The Legend, Sir Alex Ferguson

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Well for me personally, Sir Alex Ferguson is the best football manager and also the primary reason why I become fans of MU now. So these are the facts that we must learn about the legend itself (source: fmhvibe.co.uk):

Why Sir Alex Ferguson?:
Apart from being one of the most influential managers in the past 30 years Sir Alex is one of the most recognizable of all time. His way of managing has invoked many new terms between football fans and his Manchester United team is the pinnacle of success in England creating famous rivalries between most clubs and his side. But what makes him special? The numbers don’t lie on this one, 26 years in the hot seat of the red side of Manchester is a huge amount of time. Taking 4 seasons to win a trophy but after that his reign was littered with more than he or any other Manchester United manager could have imagined. A massive 1500 games in charge of Manchester United resorted in 895 wins, 13 Premier League titles, 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, 2 Champions Leagues and a FIFA Club World Cup in which sums up just how great a manager he really was. On the way he personally picked up 1 LMA manager of the decade award, 3 LMA manager of the years, 11 Premier League manager of the seasons, 27 Premier League manager of the month awards, 1 UEFA manager of the year and 2 UEFA manager of the season awards.

Not only are his records great he has had to withstand a lot more than most and adapt to a changing football economy and a reform of the Premier League in which he has done with not only grace but also without any hiccups along the way. He has bought together some of the best squads football has ever seen including a treble winning side in 1999 and some of the best players in Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. His ability to not only integrate world class players into squads easily as he has proved with Robin Van Persie in whom helped him when the Premier League title in his last season as a manager but also bring up legends such as Ryan Giggs from very young has made him a very versatile and admirable coach who will be missed in the game.

Many players and managers alike have praised him/cited him as an inspiration or reason for signing and rightly so. His man management style and criticisms of the referees have been controversial at times but he has always gotten the best out of a lot of his players and turned them into stars despite taking a risk on them as he did with Dimitar Berbatov and Rio Ferdinand. While it is impossible to get it 100% as Owen Hargreaves proved his rate is much higher than others and he has even found players for very cheap compared to what he can sell them for with Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney being in this category despite him being a sizable fee for the England striker rumors persist that the club can sell him for a greater price than he paid. While luck played a huge part in his career no one can deny he didn’t take opportunities to use his skill and was one of the best managers to grace the game being a father figure to former FIFA player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo and attracting hot prospect Robin Van Persie to the club just for being himself.

Tactical Makeup:
While you cannot pin a set formation or style on a 26 year career you can identify several trends. During his time football changes massively and different types of players come and go making it virtually impossible to stick to one set way of playing, for example you could say that Sir Alex Ferguson uses wingers. His types of wingers however change, this is highlighted with his use of David Beckham then Cristiano Ronaldo followed by Antonio Valencia as each one is different and a winger in their own right with their own traits. We will touch on this later though, it just proves how versatile he has had to be to withstand the test of time.

Where do we start in a span of 26 years? There are so many similarities to each side despite the revolutions when you look under the hood and compare them side by side but the most obvious place to start is their defense. Despite being absent against West Bromwich Albion in a 5-5 draw to mark the end of his management career. Signing at the time a player who became the world’s highest paid defender back in 2002; a record that wasn’t broken until 2012 by Paris Saint-Germain signing Thiago Silva, Ferguson’s sides have always been reliant on great goalkeepers and defenders. In his career at Manchester United Sir Alex has over +1000 goal difference in which is a massive amount to consider he managed them for 1500 games.
Firstly when considering the defence you have to look at the shape and for this it is easy, Sir Alex has always had a back four resisting the temptations to be influenced by the Italian game of the back 3/5 despite some teams in England trying to use it to beat his Manchester United side. The spine of his back 4 has always been leaders; his centre backs in particular follow this trend but it isn’t restricted to this, though the likes of Nemanja Vidic (current Manchester United captain), Rio Ferdinand (former England captain), Gary Neville (former Manchester United captain), Jaap Stam (former Ajax captain). He likes players at the back to command and be responsible for his team and has often chosen defensive players as his captains due to this.
He also has a preference for attacking wing backs with Rafael the latest player to provide an example of an attacking threat but also a high press like Gary Neville did before his retirement. In the last season of Ferguson’s career Rafael accumulated 2312 minutes on the pitch with 3 goals and 5 assists. Other examples are Patrice Evra, Dennis Irwin and Phil Neville. The use of the attacking wing backs means that his teams can stop attacks high up the pitch but also there are goals from everywhere giving his team’s play a variety and taking use of the cliché that wingers don’t track back.

Now the midfield zone is often complex, looking at Ferguson’s past teams he has deployed a 4231, 433, 41212, 442 and 4411 throughout his career all using the players at his disposal to create a lop-sided plays based on fluidarity and strengths. A common trend is his deployment of his midfield is a defensive player, we have seen the antics of Roy Keane fulfil this task with great success though the “bulldog” approach the Irishman took with Carrick still the defensive heartbeat and the first line of defence despite being a calmer and more collected player. This player seems to be the heartbeat of any Ferguson team with Scholes’ U-turn on retirement being clinical in the late revival for the title in 2011/12, his approach to pressing and winning the ball back is typical of a player who has grown up under the wing of the Scotsman.
The other common midfield trend is the passer, though in Scholes this was the same person it can happen all over midfield and is known to keep the play moving, one of the most notable is David Beckham who’s long passing range and pin point accuracy from the right wing made him renowned throughout the world. The passers play a key part in the “Ferguson structure” in order to get the high turnovers into dangerous situations quickly.
The last and probably most defining section of what makes Sir Alex’s teams his own are his willingness to stick to wingers despite the rest of the world seemingly dropping them. His use of a striker as a winger as he has done with Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez in order to rotate Ronaldo around with them in what was his 2008 Champions League winning team. He has done this too with Danny Welbeck in the last 2 seasons as Manchester United manager instead of opting to play him up front with Robin Van Persie. As mentioned before he has used many types of wingers from the fast player (Antonio Valencia), the shooting winger (Cristiano Ronaldo) and the playmaker (David Beckham). The fact Ferguson sticks to them no matter what shows his desire to play wide men and his love for the position and its traits.

Up front is where it gets a bit easier to identify, Ferguson likes to play only 2 strikers but only one “up front”. The use of polar opposites in the two attacking positions often lends a hand to this with the Rooney-Van Persie/Tevez lines with Rooney being the support player and Van Persie/Tevez playing in a more advanced position allowed to run wherever they please. Another opposite shown in Ferguson’s strikers were the fast-strong in Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke link in 1999, showing his use of what he has to suit his system.

Transfer Policies:
Aided by the excellent Manchester United academy and a big transfer budget Sir Alex Ferguson has changed the careers of many footballers. Spending big but never on anyone over 27 isn’t shocking to any Manchester United fan but his big spending on risks such as Wayne Rooney, Phil Jones and Rio Ferdinand have nearly always paid off and gave not only incredible players to the club for many, many years. While risks such as Owen Hargreaves and Juan Sebastian Veron hasn’t paid off his rate for aiding gems is unbelievably accurate if you include the youth players he’s nurtured into the system in which create a great base for the squad consisting of mostly British players. Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick and Ashley Young were all British players who fit in these two categories from the last title winning season he had.

The other policy he adapts is signing cheap overseas players with Javier Hernandez, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra the flagship for this title. Though his squad is based heavily on British players as shown above he also likes to sign foreign ones and even more so for cheap. He believes this can create a squad harmony and certain squad depth that wins the title and who can argue with 13 Premier League titles to his name. Looking for young gems who can play back up as Vidic did but then break into the first team is relying on judgement and timing, though it is worth noting Pogba can be considered a miss on this part yet everyone’s human. Looking at lesser nations and not Spain/Italy/Germany as he did though is something Newcastle are trying to mimic but the way Ferguson did it with so much success is something every Football Manager fan would only hope to do.

As you may now see Ferguson’s spine is British but also he mixes the foreign game into his philosophy, buying players less than 27 is his idea so he gets the most out of each even if he sells them on like he did with Dimitar Berbatov and David Beckham. There is no way to say why he sells every player but he likes to get the most out of each and have a back up in place though it is well publicised about his fall out with Beckham being the reason. His aim of the back up policy is the reason he delves into the markets to sign youngsters (shown with Smalling and Jones to replace Vidic, Rafael to replace Gary Neville and Ronaldo to replace Beckham). He knows his teams will play a lot of games so having the quality and drive in numbers is the reason why his teams succeed and means he can buy only a few names a year such as Robin Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa to improve the team.

Man Management:
Ferguson is never one to shy away from attention, always having run ins with the FA over dodgy decisions made by officials though you will never see him make negative criticism about his own players in public. While he may be brash with his decisions and allows his top players to leave (as he did with David Beckham to Real Madrid) over disputes in public he will always praise his players no matter what. As a manager he is stuck and it is his way or the highway in a lot of cases so you won’t see him getting bullied by players for new contracts often. Wayne Rooney’s desire to leave for Chelsea resulted in some praise from Ferguson in the background and that changed his mind over going and got him an extended deal for his troubles of wanting to leave.

Summary:
As you can see Ferguson is a man of many talents, relying on a bit of luck as all successful managers do but mainly his own skill, determination and management style to win him the trophies he has. There will be no doubt that he will be missed by fans and rivals alike but in order to learn from he will inspire a whole generation of managers and more. The use of an excellent academy and adaptation has allowed him to have some of the best footballers grow under him while maintaining his views on football and his beliefs on how it should be played never allowing a person to push him around.

For my closing I would like to say thank you to such a legend of the game, his ways of surviving in a dog eat dog world with multiple things changing beyond his control in an ever-growing business to remain on top is not only admirable but also an impossible task for most. His loyalty has created a dynasty in Manchester United and football in general’s history and is one that will be in the history of this great sport forever.

An idol, a rival, a legend. Goodbye Sir Alex Ferguson and thanks for the memories. 

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One thought on “The Legend, Sir Alex Ferguson

  1. your blog is great….we, Managers Consultants (www.key-leader.co.il) talk of Managers differently than you do, when you review Sir Alex Ferguson career. By a twist of fate, “coach” has become one of the best known technologies of Managers education.
    We still will have a lot to learn from this legendary career…..

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