On Sunday, Manchester United all but won the Premier League title by beating Chelsea 2-1. They did so with a performance to finally banish Didier Deschamps’ observation that they lacked »fantasy«, piercing the Chelsea defence with a first goal in 36 seconds and then threatening to do so at will throughout the game. Wayne Rooney was a rampaging menace, Ryan Giggs was an ageless artist, and Ji-Sung Park, utterly relentless. It was a joyous afternoon for the Red Devils, who are now one point away from overhauling great rivals Liverpool as England’s most successful club. They will claim their record 19th league title either against Blackburn or Blackpool, and they will do so largely because of one man – Sir Alex Ferguson.
»If he had managed any of the top four clubs this season,« said Alan Hanson on Match of the Day, »they would have won the league.« Coming from a former Liverpool legend, that is magnanimous in the extreme. But in his 70th year, the bespectacled Glaswegian who has manned the United dugout since 1986, commands respect.
When Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford, Liverpool already had 16 of their 18 league titles, United only seven. He has since then installed an astonishing winning culture at the club and demonstrated a never-ending hunger for success. He has not only seen off Liverpool in his time, but withstood Arsenal’s assault on top spot and relegated Chelsea once more to second in the Premier League pecking order. It is worth noting that, caretakers included, Carlo Ancelotti is the 15th Chelsea manager Ferguson has faced in his time – that is a measure of incredible staying power. Here are five of Ferguson’s facets, which might just have helped him to his extraordinary success:
Respectful but not reactionary:
A beaming Sir Bobby Charlton applauded from the stands on Sunday and it is no wonder: Ferguson’s Manchester United play with the same swagger, the same attacking flair, that was gospel under Sir Matt Busby. There is an identifiable heritage at United but one Ferguson has never been a slave to. After seeing his Premier League-conquering sides of the 1990s fail to dominate Europe for example, he discovered a newfound flexibility in the 2000s, abandoning 4-4-2 when required to play a counter-attacking game and even toying with a 4-6-0 after Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s departure.
With a ruthless streak:
In an age where pampered millionaires have caused ructions in other club dressing rooms, Ferguson has never been afraid to remind his players that none are bigger than United. Stars including David Beckham, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane and Gabriel Heinze have all incurred his wrath and left under a cloud, and although Ferguson did sell Jaap Stam too soon following a falling out over remarks in the defender’s autobiography, he admits it was an error of judgement. Unlike say Arsene Wenger, routinely lampooned for his stubbornness, Ferguson learns from his mistakes, too.
Not afraid to delegate:
It is not all bibs, balls and cones for the number twos at United: Ferguson has leaned on a succession of assistants during his long reign to remain fresh. Steve McClaren brought with him sports psychology and video analysis, while Carlos Queiroz is credited with broadening United’s tactical pallet and attracting Portuguese stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani to the club. Similarly, Ferguson has relied on his veterans to instil the club’s values in young players. »Ryan Giggs educates people in the dressing room,« pointed out ex-Arsenal defender Lee Dixon over the weekend. »I’m sure he does a lot of Ferguson’s work in there for him.«
A showman, too:
From his headline-grabbing »mind games« with rival managers to his grand bow in front of Old Trafford’s Stretford End after Sunday’s game, Ferguson is a man who knows he is in the entertainment business. He best sides have played electrifying football, but in their will to win have also established United as the go-to club for drama. The denouement of 1999’s Champions League final has etched itself into club mythology and United now delight in snatching breathtaking late wins. Ferguson loves it – and so do the 76,000 who fill Old Trafford every other weekend. »We should have been out of sight but that's the way of Manchester United.« Said Ferguson after Sunday’s victory. »We take it to the wire, leave those poor souls in the stands having heart attacks, sitting on the edge of their seats, biting their nails – and I was one of them.«
And no grumpy old man:
Ok, he can be a little curmudgeonly (banning coloured boots in the youth team and snoods for the first team), but for a 69-year-old man, Ferguson brims with energy. It is worth remembering that Ferguson was supposed to retire in 2002 – instead he has found a new lease of life working with young players. Both Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney seemed to rekindle his appetite for the game, and this season it is likely that Javier Hernandez has had a similarly revivifying effect. Even the Da Silva twins have been trusted in clutch games this season and both shone. Rafael’s performance against Gareth Bale when Tottenham Hotspur visited Old Trafford will for example have put a youthful spring in Ferguson’s step. Wrapping up the season with a third Champions League title would no doubt have a similar effect on him. And who right now would bet against Ferguson managing that?
An dieser Stelle erklärt Titus Chalk die englische Fußball-Kultur auf Deutsch
Folge 38: Devon Loch
Es spricht wahrscheinlich Bände über Englands Sportskultur, dass wir uns noch erinnern, so einen spektakulären Misserfolg wie Devon Loch. Die Name des Rennpferds wird noch heute in Fussball benutzt wenn eine Mannschaft die Tabelle mit so viele Punkte führt, dass einen unvorstellbaren Einbruch nötig wäre, damit sie nicht die Liga gewinnen. Wahrend des Grand Nationales 1956 hat Devon Loch kurz vor die Ziellinie plötzlich gesprungen und hat dann sich auf seinem Bauch hingelegt. Nach Fuhren, hat er das Rennen nicht gewonnen. Das Leben ist hart. Es musste sich ausruhen. Wer versteht nicht dieses berüchtigtes Pferd?