Thursday, 27 August 2009

Icon #23 Sir Alex Ferguson

It's one of those moments in life that you dread. You know it's coming, that staving off the inevitable can't last for ever and so tonight my Icon post is about someone who's been a part of my life for 22 years. More's the pity.

Writing about Fergie is not going to be easy. I've mused over this all day as I had a fair idea that tonight I would choose him as the 'Icon'.

Let me start at the start. (Seems like a good place eh?)

United were not a great side when he joined them from Aberdeen and the gruff Scott did not turn things around immediately. Sure they had Brian Robson but in 1987 they were a poor side going the wrong way. By 1990 things hadn't got much better for them. Liverpool were still winning titles and Arsenal had emerged, under George Graham as a proper force with some pretty ugly football.

By the time we rolled into January 1990 the knives were out for Fergie. His job, or so the papers decided, rested on one game, a third round FA Cup tie against Forest at the City Ground. I watched the match and cheered on United. Why? Because at the time I probably saw United as less of a threat to Liverpool winning the double than Forest. It didn't actually feel that 'wrong' at the time, most of my football hate was directed at Arsenal. I can remember clearly, Mark Hughes' deft cross with his instep and Mark Robbins' placed header that won the match for United. We all, United fans included, had no idea that this would be a turning point for Fergie.

They went on to win the Cup (after two of the best Semi Finals ever played) against Crystal palace in a replay. They were starting to show some of the spirit that would be such an important, galvanising influence on the way the team played and fought for every match.

That was the first trophy and that was followed up with the Cup Winner Cup the next season and the League Cup after that. What happened next was inevitable and sadly for me coincided with Liverpool losing their grip on dominating the English game. In 1992-93 United won, the newly titled, Premier League becoming Champions of England for the first time in twenty five years. And then it all just went mental. And it hasn't stopped.

There's been ten more League titles since then, two European Cups (Champions League younguns) and lots of Cups. I'd list the Cups to, but it all just gets a bit depressing. In 1999 they won the League, the FA Cup and the Champions League in the same season. It was truly awful.

Behind this avalanche of success is one man. You, yep even me, can't help but admire that. In fourty years time there will be United fans still singing his name on the Stretford End much as Shankly's name still rings out on the Kop.

Ferguson joined United at a low(ish) point in their history, rode his luck a bit for a few seasons, but then built a great United team and he's kept building great United teams ever since. Yes he came along at the right time, just as the game was changing and United clearly had some great people behind the scenes who suddenly realised that they had one of the most iconic brands in the world on their hands. But you can't shake the feeling that without him at the helm it wouldn't have happened.

Do I just dislike him for his success. No. Although that's probably about 85% of it. (Hey, I'm a Liverpool fan, give me a break.) The feud with the BBC has gone on way too long. His attitude towards other managers is questionable, at best. He thoroughly enjoys winding people up, although Rafa, you really shouldn't have got involved last year. I hate mind games and he's the God of them. The man is just about as abrasive a character as you could get. And yet somewhere amongst all that is a man who can inspire greatness from footballers. In all honesty it's hard to knock that.

His teams have played some of the best football I've ever seen. The year of the Treble I actually wanted them to win the League because the football they played was such a class apart from anything the other teams that year managed.

Mourinho, Wenger, and anyone else you care to mention, he's faced them down and won. The team keeps evolving and changing but he never does.

I'm fairly sure that he will win United their nineteenth title and retire. That's all about getting one over on Liverpool. I hate that. But that nineteenth title is as inevitable as the first one was. It'll come, the interesting thing will be what happens after he goes, because who ever comes in to replace him, it just won't feel like the same club any more. And that's why Sir Alex Ferguson is an Icon. He is Manchester United.

'If Chelsea drop points the cats out of the bag and you know what cats are like. Sometimes they don't come home.' (Mind bullets, right there!)

Tonight's post is dedicated to AT, @debsa, @butterflygrrrl, @FatmanSlimming, @Jeemie1970 and JMcG.