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Sir Alex in 2006
|Full name||Alexander Chapman Ferguson|
|Date of birth||31 December 1941|
|Place of birth||Glasgow, Scotland|
|1967||Scottish Football League XI||2||(1)|
|* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.|
† Appearances (Goals).
Sir Alex in 2006
|Full name||Alexander Chapman Ferguson|
|Date of birth||31 December 1941|
|Place of birth||Glasgow, Scotland|
|1967||Scottish Football League XI||2||(1)|
|* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.|
† Appearances (Goals).
Sir Alexander Chapman "Alex" Ferguson, CBE (born 31 December 1941) is a former Scottish football manager and player who managed Manchester United from 1986 to 2013. His time at the club has led to Ferguson being regarded as one of the most admired and respected managers in the history of the game.
Ferguson managed East Stirlingshire and St. Mirren before a highly successful period as manager of Aberdeen. After briefly managing Scotland following the death of Jock Stein, he was appointed manager of Manchester United in November 1986.
Ferguson is the longest serving manager of Manchester United, overtaking Sir Matt Busby's record on 19 December 2010, eventually completing more than 26-and-a-half years as the club's manager. He has won many awards and holds many records including winning Manager of the Year most times in British football history. In 2008, he became the third British manager to win the European Cup on more than one occasion. He was knighted in 1999 for his services to the game and also holds the Freedom of the City of Aberdeen.
On 8 May 2013, Ferguson announced his retirement as manager of Manchester United. During his 26 years at the club, he won 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League and two UEFA Champions League titles.
Born to Alexander Beaton Ferguson, a plater's helper in the shipbuilding industry, and his wife, Elizabeth (née Hardie), Alex Ferguson was born at his grandmother's home on Shieldhall Road, Govan, on 31 December 1941, but grew up in a tenement at 667 Govan Road which has since been demolished where he lived with his parents as well as his younger brother Martin.
Ferguson's playing career began as an amateur with Queen's Park, where he made his debut as a striker aged 16. He described his first match as a "nightmare", but scored Queen's Park's goal in a 2–1 defeat against Stranraer. Perhaps his most notable game for Queen's Park was the 7–1 defeat away to Queen of the South on Boxing Day 1959 when ex-England international Ivor Broadis scored four of the Queen of the South goals. Ferguson was the solitary Queen's Park goalscorer.
Despite scoring 20 goals in his 31 games for Queen's Park, he could not command a regular place in the side and moved to St. Johnstone in 1960. Although he continued to score regularly at St. Johnstone, he was still unable to command a regular place and regularly requested transfers. Ferguson was out of favour at the club and he even considered emigrating to Canada, however St. Johnstone's failure to sign a forward led the manager to select Ferguson for a match against Rangers, in which he scored a hat-trick in a surprise victory. Dunfermline signed him the following summer (1964), and Ferguson became a full-time professional footballer.
The following season (1964–65), Dunfermline were strong challengers for the Scottish League and reached the Scottish Cup Final, but Ferguson was dropped for the final after a poor performance in a league game against St. Johnstone. Dunfermline lost the final 3–2 to Celtic, then failed to win the League by one point. The 1965–66 season saw Ferguson notch up 45 goals in 51 games for Dunfermline. Along with Joe McBride of Celtic, he was the top goalscorer in the Scottish League with 31 goals.
He then joined Rangers for £65,000, then a record fee for a transfer between two Scottish clubs. He was blamed for a goal that they conceded in the 1969 Scottish Cup Final, in a match in which he was designated to mark Celtic captain, Billy McNeill, and was subsequently forced to play for the club's junior side instead of for the first team. According to his brother, Ferguson was so upset by the experience that he threw his losers' medal away. There have been claims that he suffered discrimination at Rangers after his marriage to a Catholic, Cathy Holding, but Ferguson himself makes it clear in his autobiography that Rangers knew of his wife's religion when he joined the club and that he left the club very reluctantly, due to the fall-out from his alleged cup final mistake.
The following October, Nottingham Forest wanted to sign Ferguson, but his wife was not keen on moving to England at that time so he went to Falkirk instead. He was promoted to player-coach there, but when John Prentice became manager he removed Ferguson's coaching responsibilities. Ferguson responded by requesting a transfer and moved to Ayr United, where he finished his playing career in 1974.
In June 1974, Ferguson was appointed manager of East Stirlingshire, at the comparatively young age of 32. It was a part-time job that paid £40 per week, and the club did not have a single goalkeeper at the time. He gained a reputation as a disciplinarian, with club forward Bobby McCulley later saying he had "never been afraid of anyone before but Ferguson was a frightening bastard from the start."
The following October, Ferguson was invited to manage St. Mirren. While they were below East Stirlingshire in the league, they were a bigger club and although Ferguson felt a degree of loyalty towards East Stirlingshire, he decided to join St. Mirren after taking advice from Jock Stein.
Ferguson was manager of St. Mirren from 1974 until 1978, producing a remarkable transformation of a team in the lower half of the old Second Division watched by crowds of just over 1,000, to First Division champions in 1977, discovering talent like Billy Stark, Tony Fitzpatrick, Lex Richardson, Frank McGarvey, Bobby Reid and Peter Weir while playing superb attacking football. The average age of the league winning team was 19 and the captain, Fitzpatrick, was 20.
St. Mirren have the distinction of being the only club ever to sack Ferguson. He claimed wrongful dismissal against the club at an industrial tribunal but lost and was given no leave to appeal. According to a Billy Adams Sunday Herald article on 30 May 1999, the official version is that Ferguson was sacked for various breaches of contract including unauthorised payments to players. He was counter-accused of intimidating behaviour towards his office secretary because he wanted players to get some expenses tax free. He didn't speak to her for six weeks, confiscated her keys and communicated only through a 17-year-old assistant. The tribunal concluded that Ferguson was "particularly petty" and "immature". It was claimed during the tribunal by St. Mirren chairman, Willie Todd, that Ferguson had "no managerial ability".
On 31 May 2008, The Guardian published an interview with Todd (then aged 87), who had sacked Ferguson many years earlier. Todd explained that the fundamental reason for the dismissal was a breach of contract relating to Ferguson having agreed to join Aberdeen. Ferguson told journalist Jim Rodger of the Daily Mirror that he had asked at least one member of the squad to go to Aberdeen with him. He told the St. Mirren staff he was leaving. Todd expressed regret over what happened but blamed Aberdeen for not approaching his club to discuss compensation.
Ferguson joined Aberdeen as manager in June 1978, replacing Billy McNeill who had only managed the club for one season before he was offered the chance to manage Celtic. Although Aberdeen were one of Scotland's major clubs they had won the league only once, in 1955 under Dave Halliday. The team had been playing well, however, and had not lost a league match since the previous December, having finished second in the league the previous season. Ferguson had now been a manager for four years, but was still not much older than some of the players and had trouble winning the respect of some of the older ones such as Joe Harper. The season did not go especially well, with Aberdeen reaching the semi-final of the Scottish Cup and the Scottish League Cup Final, but losing both matches and finishing fourth in the league.
Aberdeen lost the 1979–80 Scottish League Cup Final, this time to Dundee United after a replay. Ferguson took the blame for the defeat, saying he should have made changes to the team for the replay.
Aberdeen had started the 1979–80 season poorly but their form improved dramatically in the new year and they won the Scottish league that season with a 5–0 win on the final day. It was the first time in fifteen years that the league had not been won by either Rangers or Celtic. Ferguson now felt that he had the respect of his players, later saying "That was the achievement which united us. I finally had the players believing in me".
He was still a strict disciplinarian, though, and his players nicknamed him Furious Fergie. He fined one of his players, John Hewitt, for overtaking him on a public road, and kicked a tea urn at the players at half time after a poor first half. He was dissatisfied with the atmosphere at Aberdeen matches, and deliberately created a 'siege mentality' by accusing the Scottish media of being biased towards the Glasgow clubs, to motivate the team. The team continued their success with a Scottish Cup win in 1982. Ferguson was offered the manager's job at Wolves but turned it down as he felt that Wolves were in trouble and "[his] ambitions at Aberdeen were not even half fulfilled".
Ferguson led Aberdeen to even greater success the following season (1982–83). They had qualified for the European Cup Winners' Cup as a result of winning the Scottish Cup the previous season, and impressively knocked out Bayern Munich, who had beaten Tottenham Hotspur 4–1 in the previous round. According to Willie Miller, this gave them the confidence to believe that they could go on to win the competition, which they did, with a 2–1 victory over Real Madrid in the final on 11 May 1983. Aberdeen became only the third Scottish team to win a European trophy and Ferguson now felt that "he'd done something worthwhile with his life". This was followed up with victory in the European Super Cup in December 1983, when Hamburg, the reigning European Cup champions were beaten 2–0 over two legs. Aberdeen had also performed well in the league that season, and retained the Scottish Cup with a 1–0 victory over Rangers, but Ferguson was not happy with his team's play in that match and upset the players by describing theirs as a "disgraceful performance" in a televised interview after the match, a statement he later retracted.
After a sub-standard start to the 1983–84 season, Aberdeen's form improved and the team won the Scottish league and retained the Scottish Cup. Ferguson was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1984 honours list, and was offered the managers' jobs at Rangers and Arsenal during the season. Aberdeen retained their league title in the 1984–85 season, but had a disappointing season in 1985–86, finishing fourth in the league, although they did win both domestic cups. Ferguson had been appointed to the club's board of directors early in 1986, but that April he told Dick Donald, their chairman, that he intended to leave that summer.
Ferguson had been part of coaching staff for the Scottish national side during qualifying for the 1986 World Cup, but manager Jock Stein had collapsed and died on 10 September 1985 – at the end of the game in which Scotland qualified from their group for a play-off against Australia. Ferguson promptly agreed to take charge of the Scottish national side against the Australians and subsequently at the World Cup. To allow him to fulfil his international duties he appointed Archie Knox as his co-manager at Aberdeen. However, after Scotland failed to progress past the group stages of the World Cup, Ferguson stepped down as national team manager on 15 June 1986.
Around this time, Tottenham Hotspur offered Ferguson the chance to take over from Peter Shreeves as manager, but he rejected this offer and the job went to Luton Town's David Pleat instead. There was also an offer for Ferguson to replace Don Howe as Arsenal manager, but he rejected this offer as well, and fellow Scot George Graham took the post instead. That summer, there had been speculation that he would take over from Ron Atkinson at Manchester United, who had slumped to fourth in the English top flight after a ten-match winning start had made title glory seem inevitable.
It was not the first time that Ferguson had been linked with a move to England. In February 1982, Wolverhampton Wanderers had approached him about succeeding John Barnwell as manager as they were heading for relegation from the First Division. He rejected this offer, perhaps concerned about the club's financial stability, as they were more than £2 million in debt at the time and narrowly avoided going out of business. At the end of the 1984–85 season, it was reported that Ferguson was being considered for the Liverpool manager's job after the retirement of Joe Fagan was announced, but the job was quickly accepted by Liverpool striker Kenny Dalglish.
Although Ferguson remained at Aberdeen over the summer, he did eventually join Manchester United when Atkinson was sacked in November 1986.
Ferguson was appointed manager at Old Trafford on 6 November 1986. He was initially worried that many of the players, such as Norman Whiteside, Paul McGrath and Bryan Robson were drinking too much and was "depressed" by their level of fitness, but he managed to increase the players' discipline and United climbed up the table to finish the season in 11th place, having been 21st (second from bottom) when he took over.
His first game in charge was a 2–0 defeat at underdogs Oxford United on 8 November, followed seven days later by a goalless draw at newly promoted Norwich City, and then his first win (1–0 at home to QPR) on 22 November. Results steadily improved as the season went on, and by the time they recorded what would be their only away win of the league campaign at title challengers and deadly rivals Liverpool on Boxing Day, it was clear that United were on the road to recovery. 1987 began on a high note with a 4–1 victory over Newcastle United and United gradually pulled together in the second half of the season, with relatively occasional defeats on the way, and finished 11th in the final table. Ferguson's mother, Elizabeth died of lung cancer, aged 64, three weeks after his appointment. Ferguson appointed Archie Knox, his assistant at Aberdeen, as his assistant at Manchester United in 1986.
In the 1987–88 season, Ferguson made several major signings, including Steve Bruce, Viv Anderson, Brian McClair and Jim Leighton. The new players made a great contribution to a United team who finished in 2nd place, nine points behind Liverpool. However, Liverpool's points lead had been in double digits for most of the season and while United had lost only five league games all season, they drew 12 games and there was clearly still some way to go before United could be a match for their north western rivals.
United were expected to do well when Mark Hughes returned to the club two years after leaving for Barcelona, but the 1988–89 season was a disappointment for them, finishing eleventh in the league and losing 1–0 at home to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup Sixth Round. They had begun the season slowly, going on a nine-match winless run throughout October and November (with one defeat and eight draws) before a run of generally good results took them to third place and the fringes of the title challenge by mid February. However, another run of disappointing results in the final quarter of the season saw them fall down to mid table.
During the season, United played in friendly matches against the Bermudan national team and Somerset County Cricket Club as part of the Bermudan team's tour of England. In the match against Somerset, both Ferguson himself and his assistant, Archie Knox, took to the field, with Knox even getting on the scoresheet. The match remains Ferguson's only appearance for the Manchester United first team.
For the 1989–90 season, Ferguson further boosted his squad by paying large sums of money for midfielders Neil Webb, Mike Phelan and Paul Ince, as well as defender Gary Pallister and winger Danny Wallace. The season began well with a 4–1 win over defending champions Arsenal on the opening day, but United's league form quickly turned sour. In September, United suffered a humiliating 5–1 away defeat against fierce rivals Manchester City. Following this and an early season run of six defeats and two draws in eight games, a banner declaring "Three years of excuses and it's still crap ... ta-ra Fergie." was displayed at Old Trafford, and many journalists and supporters called for Ferguson to be sacked. Ferguson later described December 1989 as "the darkest period [he had] ever suffered in the game", as United ended the decade just outside the relegation zone.
However, Ferguson later revealed that the board of directors had assured him that they were not considering dismissing him. Although naturally disappointed with the lack of success in the league, they understood the reasons for the sub-standard results (namely the absence of several key players due to injury) and were pleased with the way that Ferguson had reorganised the club's coaching and scouting system.
Following a run of seven games without a win, Manchester United were drawn away to Nottingham Forest in the third round of the FA Cup. Forest were performing well that season and were in the process of winning the League Cup for the second season running, and it was expected that United would lose the match and Ferguson would consequently be sacked, but United won the game 1–0 due to a Mark Robins goal and eventually reached the final. This cup win is often cited as the match that saved Ferguson's Old Trafford career, even though it has since been stated that his job was never at risk. United went on to win the FA Cup, beating Crystal Palace 1–0 in the final replay after a 3–3 draw in the first match, giving Ferguson his first major trophy as Manchester United manager. United's defensive frailties in the first match were unilaterally blamed on goalkeeper Jim Leighton, forcing Ferguson to drop his former Aberdeen player and bring in Les Sealey.
Although United's league form improved greatly in 1990–91, they were still inconsistent and finished sixth. There were some excellent performances that season, including a 6–2 demolition of Arsenal at Highbury, but results like an early 2–1 loss at newly promoted Sunderland, a 4–0 September hammering by Liverpool at Anfield, and a 2–0 home defeat by Everton in early March (the game where 17-year-old hot prospect Ryan Giggs made his senior debut) showed that United still had some way to go.
Even after the FA Cup Final victory in the previous season, some still had doubts about Ferguson's ability to succeed where all the other managers since Busby had failed — to win the league title. They were runners-up in the League Cup, losing 1–0 to Sheffield Wednesday. They also reached the final of the European Cup Winners' Cup, beating that season's Spanish champions Barcelona 2–1. After the match, Ferguson vowed that United would win the league the following season, and at long last he seemed to have won over the last of his sceptics after nearly five years in the job.
During the 1991 close season, Ferguson's assistant Archie Knox departed to Glasgow Rangers to become assistant to Walter Smith, and Ferguson promoted youth team coach Brian Kidd to the role of assistant manager in Knox's place. He also made two major signings – goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and defender Paul Parker – to bolster his side. There was much anticipation about the breakthrough of the young Ryan Giggs, who had played twice and scored once in the 1990–91 campaign, and the earlier emergence of another impressive young winger in the shape of Lee Sharpe, who despite their youth had made Ferguson feel able to resist plunging into the transfer market and buying a new player to take over from the disappointing Danny Wallace on the left wing. He had also added the Ukrainian Andrei Kanchelskis to the right wing, giving him a more attacking alternative to older right footed midfielders Mike Phelan and Bryan Robson.
The 1991–92 season did not live up to Ferguson's expectations and, in Ferguson's words, "many in the media felt that [his] mistakes had contributed to the misery". United won the League Cup and Super Cup for the first time, but lost out on the league title to rivals Leeds United after leading the table for much of the season. A shortage of goals and being held to draws by teams they had been expected to beat in the second half of the campaign had proved to be the undoing of a United side who had performed so well in the first half of the season. Ferguson felt that his failure to secure the signing of Mick Harford from Luton Town had cost United the league, and that he needed "an extra dimension" to the team if they were to win the league the following season.
During the 1992 close season, Ferguson went on the hunt for a new striker. He first attempted to sign Alan Shearer from Southampton, but lost out to Blackburn Rovers. He also made at least one approach for the Sheffield Wednesday striker David Hirst, but manager Trevor Francis rejected all offers and the player stayed put. In the end, he paid £1 million for 23-year-old Cambridge United striker Dion Dublin – his only major signing of the summer.
After a slow start to the 1992–93 season (they were 10th of 22 at the beginning of November) it looked as though United would miss out on the league title (now the Premier League) yet again. However, after the purchase of French striker Eric Cantona from Leeds United for £1.2 million, the future of Manchester United, and Ferguson's position as manager, began to look bright. Cantona formed a strong partnership with Mark Hughes and fired the club to the top of the table, ending United's 26-year wait for a League Championship, and also making them the first ever Premier League Champions. United had finished champions with a 10-point margin over runners-up Aston Villa, whose 1–0 defeat at Oldham on 2 May 1993 had given United the title. Ferguson was voted Manager of the Year by the League Managers' Association.
The 1993–94 season brought more success. Ferguson added Nottingham Forest's 22-year-old midfielder Roy Keane to the ranks for a British record fee of £3.75 million as a long term replacement for Bryan Robson, who was nearing the end of his career.
United led the 1993–94 Premier League table virtually from start to finish.
Ferguson was the very first winner of the Premier League Manager of the Month award, introduced for the start of the 1993–94 season, when he collected the accolade for August 1993.
Cantona was top scorer with 25 goals in all competitions despite being sent off twice in the space of five days in March 1994. United also reached the League Cup final but lost 3–1 to Aston Villa, managed by Ferguson's predecessor, Ron Atkinson. In the FA Cup final, Manchester United achieved an impressive 4–0 scoreline against Chelsea, winning Ferguson his second League and Cup Double, following his Scottish Premier Division and Scottish Cup titles with Aberdeen in 1984–85, though the League Cup final defeat meant that he had not yet achieved a repeat of the treble that he had achieved with Aberdeen in 1983.
Ferguson made only one close-season signing, paying Blackburn Rovers £1.2 million for David May. There were newspaper reports that Ferguson was also going to sign highly rated 21-year-old striker Chris Sutton from Norwich City, but the player headed for Blackburn Rovers instead.
1994–95 was a harder season for Ferguson. Cantona assaulted a Crystal Palace supporter in a game at Selhurst Park, and it seemed likely he would leave English football. An eight-month ban saw Cantona miss the final four months of the season. He also received a 14-day prison sentence for the offence but the sentence was quashed on appeal and replaced by a 120-hour community service order. On the brighter side, United paid a British record fee of £7 million for Newcastle's prolific striker Andy Cole, with young winger Keith Gillespie heading to the north-east in exchange. The season also saw the breakthrough of young players Gary Neville, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes, who provided excellent cover for the long periods that United were left without some of their more experienced stars.
However, the championship slipped out of Manchester United's grasp as they drew 1–1 with West Ham United on the final day of the season, when a win would have given them the a third successive league title. United also lost the FA Cup final in a 1–0 defeat to Everton.
Ferguson was heavily criticised in the summer of 1995 when three of United's star players were allowed to leave and replacements were not bought. First Paul Ince moved to Internazionale of Italy for £7.5 million, long-serving striker Mark Hughes was suddenly sold to Chelsea in a £1.5 million deal, and Andrei Kanchelskis was sold to Everton.
Ferguson made an approach for Tottenham Hotspur winger Darren Anderton, but the player signed a new contract with the North London club. He then made a bid to sign Dutchman Marc Overmars from Ajax (the European Cup winners), but the player suffered a serious knee injury and was ruled out for months. Media reports suggested that United were going to make an approach for Juventus and Italy forward Roberto Baggio, who was generally regarded[by whom?] as the best player in the world at that time, but the player remained in his homeland and signed for Milan instead.
It was widely known[by whom?] that Ferguson felt that United had a number of young players who were ready to play in the first team. The youngsters, who would be known as "Fergie's Fledglings", included Gary Neville, Phil Neville, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt, who would all go on to be important members of the team. And so the 1995–96 season began without a major signing, at a time when the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Newcastle United were making the headlines with big-money signings.
A youthful United team lost 3–1 in their opening league game of the 1995–96 season, against Aston Villa. On Match of the Day, pundit Alan Hansen criticised their performance, ending his analysis with the words: "You can't win anything with kids". United won their next five matches and were boosted by the return of Cantona, who made his comeback against Liverpool in October 1995. For much of the season, the team trailed league leaders Newcastle United and found themselves 10 points behind by Christmas; this later was narrowed to seven points after defeating them on 27 December 1995. The gap increased to 12 points, but a series of wins, coupled with Newcastle dropping points, meant by late March, United moved to the top of the table. A hard-fought win against Leeds United in April prompted Ferguson to accuse his opponents of "cheating" their manager:
I'm saying to myself these guys have put their manager in trouble and after seeing how they played against us I can only say they're cheating their manager. You think for some of them it's more important to get a result against Manchester United, who are top of the League, than anything else. It's pathetic. No wonder managers get the sack. Of course, when it comes to Newcastle you wait and see the difference. It will be interesting.
In a televised outburst after his team's win against Leeds, Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan responded angrily to Ferguson's comments: "We're still fighting for this title, and he's got to go to Middlesbrough ... I would love it if we beat them, love it." A win against Middlesbrough on the final day sealed the title for United and the team beat Liverpool by a goal to nil to win the 1996 FA Cup Final; this was their second double in three years. A week after the cup final, Ferguson agreed a four-year contract to remain at United.
United won their fourth league title in five seasons at the end of the 1996–97 campaign, made easier by the fact that their rivals were "not up to the job". Under Ferguson, the team made a better go in the Champions League and reached the semi-final stage for the first time in 28 years. United did not advance any further, after defeat to Borussia Dortmund of Germany. Norwegian signings Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Ronny Johnsen were the notable additions to the squad, with the former ending the season as the club's top goalscorer. In May 1997, Cantona informed Ferguson his decision to retire from football. The player "felt exploited by United's merchandising department" and questioned the ambition of the club, reasons which Ferguson understood. Striker Teddy Sheringham was signed as Cantona's replacement from Tottenham Hotspur, with Blackburn defender Henning Berg the other significant purchase that summer. In the close season, United appointed Keane as their new captain. Ferguson described him as "the best all-round player in the game" after the team's 1997 FA Charity Shield win and believed Keane had "all the right ingredients" to succeed from Cantona.
Defeat to Leeds United in September 1997 was the team's first league loss in seven months; Keane during the match injured himself and was subsequently ruled out for the rest of the season with ligament damage. Schmeichel was placed as captain in his absence. By November, United opened up a four-point lead in the league, which prompted talk of whether any team could catch them. After Arsenal's defeat of United in the same month, Ferguson acknowledged a one-horse race was "not good for the game" and admitted his opponents "... deserved to win on their second-half performance". The fallibilities of Liverpool, Chelsea and Blackburn Rovers as league challengers allowed United during the winter to extend their lead by 11 points, albeit with Arsenal having games-in-hand. This was enough for Manchester bookmaker Fred Done to pay out on punters who backed the champions retaining their title. United in other competitions fared poorly; they went out of the FA Cup in a replay to Barnsley and were eliminated in the quarter-final stage of the Champions League against AS Monaco on away goals.
Arsenal closed the gap on United in March and a winning goal from their winger Marc Overmars when the two teams met at Old Trafford handed them the initiative. Ferguson was bullish of his team's chances despite the setback and insisted that Arsenal "... will find that they start dropping points towards the end of the season – there's no question about that". Arsenal however collected maximum points, sealing the title with a win against Everton on 3 May 1998. Ferguson congratulated his opponent Arsène Wenger, who in his first full season at the club, later completed the double: "I think it's good for my young players to lose on this occasion. I wholeheartedly acknowledge what Arsenal achieved between Christmas and the end of the season." United straight after paid £10.75 million for PSV defender Jaap Stam, a new club record fee. Ferguson wanted to strengthen the squad's attacking options and identified Aston Villa's Dwight Yorke as his main target. Attempts to sign Yorke were rebuffed at first, before Ferguson persuaded Edwards to increase United's initial offer of £10 million. A £12.6 million deal was reached a week into the league campaign; Yorke signed minutes before the deadline to submit United's squad for the Champions League.
The 1998–99 season saw United complete an unprecedented treble sweep of trophies: the league, FA Cup and Champions League. The success coincided with the club becoming the world's richest and most valuable sporting brand worldwide. United were at the centre of a takeover bid from BSkyB in September 1998, which incited supporters. Ferguson refused to be drawn over the controversy of the deal; he nevertheless praised the company for their work in football. The government later referred the deal to the Mergers Commission, which was blocked in April 1999. On the pitch, United made a steady start in all competitions and lost for the final time in the season against Middlesbrough in December 1998, where Ferguson was absent on bereavement leave. Their route to the 1999 FA Cup Final, which they won 2–0 against Newcastle United, mostly involved ties against fellow league clubs. In the semi-final replay against cup holders Arsenal, Keane was sent off and United conceded a penalty late into the match; but Dennis Bergkamp's effort was saved by Schmeichel. Giggs in extra time ran the length of the pitch and scored what The Times reporter Oliver Holt described as "a goal of breathtaking skill". In the league, United regained the title after a closely fought challenge from Arsenal.
After finishing second in their Champions League group – behind Bayern Munich and ahead of Barcelona – and knocking-out Inter Milan in the quarter-final stage, United faced Juventus in the last four. An injury time goal scored by Giggs in the first leg earned the team a 1–1 draw, but in spite of conceding an away goal, Ferguson was adamant of United's chances of reaching the final: "... something tells me we are going to win. The nature of our club is that we torture ourselves so much that the only way to get relief is by winning over there. It will be a great game and hopefully I am right." At the Stadio delle Alpi, striker Filippo Inzaghi scored twice to put Juventus 3–1 up on aggregate. Keane headed in a Beckham cross to halve the deficit, but was later shown a yellow card for a foul on Edgar Davids, which prevented him from playing in the final. Yorke equalised, before Cole added a third to win the match outright. Ferguson described his captain's performance as "the most emphatic display of selflessness ... he inspired all around him. I felt it was an honour to be associated with such a player". In Barcelona, where the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final was staged against Bayern Munich, United conceded inside six minutes, through Mario Basler's free kick. Sheringham equalised from a corner late into the match and Solskjær in added time scored the winner, from another set piece. When interviewed moments after the match, Ferguson said:
I can't believe it. I can't believe it. Football, bloody hell. But they never gave in and that's what won it.
Ferguson and Schmeichel, the stand-in captain, jointly lifted the cup during the trophy presentation. A crowd of over 500,000 people turned out on the streets of Manchester to greet the players, who paraded through the city in an open-top bus. As European champions, United were invited to play in the Intercontinental Cup. The club also entered the inaugural Club World Championship, which was held in Brazil. Given the possibility of a hectic fixture schedule, United withdrew from the FA Cup, becoming the first holders to do so. In later years, Ferguson cited the decision had to do with England's failed 2006 FIFA World Cup bid, and he expressed regret in how the club dealt with the situation.
Schmeichel's decision to leave United after eight seasons prompted Ferguson to bring in replacements: Mark Bosnich from Aston Villa and Italian Massimo Taibi. The latter featured in four matches, the last of which a 5–0 defeat at Chelsea in October 1999; he was not selected again by Ferguson. United ended the 1999–2000 league season as champions, with just three defeats and a record points margin of 18. In the mid-season, the club beat Palmeiras in Tokyo to win the Intercontinental Cup, but exited with apathy at the Club World Championship. United failed to retain the Champions League, out in the quarter-final stage to eventual winners Real Madrid. Ferguson sought to strengthen his squad and monitored the progress of Ruud van Nistelrooy, whom he described as "a striker of the highest calibre". He met the player and his agent in Manchester to discuss formalities and was informed of Van Nistelrooy's knee injury. Ferguson recalled from past experience that he was not "terribly perturbed" and pushed ahead with the transfer. Van Nistelrooy however failed his medical, at which point Ferguson spoke with him, "emphasising that we might yet find a way out of the nightmare." The deal was resurrected a year later, for a British record transfer fee of £19 million. To solve the ongoing goalkeeping problem at United, French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez was signed from Monaco for £7.8 million.
In the 2000–01 season, United retained the league title for a third season and became only the fourth side in history to do so. The achievement was overshadowed by reports of a rift between the board and Ferguson regarding his future at the club. Ferguson told MUTV in May 2001 that he was prepared to sever all ties with the club once his contract ended the following year: "The decision has been taken. I'm going to leave the club. I'm disappointed with what has happened because I was hoping something would be sorted out. It hasn't happened as I thought it would and that's all there is to it." However weeks after, both parties reached a compromise, which pleased Ferguson: "I am delighted we've settled this. When you have been at the club as long as I have it gets in your blood."
United were active in the transfer window once more and signed midfielder Juan Sebastián Verón from Lazio for a reported £28.1 million. Ferguson was interested in bringing both Patrick Vieira and Sol Campbell to the club, who both later committed to Arsenal. Before the 2001–02 season had begun, McClaren left to become Middlesbrough manager; Jimmy Ryan was named assistant to Ferguson for the duration of the campaign. In August 2001, United sold Stam to Lazio for £16 million. The transfer was said to have been instigated because of claims made in the player's autobiography Head to Head. Stam suggested that Ferguson illegally contacted about a move to Manchester United, before informing his club PSV. Ferguson commented that the club needed to recoup the big money spent in the summer; Stam therefore left to balance the "massive wage bill". Ferguson replaced the defender with Laurent Blanc, a long sought after target. In an interview with Alastair Campbell eight years after, Ferguson described his biggest mistake at the club was "letting go of Jaap Stam. No question." United endured a poor first half to the season, whereby they languished in ninth position after a home defeat to West Ham United in December 2001. In spite of putting together a run of eight successive wins during the winter period to move up in the table – this coincided with Ferguson's decision to remain at the club until 2005 – United finished third, behind champions Arsenal and Liverpool. United were also unsuccessful in Europe and lost their Champions League semi-final on away goals to Bayer Leverkusen, Early exits from the League Cup and FA Cup meant that the season ended trophyless. Ferguson himself admitted that the decision to pre-announce his retirement had resulted in a negative effect on the players and on his ability to impose discipline.
Manchester United won their eighth Premier League title yet just over two months before the end of the season they were eight points behind leaders Arsenal. But an improvement in form for United, and a decline for Arsenal, saw the Premier League trophy gradually slip out of the Londoners' grasp and push it back in the direction of Old Trafford. Ferguson described the 2002–03 title triumph as his most satisfying ever, due to the nature of a remarkable comeback. The excellent run-in had produced 10 wins and a draw (including 4–0 home win over Liverpool and a 6–2 away demolition of Newcastle United) from the final 11 games, and no defeats since Boxing Day. Much was made in the press of Ferguson's successful 'mind games' with Wenger in winning the title.
Ferguson guided Manchester United to their eleventh FA Cup at the end of the 2003–04 season, but it was a disappointing season which had seen them finish third in the Premier League (which was won by an undefeated Arsenal side) and suffer Champions League elimination at the hands of eventual winners F.C. Porto. Rio Ferdinand missed the final four months of the season, as he served the beginning of an eight-month ban for missing a drugs test. New signings like Eric Djemba-Djemba and José Kléberson were disappointing, United tried to sign Ronaldinho and Fergie believed the deal was as good as done before Peter Kenyon caused it to fall apart, but there was at least one productive signing in teenage Portuguese winger Cristiano Ronaldo. Striker Louis Saha, added in January, also proved to be reasonably successful covering for the injured Ole Gunnar Solskjær in attack.
At the beginning of the 2004–05 season, teenage striker Wayne Rooney (the world's most expensive teenager at more than £20 million) and Argentine defender Gabriel Heinze joined United while Cristiano Ronaldo continued where he had left off the previous season by putting in more match-winning performances. But the lack of a striker after van Nistelrooy spent most of the season injured saw the club finish third for the third time in four seasons. In the FA Cup they lost on penalties to Arsenal. A second round exit from the European Cup at the hands of A.C. Milan and a semi-final exit from the League Cup at the hands of eventual winners Chelsea (who also clinched the Premier League title) meant that 2004–05 was a rare instance of a trophyless season for United.
Ferguson's preparations for the season were disrupted by a high-profile dispute with major shareholder John Magnier, over the ownership of the racehorse Rock of Gibraltar. When Magnier and business partner J. P. McManus agreed to sell their shares to American business tycoon Malcolm Glazer, it cleared the way for Glazer to acquire full control of the club. This sparked violent protests from United fans, and disrupted Ferguson's plans to strengthen the team in the transfer market. In spite of this, United looked to solve their goalkeeping and midfield problems. For this, they signed the Dutch keeper Edwin van der Sar from Fulham and Korean star Park Ji-Sung from PSV.
The season was one of transition. On 18 November, Roy Keane officially left the club, his contract ended by mutual consent. United failed to qualify for the knock-out phase of the UEFA Champions' League. In the January transfer window Serbian defender Nemanja Vidić and French full-back Patrice Evra were signed, and the side finished in second place in the league, behind runaway leaders Chelsea. Winning the League Cup was a consolation prize for lack of success elsewhere. Ruud van Nistelrooy's future at Old Trafford seemed to be in doubt after not starting in the League Cup final, and he departed at the end of the season.
In 2006, Michael Carrick was signed as a replacement for Roy Keane for £14 million, although the figure may eventually rise in the future[needs update] to £18.6 million depending on appearances and results. United started the season well, and for the first time ever won their first four Premier League games. They set the early pace in the Premier League and never relinquished top spot from the tenth match of the 38–game season. The January 2006 signings had a huge impact on United's performances; Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidić came in to form a solid back line along with already existing players Rio Ferdinand and skipper Gary Neville. The signing of Michael Carrick, which was questioned and criticised by a large portion of the media, brought stability and further creativity in the United midfield, forming an effective partnership with Paul Scholes. Park Ji-Sung and Ryan Giggs both underlined their value to the first team squad by adding significant pace and incisiveness in attack with Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ferguson celebrated the 20th anniversary of his appointment as manager of Manchester United on 6 November 2006. Tributes also came from Ferguson's players, both past and present, as well as his old foe, Arsène Wenger, his old captain, Roy Keane, and current players. The party was spoiled the following day when United endured a single-goal defeat at the hands of Southend in the fourth round of the League Cup. However, on 1 December it was announced that Manchester United had signed 35-year old Henrik Larsson on loan, a player that Ferguson had admired for many years, and attempted to capture previously. On 23 December 2006, Cristiano Ronaldo scored the club's 2000th goal under the helm of Ferguson in a match against Aston Villa.
Manchester United subsequently won their ninth Premier League title but were denied a unique fourth double by Chelsea's Didier Drogba scoring a late goal in the FA Cup Final at Wembley. In the Champions League, the club reached the semi-finals, recording a 7–1 home win over Roma in the quarter-final second leg, but lost at the San Siro to Milan 3–0 in the second leg of the semi-final after being 3–2 up from the first leg. Still, it was a strong sign that United were on their way back to dominance after a couple of years of being overshadowed by Arsenal and more particularly Chelsea.
For the 2007–08 season, Ferguson made notable signings to reinforce United's first team. Long-term target Owen Hargreaves joined from Bayern Munich, bringing an end to a year of negotiations. Ferguson further bolstered the midfield with the additions of young Portuguese winger Nani and Brazilian playmaker Anderson. The last summer signing was of West Ham United and Argentina striker Carlos Tévez after a complex and protracted transfer saga. United had its worst start to a season under Ferguson, drawing their first two league games before suffering a 1–0 defeat to local rivals Manchester City. However, United recovered and began a tight race with Arsenal for the title. After a good run of form, Ferguson claimed that throughout his time at Manchester United, this was the best squad he had managed to assemble thus far.
On 16 February 2008, United beat Arsenal 4–0 in an FA Cup Fifth Round match at Old Trafford, but were knocked out by eventual winners Portsmouth (a mid table side in the league) in the quarter final on 8 March, losing 1–0 at home. United having had a penalty claim turned down, Ferguson alleged after the game that Keith Hackett, general manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Board, was "not doing his job properly". Ferguson was subsequently charged by the FA with improper conduct, which he decided to contest. This was the second charge Ferguson faced in the season, following his complaints against the referee after United lost 1–0 at Bolton Wanderers – a charge he decided not to contest.
On 11 May 2008, Ferguson led Manchester United to a tenth Premier League title, exactly 25 years to the day after he led Aberdeen to European glory against Real Madrid in the European Cup Winners' Cup. Nearest rivals Chelsea – level on points going into the final round of matches, but with an inferior goal difference – could only draw 1–1 at home to Bolton, finishing two points adrift of the champions. United's title win was sealed with a 2–0 win over Wigan Athletic, managed by former United captain Steve Bruce.
On 21 May 2008, Ferguson won his second European Cup with Manchester United as they beat Chelsea 6–5 on penalties in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, following a 1–1 draw after extra time in the first ever all-English UEFA Champions League Final. A penalty miss from Cristiano Ronaldo meant that John Terry's spot-kick would have given the trophy to Chelsea if successfully converted, but Terry blew his chance of glory and in the end it was Edwin van der Sar's blocking of a Nicolas Anelka penalty which gave the trophy to Manchester United for the second time under Ferguson and for the third time overall. After winning the 2007–08 UEFA Champions League Ferguson had stated that his intention to leave Manchester United within the next three years, meaning that he would be gone by the summer of 2011. Manchester United chief executive David Gill moved quickly to calm the speculation about Ferguson's pending retirement.
Although the team had a slow start to the 2008–09 season, United won the Premier League with a game to spare, making Ferguson the first manager in the history of English football to win the Premier League three times consecutively, on two separate occasions. Ferguson had now won 11 league titles at Manchester United, and the 2008–09 season title success put them level with Liverpool as league champions on a record 18 occasions in total. They also won the Football League Cup on penalties after a goalless Wembley draw with Tottenham Hotspur.
After the presentation ceremony, Ferguson conceded that he would stay on at United for as long as his health permitted him and that he would be glad to win the league title once more. This would make United's total league wins one more than rivals Liverpool, becoming the outright leader in total wins.
In 2009–10, Ferguson added another Football League Cup to his honours list as United defeated Aston Villa 2–1 in the Wembley final on 28 February 2010. However, his dreams of a third European Cup were ended a few weeks later when United were edged out of the competition in the quarter-finals by Bayern Munich on away goals. And their hopes of a record 19th league title were ended on the last day of the season when Chelsea beat them to the Premier League title, crushing Wigan Athletic 8–0 and rendering United's 4–0 win over Stoke City meaningless. Around this time, several newspapers carried reports that Ferguson was due to retire at the end of the 2010–11 season, but he denied these rumours and insisted that he wants to go out on a high and will not retire during a time of struggle.
On 8 August 2010, Ferguson added another FA Community Shield to his honours list as United defeated Chelsea 3–1 in the final in Wembley. On 19 December 2010, Ferguson became Manchester United's longest serving manager in history, overtaking Matt Busby's record of 24 years, 1-month and 13 days in charge of the club. He ended the season by winning his 12th and Manchester United's 19th league title and thus overtaking Liverpool's record of 18. Manchester United faced Barcelona again on 28 May 2011 in the 2011 UEFA Champions League Final, their third in four years, but United lost 3–1. Analyst Alan Hansen stated that he believed Ferguson was "the key component" in United's success that season, so key in fact that "[he] would have claimed the crown with any of the other top sides had he been in charge of them". With Edwin van der Sar, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes all retiring in 2011, Ferguson spent big by signing defender Phil Jones from Blackburn Rovers and winger Ashley Young from Aston Villa for around £17 million each, and goalkeeper David de Gea from Atlético Madrid for around £19 million.
On 2 September 2012, Ferguson managed his 1000th league game with United against Southampton. United won the game 3-2 thanks to a hat-trick from Robin Van Persie. Two weeks later, he won his 100th game in the Champions League with a 1–0 win over Galatasaray at Old Trafford.
On 8 May 2013, Ferguson announced that he was to retire as manager at the end of the football season, but would remain at the club as a director and club ambassador. The Guardian announced it was the "end of an era", while UEFA president Michel Platini said that Ferguson was "a true visionary". British Prime Minister David Cameron described Ferguson as a "remarkable man in British football". Former Manchester United players Paul Ince and Bryan Robson agreed that Ferguson would be "a hard act to follow". Manchester United co-chairman Joel Glazer said "His determination to succeed and dedication to the club have been truly remarkable." Ferguson revealed that he had in fact decided that he was going to retire back in December 2012 and that it had been very difficult not to reveal his plans.
In his 1999 autobiography Ferguson stated of Gordon Strachan "I decided this man could not be trusted an inch – I would not want to expose my back to him in a hurry". Strachan's reaction to the attack, in is own autobiography, My Life in Football, was one of being "surprised and disappointed", but did not sue for libel, and more recently they have "declared something of a truce".
In 2003, Ferguson was involved in a dressing room argument with United player David Beckham, resulting in an injury to Beckham, alleged to have been caused by Ferguson kicking a football boot in frustration which hit the player in the face. On 5 April 2003, Ferguson claimed that the Champions League draw was fixed in favour of Spanish and Italian teams, resulting in a fine on 1 May of 10,000 Swiss francs (£4,600).
In 2003, Ferguson launched legal action against the then major United shareholder John Magnier over stud rights for race horse Rock of Gibraltar. Magnier counter-sued Ferguson by filing a "Motion to Comply" requiring Ferguson to substantiate his claim for half of Rock of Gibraltar's stud fees. The legal issues were further compounded by the request for "99 Questions" to be answered over Ferguson's transfer dealings, including those of Jaap Stam, Juan Verón, Tim Howard, David Bellion, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kléberson. The case was eventually settled out of Court.
Ferguson refused to give interviews to the BBC after a documentary called Fergie and Son was shown on BBC Three on 27 May 2004. According to an article in The Independent newspaper, the documentary had "portrayed his agent son, Jason, as somebody who exploited his father's influence and position to his own ends in the transfer market." The same newspaper article made it clear that "Ferguson Jnr" was never found guilty of any wrongdoing, and it quoted Ferguson Senior as follows: "They [the BBC] did a story about my son that was whole lot of nonsense. It all [sic] made-up stuff and 'brown paper bags' and all that kind of carry-on. It was a horrible attack on my son's honour and he should never have been accused of that." Subsequent interviews on BBC programmes such as Match of the Day were done by his assistant Carlos Queiroz, and later Mike Phelan.
Under new Premiership rules intended for the 2010–11 season, Ferguson was required to end his BBC boycott. However he refused to end his boycott and Manchester United confirmed the club would pay the resulting fines. On 25 August 2011, Ferguson met with BBC director general Mark Thompson and BBC North director Peter Salmon; the result of the meeting was that Ferguson agreed to end his seven-year boycott.
Following the sacking of his son Darren by Preston North End, Ferguson immediately recalled loaned players Ritchie De Laet, Joshua King and Matty James from Preston under its new managerial system. He later explained that it was the players' own request not to return to Preston after the change of manager. Stoke City manager Tony Pulis followed soon after in recalling two former Manchester United players from Preston as well, stating the need for the players to supplement his team's intensive schedule.
Ferguson has received numerous punishments for abusing and publicly criticising match officials when he has perceived them to be at fault:
It has also been suggested that Ferguson's intimidation of referees results in "Fergie Time": that is, unusually generous injury time being added in matches where Manchester United are behind. The phrase is at least as old as 2004, and a statistical analysis by The Times suggests that this comment might be valid, though the article points out that other footballing criteria may explain the correlation between extra added time and United being behind. Analysis by Opta Sports of Premier League matches played between 2010 and 2012 found on average that 79 seconds more time was played in matches where Manchester United were losing. This was a greater figure than for other top clubs, although most of these clubs seem to benefit from a "Fergie Time" effect, particularly in their home matches.
Many of Ferguson's former players have gone on to become football managers themselves, including Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes, Roy Keane, Paul Ince, Chris Casper, Darren Ferguson, Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Henning Berg.
The phrase "squeaky-bum time" coined by Ferguson in reference to the tense final stages of a league competition has been included in the Collins English Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary.
Ferguson lives in Wilmslow, Cheshire, with his wife, Cathy Ferguson (née Holding). They married in 1966 and have three sons: Mark (born 1968); and twins Darren (born 1972), current manager of Peterborough United and former professional footballer; and Jason, who runs an events management company.
In 1998, Ferguson was named in a list of the biggest private financial donors to the Labour Party. He is a self-described socialist and a lifelong Labour voter. In January 2011 Graham Stringer, a Labour MP in Manchester and Manchester United supporter, called for Ferguson to be made a life peer. If this happened, it would make Ferguson the first current or former footballer or football manager to sit in the House of Lords. Stringer and fellow Manchester Labour MP Paul Goggins repeated this call after Ferguson announced his retirement in May 2013. However, unnamed sources in the Daily Mirror newspaper claimed on 1 August 2013 that Ferguson had turned down a peerage.
In 2009 Ferguson received a Honorary Doctorate in Business Administration from the Manchester Metropolitan University. It was the second degree he received from the university, after receiving a honorary masters in 1998.
Ferguson has been a vocal supporter and funder of the all-party and non-party Better Together campaign, in favour of Scotland remaining a part of the United Kingdom after the independence referendum in 2014. He has criticised the Scottish National Party, and its leader Alex Salmond, for their decision to exclude Scots who live outside Scotland but within the rest of the United Kingdom from voting in the referendum. He has also objected to the self-imposed rule by the Yes Scotland group against accepting donations from people living outside Scotland of more than £500, which they have urged the No campaign to also adopt.
Ferguson was made an Inaugural Inductee of the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002 in recognition of his impact on the English game as a manager. In 2003, Ferguson became an inaugural recipient of the FA Coaching Diploma, awarded to all coaches who had at least ten years' experience of being a manager or head coach.
In addition to being the only manager to win the top league honours, and the 'Double', north and south of the England–Scotland border (winning the Premier League with Manchester United, and the Scottish Premier Division with Aberdeen), he is also the last manager to win the Scottish championship with a non Old Firm team, achieving this in the 1984–85 season with Aberdeen. He is also the only manager in English football to have managed to finish in the top three league places in 20 consecutive seasons, since the 1991–92 season (with a total of 22 consecutive seasons).
On 5 November 2011, the Old Trafford North Stand was officially renamed the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand in honour of his 25 years as manager of Manchester United. He has won 49 trophies as a manager, making him the most successful British football manager in history.
|East Stirlingshire||1 June 1974||20 October 1974||17||9||2||6||36||28||+8||52.94|
|St. Mirren||21 October 1974||31 May 1978||169||74||41||54||292||222||+70||43.79|
|Aberdeen||1 August 1978||5 November 1986||459||272||105||82||914||374||+540||59.26|
|Scotland||10 September 1985||13 June 1986||10||3||4||3||8||5||+3||30.00|
|Manchester United||6 November 1986||19 May 2013||1,500||895||338||267||2,769||1,364||+1405||59.67|
|Champions||Runners-up||Third / SF||Promoted||Unfinished|
|1974–75||East Stirlingshire||4th 3||RR||0|
|1974–75||St. Mirren||6th 3||2R|
|1975–76||St. Mirren||6th 2||3R||RR||0|
|1976–77||St. Mirren||1st 2||4R||RR||1|
|1999–2000||Manchester United||W||3R||QF||NH||RU||W 1||2|
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