, none of the other top 5 teams would nominally choose to replace their own, yet Ferguson’s astounding understanding of the players he has and the respect they have for his wishes and the demands of his simple system, sees them performing above and beyond what many have been willing to give them credit for.

Should this current United team go on to complete that double, it may well come to be considered the man’s greatest achievement and, as the title states, cement his place as, the greatest ever.

The man has sustained and maintained success in a number of differing eras and under a number of differing circumstances, a task made all the more difficult with the changes that have occurred around him during the several different metamorphosis’ his team have gone through during his tenure.

Despite the riches he’s enjoyed – riches he himself has had a huge role in the building of – tangible success is by no means a given and yet Ferguson has been relentless in his acquiring of it.

He’s won on a budget; he’s dethroned and overthrown the establishment; he’s achieved, sustained and maintained seemingly never ending success and he’s now on the cusp of a third league and European cup double in the era of the Champions League; a competition a darn cite more difficult to win on repeat visits than the old European cup – all due respect to Paisley, Clough, et al.

Sir Alex Ferguson, you may well annoy and frustrate and you may well be the head of the sport’s – and society’s – biggest bunch of institutionalised criminals, but Sir Alex Ferguson, you cannot be ignored, cannot be denied and cannot be argued as anything other than what you are; Sir Alex Ferguson, like Berlin back in November of 1986, you’ve Took our collective breaths away; Sir Alex Ferguson, you are indeed the best ever.

Suote Nyananyo

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