“When Sir Alex won his first Championship, back in the ’90s, all he wanted to do was go and win it again the following season. And he did it 13 times. He won the championship 13 times. Now, that is the true sign of a champion – you don’t just win it once, you go back, defend the title, and win it the following year.”
Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson, manager of Manchester United from 1986 to 2013. An era when Manchester United swayed football. But the last five years was a roller-coaster ride for the club when its captain retired on 8th May 2013 and its consequential losses. One shall never smirk when said Sir Alex Ferguson was the most successful manager because of 38 major titles he won including 13 Premier League titles, 5 FA Cups and 2 UEFA Champions League titles highlight how good a manager he was.
Before the storm:
Sir Alex Ferguson was appointed as the manager at Old Trafford on November 6 1986. Making several major player signings including Steve Bruce, Brian McClair and Jim Leighton, he lifted the team’s ranking from second last to eleventh during the initial period of his service. “If the coach has no control, he will not last,” Sir Alex said. “You have to achieve a position of comprehensive control. Players must recognise that as the manager you have the status to control events. Before I came to United, I told myself I wasn’t going to allow anyone to be stronger than I was. Your personality has to be bigger than theirs. That is vital.” And that’s the mantra for success which the present manager Jose Mourinho failed to execute.
Unlike Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex made sure he only signed good and efficient players to the club. Anyone who was a negative influence was immediately removed and replaced with players who were ready to put in their blood and sweat to lead his club to success. A gambler and a risk taker, Sir Alex Ferguson was clear about his policies when it comes to discipline within the club. “The hardest thing is to let go of a player who has been a great guy but all the evidence is on the field. If you see the change, the deterioration, you have to ask yourself what things are going to be like two years ahead. Everything we did was about maintaining the standards we had set as a football club this applied to all my team building and all my team preparation, motivational talks, and tactical talks. For example, we never allowed a bad training session. What you see in training manifests itself on the game field”.
The 1991-’92 season of his service was disappointing for the club and putting it in Sir Alex’s words, “many in the media felt that [his] mistakes had contributed to the misery”. Breaking free from this misconception, the club won its first League Cup and UEFA Super Cup. In 1992-’93 season the club stepped up to 10th position of 22. To the star-studded team he bought in French striker Eric Cantona and from then on the team looked hungry for success, declaring them as the first ever Premier League Champions.
With a remarkable score of managing 1500 games with a win percentage of 59.7%, Sir Alex established a brand value for the club and was credited as the longest serving manager for a club. He signed players to maintain Manchester United as the A-Team of football. In that list includes the top 3 players whose career in football skyrocketed post signing in Manchester United:
1. Ruud van Nistelrooy – the fourth-highest goal scorer in UEFA Champions League history with 56 goals and United’s top scorer in European competition. Signed in the summer of 2000 he made his debut against Liverpool in 2001-’02.
2. David Beckham – a name synonymous for victory, signed for United as a trainee on 8th July 1991.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo – makes his debut for the club as a substitute for Nicky Butt against Bolton. He was the first Premier League player to be named the FIFA World Player of the Year.
Sir Alex’s big break:
In 1998-’99 season, Manchester United’s “a lot less tolerable” opening match against Arsenal was disappointing with a 3-0 loss. To compensate for the loss, with a winning performance of two goals in “squeaky-bum time”, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjær drag the team to finish point. Had it not been for the manager’s trust in the players and the chemistry between them, it would have been impossible to mark this in the football history.
1. Power/Poor Managers: Half a decade and the club had 4 managers to coach the players – David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and José Mourinho. Among the three managers, David Moyes and Louis van Gaal were sacked and the next manager in line to be sacked is José Mourinho.
2. Players signed: Manchester United was known for its star-studded team which once dominated the League. After Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement we saw managers signing players very often showing less or no results at all. In the past 5 years they have spent $800 million signing and hunting for players. Nevertheless, money spent was not worth as the club could not win any major trophies.
3. Fading chemistry: Manchester United lacked “unity” among its players. The chemistry between its players did not seem to work out and still, has not. They look lost and worried on the pitch, getting used to failure and criticisms. Not a day passes by without Mourinho and his player’s feud. Maybe they have lost that spark to fight back and win.
4. Worst Premier League season opening: This year’s Premier League witnessed, by far, the worst starting of Manchester United. It did not come as a surprise because the team’s performance has been like a dead duck with the players and the manager losing hope in United.
Signings that went wrong:
1. Alexis Sanchez: Six months without scoring a goal definitely highlights how badly the player was struggling. Transferred for a fee of 70,00 million euro, the club might sell off Sanchez if he does not improve his performance. Chelsea striker Chris Sutton referred Sanchez as “lost and bereft of confidence”. He also says “At Arsenal, he played with such a freedom and a smile. I don’t see it at the moment. I hope he turns it around.”
2. Antony Martial: “He’s a top drawer player but for me he just needs to play more regularly to find his rhythm. In and out of the team he is not that sort of player that can do that and be in and out of the team.” Arrived with plenty of hype, Martial was not seen in all matches with Kylian Mbappe stealing the spotlight after his success with Monaco, PSG and France. On September 2015 he completed his move to United for £36 million, potentially rising to £58 million – the highest transfer fee paid for a teenager breaking Luke Shaw’s and Marquinhos’ record. Very well known to be a fabulous player with his debut, he was omitted from many matches including the France’s World Cup squad. Saying it aloud, he has not yet been given enough chances to make an impact.
3. Matteo Darmian: Ever since Mourinho took charge as the manager, Darmian has been used as a squad player for the club. A poor season for the player, the right-back player could not reach the expected performance levels at United. He is likely to return to Italy for a small fee, though he’s got a one-year extension option.
4. Victor Lindelof: Signed for a transfer fee of 35 million euro, this defender was expected to leave his mark the right way. Failing to do that, Lindelof barely played in the initial few weeks taking quite some time to settle at the club. Also his poor start to his Premier League season making mistakes costed United its game. One to be mentioned is the match against Huddersfield.
5. Paul Pogba: Pogba helped France win the Russian World Cup but failed to replicate the same performance for his club, United. He left Red Devils for Juventus due to lack of game time. He came back to United when Mourinho took charge at the club. Expecting great chemistry between the pair, it resulted into a tense relationship after Mourinho-Pogba feud. He could not deliver properly since the World Cup and there are talks going on who to remove from the club – Pogba or Mourinho?
Is the ship sinking without its captain?
Sir Alex Ferguson’s leadership has never left the team in distress. He was clear with his terms and his actions were fruitful. Replacing players after a time span of 2-3 years proved effective by preventing chances of tarnishing club’s reputation. His visionary style of leadership attracted professors from Harvard to conduct a study based on his leadership theories, styles and strategies. An impulsive manager, he rebuilt his team even in the times of great success. It was purely based on a player’s life cycle – if his performance lacks the initial luster he would be replaced. He has got the knack to replace and revive. Sir Alex was an autocratic leader who controlled all the transfers, practice sessions and other activities within the club. A strong leader, Sir Alex molds the players into “bad losers” with an inflexible discipline routine and a mission to transform the player into a champion. As Gary Neville remarked, “When you try to identify Sir Alex’s greatest achievements it becomes an impossible task. As soon as you decide on one, you come up with another that surpasses it”.
Quoting David Beckham’s statement about Sir Alex, “I am truly honored to have been guided by the greatest manager in football and to have had the career that I had under him. Without him, I would never have achieved what I have done.” While Sir Alex’s unmatchable management skills are always commended, the other thing to talk about is his fondness to prank on his staff.
Setting himself as a role model for the players, he created a feeling that “if he can do it, then I can do it.” Punctuality and work ethics was keenly monitored thereby grooming many youngsters. He used to observe even the minutest factor ensuring that he doesn’t lose his control and authority over his players. Sir Alex Ferguson was a manager who does not criticize his players without its purpose, motivating them to be better after every win and preparing them to adapt to all circumstances with a primary goal to win and bring glory to the club. “As a manager he was the best but his man-management was something which a lot of other managers would struggle to match. He knew how to speak to players, how to get a reaction. He’s the only manager that could leave someone out and make them feel good about it – he was incredible” said Wayne Rooney.
When Manchester United finally admitted that Sir Alex Ferguson model is over, maybe it’s time for us to accept it too. Failure is bound to happen in every game and the real challenge is overcoming them as a team. With an angry manager and confused players, we believe the club is never going to give us the “United” vibes. It is high time that the players stop blame-shifting Jose Mourinho and take up the responsibility to improve their gameplay as a team because their rivals are very well aware of the club’s shortcomings. Show us that Manchester United is not a vulnerable club and bring back the “United” vibes. Put on your jersey and kick it off! Because Sir Alex once said “Only true champions come out and show their worth after defeat- and I expect us to do that”.