English Premiership

Fergie becomes Utd's immortal

2010-12-19 17:15

London - On Sunday, Sir Alex Ferguson's reign as Manchester United manager stretched to 24 years, one month and 14 days, taking him beyond Matt Busby as the club's longest-serving manager.

In the modern age in which gratification must be instant, and the life span of a manager barely exceeds that of a mayfly, that is an extraordinary achievement, and he reaches the landmark with United two points clear at the top of the Premier League.

At 68, the lust for success remains undiminished, even after 11 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups, a Cup-Winners' Cup and, most crucially - for Ferguson has always bought into the United philosophy that Europe's premier competition is the biggest prize - two Champions Leagues.

Those figures eclipse those of Busby, who won five league titles, two FA Cups and a European Cup, but that was a different age, when the resources were more evenly spread among teams and titles were less easily won.

Besides which, Busby effectively created the club, building it up from relatively modest beginnings after the Second World War, rejuvenating it with young players, and then building again after the Munich air disaster.

When Ferguson took over in 1986, United had gone 19 seasons without winning the league title.

It took him seven years to win that first title, and famously he might have been sacked in 1990 had Mark Robins not scored a late equalizer against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup, but once the flow of trophies began, it never stopped.

Some managers are great tacticians, some great motivators, some great in the transfer market, and Ferguson is clearly good at all that, but his real genius has been in his ability to evolve.

Football has changed a lot in the 36 years since Ferguson took charge of East Stirlingshire, but he has changed with it.

He has been a master at rejuvenating teams, as he showed when selling Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis after United had narrowly missed out on both the Premier League title and the FA Cup in 1995.

Critics said their replacements - the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville - were too young, but United won the double the next season.

That ruthlessness was shown again in 2000, after United had been beaten 3-2 by Real Madrid at Old Trafford in a Champions League quarter-final.

United were slightly unlucky, and it was only the season before that they'd won the Treble, but Ferguson was sick of conceding soft goals at home - something that had also cost them against Monaco and Borussia Dortmund in previous years.

Out went 4-4-2 against top sides, and in came a five-man midfield that was initially unpopular. It took time for United to adjust, but eventually they did adapt, and the result was another Champions League in 2008.

Had United carried on in the old way, they probably would have maintained their success at home and kept on picking up Premier League titles.

But Ferguson was aiming higher, and he had his reward, joining an elite group of managers to have won two European Cups. None of the others had won theirs with the same club so far apart, proof, as though it were needed, of his remarkable longevity.

His target now is win a third, and join Bob Paisley even higher in the pantheon; United's is to work out how to replace him without enduring the two barren decades that followed Busby's retirement.

Read more on:    epl  |  sir alex ferguson
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