Wednesday, 8 May 2013

So Long, Sir Alex

Opinions vary about Sir Alex Ferguson, but his managerial achievements speak for themselves. In a rare non-Boro related column, Si's Insights shows our appreciation for the Godfather of football managers

All Middlesbrough fans know that we have an enormous mountain to climb to reach the dizzy heights that we once took for granted. But we can do it. It may take many years, but we can still do it. And I personally don't believe that there's anyone better to learn from than the Godfather of football managers himself, Sir Alex Ferguson.

As the fiery Scot prepares to leave the managerial dugout once and for all, it may surprise some - if not all - that my respect for him has increased ten fold over the last decade.

Almost incredibly, a Manchester United fan was calling for "Mr. Magnificent" himself, Steve McClaren (!), to step into the United hot seat after United's 3-1 defeat to a then middling Manchester City in November 2002.

A question was asked by The Times then, and it has resonated with me to this very day:

“Has Ferguson got the drive, the energy to assemble a third great United team? Moreover, will he be given the time and money to do so?”

That game, and the awful goals United conceded in it, signalled a turning point for United. They lost just twice more throughout the rest of the season - and one of those defeats was at the Riverside! - on their way to clinching the league title.

Moreover, with Ole Gunnar Solksjaer making the right of midfield his own, the sale of David Beckham didn't seem that great a loss.

Unfortunately, by early 2004, it looked like it was. When United played FC Porto at Old Trafford, they were going through a very rough transitional period. Key players were either getting injured or losing form. Rio Ferdinand had been given an eight-month ban in an age where other players had been punished less for more. Then there was the whole "Rock Of Gibraltar" situation.

In the Porto game alone, they'd lost two players through injury and had a perfectly good goal ruled out. Even so, with seconds remaining, United were 1-0 up and set for the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Then Tim Howard's punch conveniently fell to Costinha, Jose Mourinho did that mad dance down the touchline, and... well, you know the rest.

Porto went on to win the Champions League, and Jose's Chelsea went on to dominate English football for the next two years.

But – and this is the biggest but – Ferguson could have given up.

In 2006, the London press appeared to, as Hugh McIlvanney correctly put it one year later, take undeniable pleasure in forecasting an undignified exit for Ferguson.

The press brazenly stated that Fergie no longer had it in him to add to all those titles. They also said that the team would suffer after selling Ruud Van Nistelrooy. They proclaimed that Chelsea were simply unbeatable.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Five titles and a European Cup followed in the next seven years. It could so easily have been seven titles. This is clear evidence that he did not give up. Instead, he did build a third great United team and went on to lay the initial foundations for a possible fourth.

Anyone who really wants to get back to the top after feeling like they've hit rock bottom can, and should, look no further for inspiration than from the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson. And that, more than any of his achievements, is why I think he is worthy of the accolades that have been, and will continue to be, bestowed upon him.

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