Words: Philip Cummins
Let the tributes begin.
Online, print and broadcast media, for the remainder of this week, will undoubtedly be flooded with appraisals of the stellar career of Man Utd's outgoing manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. At 71, Ferguson leaves a legacy that will no doubt be the benchmark to which future managers will aspire.
During his 27-year reign at Old Trafford, the Scotsman won 49 trophies, including 13 Premier League titles. He also won 5 FA cup finals, 4 League Cups and, most memorably, the Champions League in 1999 and 2008.
His greatness as a manager will be forever remembered for his ability to seek out talent, attract that talent to the club and give his new signings the direction that they needed to fit into his system.
From an Irish perspective, Ferguson brought a steady stream of Irish players through Old Trafford, most notably:
Frank Stapleton (1986 – 1987); Kevin Moran (1986 – 1988); Paul McGrath (1986 – 1989); Norman Whiteside (1986-1989); Derek Brazil (1986 – 1992); Liam O’Brien (1986 – 1988);Denis Irwin (1990 – 2002); Roy Keane (1993 – 2005); Keith Gillespie (1993-1995); (John O’Shea (1999 – 2011); David Healy (1999-2001); Roy Carroll (2001-2005); Liam Miller (2004 – 2006); Darron Gibson (2004 – 2012); Jonny Evans (2006- ); Michael Keane (2009 -).
If we've left anyone out, do let us know. In the meantime, let’s look at 5 players who defined the great man's sterling career at Old Trafford:
1. Roy Keane
Ferguson signed Keane in 1993 for a then British record transfer fee of £3.74million from Nottingham Forest, securing the Corkman over the course a phone call a day before Keane was due to sign with Blackburn Rovers.
Though the relationship between Keane and Ferguson soured in 2005, eventually leading to Keane’s departure from the club, after Keane publically criticized his teammates in an interview with MUTV, Keane personified Ferguson’s drive, desire, ambition and sheer ruthlessness on the pitch. Ferguson molded Keane from being a supremely talented midfielder for Notts Forest to a natural born leader. Keane’s greatest moment? It has to be that semi- final against Juventus in 1999. A stunning display of leadership that Sir Alex would later remark upon. Without a shadow of doubt, United’s greatest captain during the Ferguson years.
2. Eric Cantona
Signing Cantona in 1992 from 91/92 First Division League winners Leeds, Ferguson’s man- management skills were tried and tested with the notoriously hot- headed Frenchman, whose phenomenal goal- scoring record was threatened to be over- shadowed by his almost routine red cards. Cantona brought a degree of artistry, flair, danger and showmanship to United that perhaps, at that time, had been lacking, particularly in United’s front- line.
Though he tested Ferguson’s patience on more than one occasion, Cantona was instrumental in bringing United to the next level during the 90’s, winning 4 league titles in just 5 years. Ferguson’s departure reminds us of Cantona’s goal- scoring brilliance and puts his accomplishments in context with United’s star strikers over recent years - Ronaldo, Rooney, Van Persie, et al.
3. Ryan Giggs
Though not a signing, strictly speaking, given that Giggs came through the United youth team 1990, Ferguson managed to keep Giggs at Old Trafford at a time when speedy Welsh midfielder was, no doubt, showered with offers from Europe throughout the 90’s. Playing his entire career at United, Giggs is perhaps one of the most naturally gifted British midfielders of all time and a player who, at his peak, reminded football fans of the genius of George Best, who, like Giggs’, was fearless in his ability to take on defenders; sometimes twice for good luck. 39- year- old Giggs’ consistent success at Old Trafford is down to how he adapted his style to suit his advancing years and his inevitably diminishing pace, to which Ferguson was, no doubt, an influence.
4. David Beckham
Allegedly poached from West Ham’s youth team, fanatical Man Utd fan David Beckham made his Premier League debut in 1995. Known as “Ferguson’s Fledglings”, Beckham came in on a wave of new young players- who included Gary and Phil Neville, Nicky Butt and, of course, Beckham- who would later define the late 90’s / early 2000’s years, which brought Ferguson his greatest achievements- most notably, that 1998 Champions League win that no football fan- whatever their loyalty- will, ever, ever forget.
A recurring theme of Ferguson’s reign at United is his falling out with some of his greatest players; Beckham is no exception. In 2003, after a FA Cup loss to bitter rivals Arsenal, Ferguson launched a boot at Beckham in the dressing room afterwards. Beckham’s jet- setting lifestyle, his ever changing and, sometimes, bizarres hair styles and fashion choices- not to mention his relationship to former Spice Girl, now- wife Victoria- tested Ferguson, a man known to keep his players on a tight leash. Beckham was eventually sold to Real Madrid in 2003 for £35million.
5. Wayne Rooney
It looked like die- hard Toffee Wayne Rooney would never leave Everton. However, in 2004, Rooney’s agent declined a £12,000 a- week- contract from Everton, making Rooney the subject of a bidding war between the clubs at the top of the table. United were successful, signing then- 19 year old Rooney for £25.6million- a record for any player under the age of 20. Perhaps the prodigious English forward of his generation, Rooney scored a hat- trick on his debut for United and scored, in total, 141 league goals.
Again, Ferguson’s relationship with Rooney has been hot and cold, with a recently off- form Rooney playing in the shadow of Robin Van Persie. Rooney is heavily rumored to be leaving Old Trafford this summer for Bayern Munich at a transfer fee of £30million.