Alexander Chapman Ferguson was appointed manager of Manchester United on November 6th 1986. Inheriting a historic club on the wane toiling with mediocrity, he was tasked with turning its fortunes around.
It’s only major success coming in a previous era, lifting two league titles under Sir Matt Busby in the 1960’s culminating with the 1968 European Cup success against Benfica, capturing the nations hearts after the tragedy of the Munich air disaster.
He would take Manchester United on an epic era of unrivalled triumph and excitement for 27 years, this magnificent team and club was built in the image of the great man himself, the never say die attitude, the will to win, the desire to overcome with your back against the wall.
His success would not come instantaneous however, his first trophy not arriving until 1990 securing the FA cup against Crystal Palace, this heralded the start of a chapter that fans of the club will remember for the rest of their lives, and to be perfectly honest we were spoilt rotten!
The Cup Winners Cup duly followed in 1991 with a 2-1 win over Barcelona in the final, my earliest footballing memory.
I was 7 years old at the time but I’ll never forget that night in Rotterdam, watching the drama unfold out on the pitch, captivated by the electric atmosphere and the sheer theatre as Mark Hughes fired in the tie clinching goal from an acute angle, the wild celebrations as captain fantastic Bryan Robson held the trophy aloft.
I was hooked on the beautiful game, Manchester United were my team.
Ferguson famously declared that he would “knock Liverpool off their perch” and 13 Premier League titles later he delivered on that prophecy, with some of the most enthralling and captivating football the game has ever seen, you could guarantee drama every time United were in action.
The comeback kings, the team that would never surrender, if United were 3-0 down with 10 minutes to go it was always still possible, streaming forwards like the red arrows until the death, no matter the opposition.
Who could forget the greatest comeback of all?
The Champions League Final of 1999, trailing 1-0 in the 90th minute against Bayern Munich at a sun kissed Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer snatching two late strikes at the death, capturing the historic treble.
Manchester United were box office every week under Sir Alex, seemingly doing the impossible time after time, so many moments and so many fantastic players had come through the doors at Carrington, Peter Schmeichel, Rio Ferdinand, Roy Keane, Wayne Rooney, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and maybe the greatest of all time to lace up a pair of boots…..Cristiano Ronaldo.
The youth system was second to none, the great man presiding over the development of the class of 92, six players who would rise to prominence in the game and become some of the most decorated and gifted footballers of that generation.
Class of 92 Pictured below: Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, David Beckham, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes.
As the years rolled by and the league titles began to accumulate, it was a 2nd European Cup that Sir Alex craved on his CV, and in 2008 he delivered, with a victory over Chelsea in the first ever European Cup Final contested by two English teams.
As in the now tradition of the club, it came down to a nail biting finale on penalties, Edwin Van Der Sar saving Nicolas Anelka’s spot kick amongst the pouring rain in Moscow, handing United their 3rd European Cup trophy.
Back to back losses in the 2010 and 2011 finals followed, to a Barcelona team led by the incomparable Lionel Messi, who themselves may have had a claim to be the finest team of all time at that period in history.
The aforementioned triumph in 2008 was to be Sir Alex’s and United’s last, a thought hard to fathom in 2020 such as has been the clubs fall from grace since his departure in 2013, where he brought down the curtain on his astonishing career at United with a 13th Premier league title, again this being the clubs last.
It’s difficult to know where to begin with the clubs woes since his exit, every managerial appointment seemingly more disappointing than the last, David Moyes an abject failure with Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho both delivering trophies in their reigns, but never the Premier League title or the European Cup, trophies that a club of this stature and history should be fighting for on a regular basis.
Each of them never truly grasped and embraced the spirit and values of the club that Sir Alex had manifested over his long and prestigious leadership, throwing our attacking principles to the wayside in order to justify the means, trophies were delivered, but at the cost of what made this club truly unique and loved around the globe.
Vast amounts of money has been squandered on mediocre players that have failed to deliver at the Theatre of Dreams, Radamel Falcao, Angel Di Maria, Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku, Fred, Paul Pogba the list goes on.
All household names in their own right and have proved themselves to be big game players at other clubs, so why has the failure been consistent at United? I would lay the blame at a negative managerial approach and the vast amounts of money that is awash within the game today.
Big money contracts get signed and players come and go for obscene amounts of money, once a player earns £500,000 a week where does his motivation come from…?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer now has the keys to the castle and inherits the same problems mentioned above, he has an unenviable task of trying to bring back the glory days to our club, but players of his irk and desire are of a by-gone era.
How much would Eric Cantona have been worth in the modern game? bought for a now modest looking £1 million at the time by Sir Alex, he was the catalyst that propelled the club to their 1st league title in 27 years, a genius with the ball at his feet and a true joy to watch.
Defenders like Steve Bruce, solid as a rock at the heart of the defence and would run through brick walls for the team.
Box to box midfielders like Roy Keane, a true leader who never gave in, fought for every blade of grass on the pitch and failed to ever settle for second best.
Goal scoring machines like Cristiano Ronaldo, developing himself physically and technically on a daily basis until he became the greatest player on the planet.
The club seems to be in an eternal malaise with not only player recruitment being truly abysmal but a real lack of young talent coming through the ranks with Marcus Rashford being the only player to have truly broken through and I firmly believe he will become a truly world class player, whilst Jesse Lingard has seemingly gone into reverse over the past two years.
Rashford aside, the well has seemingly run dry, with this generation evidently more interested in the commercial aspects of the game rather than football itself, lacking in the basic fundamentals that will take you to the upper echelons of the sport…..hard work, commitment, and desire.
Sadly I feel Manchester United will be a long time in the wilderness, with the likes of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City seemingly light years ahead on and off the pitch in terms of leadership, recruitment, and playing style.
If this trend continues at the club its hard to wonder where it will end, a slide into irrelevancy beckons.
However, I feel that this isn’t just an exclusive Manchester United issue with the ridiculous amounts of money awash within the game taking it away from the man in the street to be enjoyed, ticket prices always rising and multiple subscription services needed to just watch a game.
The premier league has become a relentless money making juggernaut that cannot be stopped and that along the way has created the era of the modern day footballer, which I can no longer personally get behind.
What is the answer?
Thanks for reading.