Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson
Sir Alex Ferguson

Prior to the birth of the Premier League in 1992/93, Manchester United fans would have been hopeful for more success but few, if any, could have genuinely imagined what came next. In decades and possibly centuries to come, surely the name of Sir Matt Busby would be synonymous with the greatest period in the club’s history but that wasn’t to be the case.

Alex Ferguson may have been fortunate enough to harness the talents of some great players, but there is no doubt that the success of the 1990s and 2000s owe so much to his talent and qualities as a manager.

The Boss

It’s been said in many quarters that Ferguson ruled by fear and although that may be true to an extent, there are so many more factors that made him arguably the best manager the game had ever seen. The man himself certainly admitted to being autocratic and we can gain some great insights into ‘the boss’ if we look at a series of interviews he gave to academics at Harvard University in 2012.

Sir Alex admitted that he was the only one who set the team goals and he would not accept too much in the way of input from outside sources. Players would either slot into those beliefs and follow those targets or they were quickly shown the door.

That approach may well have stemmed from his time at Aberdeen but when Ferguson moved in to the Old Trafford hot seat in 1986, the state of the club on the pitch left him with no choice but to take drastic action. A number of players were not in top physical shape and it’s fair to say that there was something of a drinking culture going on at the club.

Ferguson had to prune the squad and rebuild and while those early days were not exactly full of success, the Scot was laying a strong platform for what was to follow. Those that followed his principles were rewarded with FA Cup success in 1990 and the European Cup Winners Cup a year later. Hard working, resilient men such as Mark Hughes and Steve Bruce were crucial to the securing of those trophies.

Over the course of the club’s history, success in Europe and in the domestic league were the real measure for Manchester United. Alex Ferguson was yet to fully make his mark but it was all set to change.

Successes with Manchester United

David Beckham, 1992
David Beckham, 1992

The class of 92 not only provided some of the best players of their generation, they also came along at a perfect time for Manchester United. The very first Premier League season of 1992/93 brought the talents of David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers to a wider audience and they were about to put a stranglehold on English football’s new domestic division. They had some help of course: Ferguson was proving himself to be a shrewd dealer in the transfer markets and United brought in some Old Trafford legends including Peter Schmeichel, Eric Cantona, Gary Pallister and others. The sum was as good as its parts and the Red Devils were about to embark on the greatest period in the club’s long history.

Success in the Premier League era was immediate as Manchester United claimed the title at the end of that inaugural 1992/93 campaign. A successful defence followed in the very next season and United would claim five EPL titles by the end of the century.

The 2000s brought more success on the back of that historic treble in 1998/99: By the time Fergie called it a day in 2013, his scarcely believable haul of trophies read as follows:

  • 13 EPL Titles
  • 5 FA Cups
  • 4 League Cups
  • 10 Community Shields
  • 2 Champions League Titles
  • 1 European Cup Winners Cup
  • 1 European Super Cup
  • 1 Intercontinental Cup
  • 1 World Club Cup

38 major trophies in 27 years: That’s more than most top flight sides can hope to achieve in their entire history and there is no better way to underline the qualities of Sir Alex Ferguson as a manager. Since then, however, it’s not been quite the same without Fergie at the helm.

Aftermath and Ferguson’s Impact on Manchester United

Sir Alex Ferguson was always going to be a tough act to follow but so far, the task has proved to be impossible. Fergie’s immediate replacement was David Moyes and it seemed as though the club had picked a man who was moulded in his predecessor’s image.

A no-nonsense Scot, Moyes had enjoyed success with Everton over an extended period of time and was, apparently, the only candidate for the job at the time of Fergie’s departure. Sadly, Moyes’ tenure ended and since his departure in 2014, the Red Devils have employed Louis Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on a permanent basis while Ryan Giggs also took the reins in a brief caretaker spell.

Both Van Gaal and Mourinho were quick to point to their trophies: LVG took his FA Cup into the ensuing press conference while Jose would indicate the three cups that he won in his first season at Old Trafford.

Any silverware is always welcome but for a club of such magnitude, success is now measured by winning the domestic division while taking a tangible aim at the Champions League. Manchester United’s last Premier League title came in 2012/13 as Sir Alex’s reign came to an end and the subsequent success of the noisy neighbours isn’t exactly helping Red Devils fans to move on.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s legacy at Manchester United is immense but for those who have been charged with the task of following him, it’s also been something of a curse. At least United fans can be happy that their club is by far the most successful of the modern era and in terms of Premier League trophies, their mark may never be matched. But for now, the demand is for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, or whoever comes next, to end that long domestic league title drought.