Tracking a legend: The timeline of Alex Ferguson’s success

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Eschewing the unmatched list of honors accumulated over this 27 years at Old Trafford, the most repeated anecdote from Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United tenure is about near failure, not his myriad success. That’s because in 1990, in his fourth year with the Red Devils, Ferguson was reportedly on the verge of being fired, with an away match at Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup expected to be his final game in charge. Yet when Mark Robins’ goal snatched a 1-0 upset from the Reds, Ferguson avoided the sacking everyone, in hindsight, thought inevitable. He went on to claim 13 league titles and two European Cups.

That story, as apocryphal as it has become, is often leveraged by those seeking to admonish capricious boardrooms, a use that conveniently contributes to the deification of the legendary boss. Ferguson is an icon, no doubt, and his accomplishments transcend almost any other manager’s, yet there is a point where the Sir Alex iconography becomes too glib – trite. When Ferguson is portrayed as omnipotent and infallible, the irony of his failures is lost. And it’s in those failures that the we see the true character of his journey.

After three-plus unconvincing seasons, Ferguson was in trouble at United. He was also fired once in Scotland. He’s admitted to mistakes in player management (selling Jaap Stam too soon), and in his one World Cup, Sir Alex failed to win a match. He’s often showed undo loyalty to aging favorites, and over the past four seasons, his squads have been criticized for their glaring weaknesses.

In light of his resume, such critiques are trifles, but they do go to show how little we understand of Ferguson’s success. Unable to identify a tactical, managerial, or psychological silver bullet, we tend to look at 13 titles over the last 21 years, throw our hands up in the air, and ascribe it to something the transcends the successes of contemporaries like Wenger, Mourinho, or Guardiola. All we know: Ferguson is constantly able to remake his squads. As to the philosophies that underpin it? We’re content to leave that to folklore.

The truth, for all its troughs and crests, is always much more interesting. Walking through the timeline of Ferguson’s life in soccer, the momentary failures make his triumphs in the game all the more remarkable:

1957-1974 – Playing days

Ferguson was a forward of some renown, spending two seasons at Glasgow Rangers after commanding a record transfer fee (£65,000) to move from Dunfermline. At one point, Ferguson had an opportunity to move to Nottingham Forest in the English First Division but chose to stay in Scotland, where he spent his entire 16-year career. In 317 league appearances, Ferguson scored 171 goals, including a Scottish League-leading 31 in the 1995-66 season.

1957 – While serving an apprenticeship to be a toolmaker, Ferguson debuts for Queen’s Park as an amateur at the age of 16; scores in first appearance.
1960 – Moves to St. Johnstone, finishing his three-year career at Queen’s Park with 15 goals in 31 league appearances.
1964 – Moves to Dumfermline to become a professional after four, part-time years at St. Johnstone, recording 19 goals in 37 games.
1965-66 – Along with Celtic’s Joe McBride, leads the Scottish First Division with 31 goals. His all competition totals: 45 goals in 51 games.
1967 – Transfers to Glasgow Rangers for a then-record £65,000 fee, ending his three-season stretch at Dunfermline (66 goals, 89 games).
1969 – After two seasons with Rangers, Ferguson turns down Nottingham Forest to sign with Falkirk. He leaves Glasgow having scored 25 times in 41 league appearances.
1973 – After four seasons at Falkirk, Ferguson requests a transfer after new manager Joe Prentice removes him from role as player-coach. After 37 goals in 95 league games, Ferguson moves to Ayr United, where he returns to the part-time ranks in 1973-74 (9 goals, 24 games).

source: Getty Images1974-1986 – Managing in Scotland

At 32 years old, Ferguson got his first managerial job – a part-time assignment with East Stirlingshire in June 1974. The appointment was short-lived. After three months, Ferguson was soon poached by the bigger St. Mirren, who he took from struggling in the second division to first division champions over the course of three seasons. In 1978, however, Ferguson was sacked for issuing unauthorized payments to players and disrespectful behavior toward a secretary. Later, the club’s then-chairmen admitted the reason behind the dismissal was Ferguson’s impending move to Aberdeen.

Over the course of the next eight seasons with the Dons, Ferguson won three Scottish Championships, four Scottish Cups, a League Cup and two European trophies: the 1982-83 Cup Winners’ Cup and the 1983 UEFA Super Cup. Since Ferguson’s title triumph in 1984-85, Aberdeen’s failed to win another Scottish title, and his two continental honors remain the club’s only European trophies.

During his last season at Aberdeen, Ferguson managed the Scottish national team in a caretaker capacity after the untimely passing of Jock Stein. After steering them through a qualifying playoff with Australia, Ferguson saw his team take only one point from their group at Mexico 1986.

Back at Abderdeen, Ferguson turned down approaches from Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur to make the move to England, but after starting the 1986-87 season with the Dons, Ferguson was soon lured to Manchester United after the firing of Ron Atkinson.

1974 – Takes first managerial job, a part-time position with East Stirlingshire of the Scottish Second Division.
1974 – St. Mirren lures Ferguson away from East Stirlingshire. Ferguson eventually sees them promoted to the first division.
1977 – St. Mirren wins the Scottish First Division, Ferguson’s first major trophy.
1978 – Ferguson’s fired for the only time in his career, joining Aberdeen one month later.
1980 – Abderdeen breaks a 15-year run of Celtic-Rangers dominance by winning the Scottish First Division.
1982 – Ferguson wins his second trophy at Abderdeen, claiming the Scottish Cup.
1983 – Abderdeen wins the Cup Winners’ Cup, eliminating Bayern Munich and Real Madrid along the way. They’d also retain their Scottish Cup and, later that year, win the UEFA Super Cup.
1984 – Abderdeen claim a league-cup double, retaining the Scottish Cup for a third straight season.
1985 – Ferguson wins this third league title at Abderdeen
1986 – The Dons claim both the Scottish and League cups in what would be Ferguson’s last full season at the club. In November, Ferguson leaves to join Manchester United. In between, Scotland goes 0-1-2 at World Cup 1986, with Ferguson managing the team to a fourth place group finish.

1986-2013 – Manchester United: Four generations of success

Among the marvels of Ferguson’s time at Manchester United was a paradox: Monotony amid change. Ferguson leaves renown for his ability to make over a squad, having gone through four distinct generations during his time at Old Trafford, yet the result was always the same. The Red Devils were always among the favorites to win the league, and in bringing home 13 of the league’s 21 titles, Ferguson repeatedly delivered.

His first title team was built around French attacker Eric Cantona, the iconic libertine poached from rival Leeds United to usher in the most important dynasty in English soccer history. Peter Schmiechel, Gary Pallister, Steve Bruce, Denis Irwin, Paul Ince, and Mark Hughes were also part of 1992-93’s breakthrough squad, as was a young Ryan Giggs, with the likes of David Beckham, Gary Neville, and Nicky Butt lurking in the background.

Roy Keane, the man who’d take the armband from Cantona, joined from Nottingham Forest the next season. Soon Ferguson added Andy Cole. Then Ole Gunnar Salskjaer, Terry Sherringham, Japp Stam and Dwight Yorke. As Paul Scholes emerged along with Phil Neville, Ferguson had slowly turned over his original title winner into a team that would claim Champions League in 1999. With their 2-1 win over Bayern Munich in Barcelona, Ferguson’s side became United’s first European champion in 31 years.

By the time United returned to European glory, only Giggs, Scholes, Gary Neville and Wes Brown remained. By 2008, Edwin van der Saar was in goal. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, and Patrice Evra were the stalwarts at the back. Michael Carrick, Owen Hargreaves, Nani and Anderson were the next faces in the middle, faces built around an attack featuring Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney, and most importantly, Cristiano Ronaldo. Again, Ferguson had remade his squad, and again, he would be European champions, defeating Chelsea on penalty kicks in Moscow.

Since then, Ferguson’s win three more titles (and appeared in two more Champions League finals), bringing in the foundation of what’s likely to be United’s continued success. The goalkeeping legacy is in good hands with David de Gea. Ferdinand, Vidic, and Evra are still present at the back, but so are Jonny Evans, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Rafael. Tom Cleverley’s a regular in midfield, while United continue to amass possess talent wide with Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, and Nani. And just like his 1999 and 2008 European champions, Ferguson has layers of depth in attack: Robin van Persie, Javier Hernandez, Danny Welback, Shinji Kagawa, and Rooney.

source: ReutersIt’s a wealth of talent that leads some to claim Ferguson’s as much a product of his environment as he is its architect, but nobody truly believes that. As much as Ferguson will be remembered as a man who had resources, he’ll be revered as a manager who used them wisely, his ability to turn over his team while still claiming 13 titles still largely left unexplained.

Along the way, he has had his pitfalls. For brief moments, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester City were able to derail his dominance, the latter benefitting from United’s unfathomable collapse at the end of the 2011-12 season. That same year, United failed to make it out of Champions League’s group stage, leading people to look at Ferguson’s thin-middle preferences and wonder if an ever more midfield-centric world wasn’t passing him by.

Having run away with the Premier League in his final season, Ferguson muffled those critics, and in finally leaving, he does so on top, with a breathtaking list of accomplishments to accompany his regresses into retirement:

1986 – Replaces Ron Atikinson as manager at Manchester United.
1990 – Claims first trophy at United – the 1989-90 FA Cup.
1991 – United claims the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, defeating Barcelona 2-1 in Rotterdam. Later in the year, the UEFA Super Cup.
1992 – Ferguson’s first League Cup is his second piece of domestic silverware at United.
1993 – In his fourth year, Ferguson finally breaks through and wins United’s first league title in 26 years.
1994 – United do the league-FA Cup double, their first in club history.
1996 – United again do the league-FA Cup double, claiming their third title in four years.
1997 – Making it four titles in five years, Ferguson again wins back-to-back Premier Leagues.
1999 – For the third time in his tenure, Ferguson wins the league-FA Cup double, only this time, United adds the UEFA Champions League to their trophy haul, winning the “treble.” The Red Devils would go on to win the Intercontinental Cup later in a year Ferguson becomes Sir Alex, knighted by the Queen.
2000 – United wins their sixth title of the Premier League era.
2001 – For the seventh time in nine years, United are champions of England.
2002 – After initially announcing he would retire at the end of the 2001-02 season, Ferguson signs a new deal at Old Trafford. He would manage for 11 more seasons.
2003 – After finishing third the previous season, United reclaims first place, besting Arsenal by five points to claim Ferguson’s eighth title.
2004 – While relinquishing the title, United claim the fifth and final FA Cup of the Ferguson era.
2006 – For the first time in 14 years, United win the League Cup, defeating Wigan Athletic 4-0 in the final.
2007 – After a three-year drought, United win the Premier League, unseating two-time defending champions Chelsea to claim Ferguson’s ninth league title.
2008 – United defend their league tile while claiming the second European Cup of the Ferguson era, defeating Chelsea on penalty kicks in Moscow. They would go on to win the World Club Cup in December.
2009 – For the second time, Ferguson wins three-straight league titles, adding the League Cup. The Red Devils return to the Champions League final only to lose in Rome to Barcelona.
2010 – United makes it back-to-back League Cups, bringing Ferguson’s total to four.
2011 – United reclaim the league title from Chelsea and return to the Champions League final, where they are again defeated by Barcelona, this time in London.
2013 – The Red Devils collect the final trophy of the Alex Ferguson era, clinching the Premier League four rounds before the season’s finale. It’s Ferguson’s 13th league title, bringing his total major trophy haul at United to 28.

Serie A: Inter’s unbeaten start ends; Hamsik equals Maradona

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan’s unbeaten start to the season was brought to an unlikely end Saturday as the Nerazzurri were defeated 3-1 at home by Udinese and went on to lose top spot in Serie A.

Inter captain Mauro Icardi had canceled out Kevin Lasagna’s opener but Udinese put in an impressive second-half performance and took the lead through Rodrigo De Paul’s penalty before Antonin Barak sealed the result.

Napoli moved two points above Inter and back into the lead after winning 3-1 at Torino, with Marek Hamsik matching Diego Maradona’s scoring record.

“We’re obviously disappointed to have lost,” Inter coach Luciano Spalletti said. “Maybe it hurts a bit more because it’s been a bit of time since our last defeat and we’re not used to it anymore.

“It’s nothing to do with tiredness. The players seemed physically fine to me even in the second half when we made a lot of mistakes. The difference was we played the ball badly in the second half and made a lot of silly mistakes.”

Udinese moved 10 points clear of the relegation zone as its revival under new coach Massimo Oddo continued. Oddo has won three league matches after losing to Napoli in his opening game.

“What has changed since my arrival? No one has a magic wand. We do our work but then it’s the lads who go out onto the pitch,” Oddo said. “There’s still a lot of work to do but we are taking giant steps.

“This team never gives up and always gives everything … I think that winning at San Siro against Inter, which was first and unbeaten, is more due to how good my team was and not that Inter played badly.”

Udinese took the lead in the 14th minute when Silvan Widmer cut inside from the right, dribbled in the area and rolled the ball across for Lasagna to tap in.

However, Inter was back on level terms within a minute as Icardi volleyed home Antonio Candreva’s cross.

Inter dominated the rest of the first half and came close to taking the lead on several occasions but Oddo turned things around at the break, and it was Udinese which was stronger in the second period.

The visitors almost took the lead immediately after the restart but Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic somehow managed to deflect Lasagna’s effort over the bar from point-blank range.

Icardi also came close to doubling his tally but he headed a corner over the bar.

Minutes later Udinese was awarded a penalty for handball – after video review showed the ball had not crossed the line before Widmer’s cross was handled by Davide Santon.

De Paul sent his spot-kick straight down the middle to give Udinese the lead in the 61st.

Milan Skriniar almost leveled shortly after but his header came off the bar.

Udinese wrapped up all three points 13 minutes from time when Barak finished off a brilliant counterattack by heading in Jakub Jankto’s cross.

Marek Hamsik matched Diego Maradona’s all-time record of 115 goals for Napoli.

Hamsik reached that tally after 30 minutes on Saturday, scoring the third goal in Napoli’s 3-1 win at Torino.

Dries Mertens controlled the ball in the area and picked out Hamsik, who volleyed into to top right corner.

It has taken the Slovenia midfielder 11 seasons and 477 appearances to reach that tally, while Maradona, who was a forward, set that mark in 259 games in seven seasons with Napoli.

Kalidou Koulibaly had headed Napoli into the lead in the fourth minute and Piotr Zielinski doubled the visitors’ tally in the 25th.

Andrea Belotti netted a consolation for Torino shortly after the hour mark.

Federico Fazio scored a stoppage-time goal to help fourth-place Roma beat Cagliari 1-0 and remain four points behind Napoli.

The Argentine knew little about the goal, however, as Cagliari goalkeeper Alessio Cragno attempted to punch clear a free kick and it ricocheted off Fazio’s stomach and into the back of the net.

Cragno had earlier saved Diego Perotti’s weak penalty after the goalkeeper had fouled Edin Dzeko.

Video review was used on both incidents.

La Liga: Torres lifts Atleti into 2nd, just 3 points behind Barca

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Fernando Torres’ first goal in the Spanish league this season gave Atletico Madrid a hard-fought 1-0 win over Alaves on Saturday and lifted the club into second place behind Barcelona.

Torres broke the deadlock five minutes after going on in the 69th with Atletico’s attack stifled by Alaves’ well-positioned defense.

Diego Simeone’s team took advantage of Valencia’s 2-1 loss at Eibar as Atletico moved two points ahead of its title rival. Barcelona is three points ahead of Atletico before hosting Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday.

“We didn’t have many chances to win the match, but were always in charge. The entry of (Angel) Correa, (Yannick) Carrasco and, especially, Torres gave us that extra bit that we needed to get the win,” Simeone said. “There is still a long way to go in the league. We only look toward our next game and keep trying to improve.”

Torres, a former Liverpool and Chelsea striker, made his run forward in sync with Sime Vrsaljko’s cross from the right flank before sliding to redirect the ball home with his left foot.

At 33 years old, Torres has had to settle for a role as a reserve player behind regular starters Antoine Griezmann and Kevin Gameiro. His goal was his first in any competition this campaign other than the brace he scored against Elche in the Copa del Rey.

Torres’ goal comes just before the arrival of even more competition in Atletico’s attack. Diego Costa and Victor “Vitolo” Machin will join the club in January when its ban on incorporating new players expires.

“I am happy for the goal that came after working so that the coach would play me,” Torres said. “Now I just have to keep at it to get more minutes.”

Despite its failure to reach the knockout rounds of the Champions League, Atletico is as sound as ever in the domestic competition where it is unbeaten through 16 rounds and has won four in a row.

Atletico’s unbeaten streak in La Liga stretches back 20 matches to last season since its loss at Villarreal on April 25.


Valencia took another blow to its surprise challenge for the league lead after losing its second consecutive away game.

Valencia forward Santi Mina equalized in the 57th to cancel out Takashi Inui’s opener for Eibar just after halftime.

But Eibar midfielder Joan Jordan powered in a header from a cross by Ivan Alejo to grab the 2-1 victory for the hosts with three minutes remaining.

The absence of suspended striker Simone Zaza and injured midfielder Carlos Soler showed as Valencia again dropped points away from its Mestalla Stadium. Valencia’s 1-0 defeat at Getafe two rounds ago ended its unbeaten season.

“We didn’t have the scoring touch we needed to take the lead and they took advantage of our inability to finish,” Valencia coach Marcelino Garcia Toral said. “I don’t recall any other chances for Eibar other than the ones they turned into goals. We have to congratulate them for the win, but a draw would have been fair.”

After only one win in the first eight rounds, Eibar has won four and drawn one to rise to seventh place and in contention for a Europa League berth.

The 2 Robbies: Man City Dominate Spurs, Everyone

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After Manchester City dominate Spurs on the back of an incredible performance from Kevin De Bruyne, the Robbies break down his impressive play and stamina (0:30), plus the guys discuss Ederson’s passing and Sterling’s goal scoring. Then, they look at the match from Spurs’ perspective (10:15) — was high pressing the right approach? With big wins from Palace and West Ham, Robbie and Robbie also discuss the “manager bump.” (19:00). And finally, R & R hit on Sunday’s matches (27:45) — West Brom vs. Man United & Bournemouth vs. Liverpool.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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PL Sunday preview: Can Man United, Liverpool keep pace?

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Highly unlikely to overcome 14- and 21-point deficits in the title race, respectively, Manchester United and Liverpool — along with the rest of the Premier League’s top-six — are merely in a race for second. West Bromwich Albion and Bournemouth — their opponents on Sunday, respectively — fear relegation.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City untouchable; Chelsea, Arsenal win narrowly ]

West Brom vs. Manchester United — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Try telling Jose Mourinho, the only man in the PL still refusing to concede the title to Manchester City, that the title race is over. The performances have often been ugly and ground out until the final whistle — especially in the absence of Paul Pogba, who’ll once again be unavailable through suspension — but Mourinho’s men have won five of their last six (the only defeat coming last weekend, to Man City) as they head into Sunday’s annual trip to the Hawthorns, where they’ll face 19th-place West Brom. The Baggies haven’t won in their last 15 PL outings (eight draws), a woeful run which dates back to the second week of the 2017-18 season.

While United have been nearly impenetrable defensively (11 goals conceded in 17 games), a pair of costly errors — each committed by star striker Romelu Lukaku — cost the Red Devils dearly against City, as did their recurring inability (against the PL’s top teams) to control the game through possession and create scoring chances with consistency. The same struggles reared their ugly heads in a 1-0 victory over Bournemouth on Wednesday.

As poor as the results have been over the course of four months, West Brom can hang their hat on a decent defensive record — just 22 goals conceded in 17 games, which puts them squarely in the middle of the table. If Alan Pardew‘s side sets out to defend for 90 minutes, the Baggies might just get something out of Sunday’s clash. Pardew was quite pleased by the improvements he saw during Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool, and he’s hoping for a repeat performance against United.

“We kept them very quiet and created on transition better moments, in the limited number that we had, than we did at Swansea,” he said. “That’s an improvement, but still an area to work on. We had some really strong performances — and if you get four or five ‘eights’ in your team that normally constitutes points.”

INJURIES: West Brom — OUT: Nacer Chadli (hip), Matt Phillips (hamstring), Craig Dawson (knee), James Morrison (achilles); RETURNING: Gareth Barry (thigh)| Man United — OUT: Paul Pogba (suspension), Eric Bailly (ankle), Marouane Fellaini (knee), Michael Carrick (heart)


Bournemouth vs. Liverpool — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Every time Liverpool take a step or two forward, they take a step or two right back to where they began. Case in point: back-to-back wins over Stoke City and Bright & Hove Albion, by a combined score of 8-1, which briefly vaulted them ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in the race for the top-four; followed by back-to-back draws against bottom-half sides Everton and West Brom.

With that side, Jurgen Klopp‘s side is unbeaten in its last eight league games and boasts one of the league’s most potent attacking records (34 goals conceded in 17 games — third-most behind the two Manchester clubs).

Cherries boss Eddie Howe was encouraged by his side’s performances in that narrow loss to United, and the 40-year-old can sense that better days are on the near horizon.

“We’re disappointed because we’ve been beaten, but I’m really pleased with the performance,” he said. “I thought we were very good today and were very disciplined out of possession. We were also very good with the ball and created numerous chances. We really did establish ourselves in the game very early and there were some really good individual performances today. The team functioned very well.”

INJURIES: Bournemouth — OUT: Tyrone Mings (back), Brad Smith (hip), Adam Federici (knee) | Liverpool — OUT: Alberto Moreno (ankle), Adam Lallana (fitness), Joel Matip (thigh), Nathaniel Clyne (back), Emre Can (suspensions); QUESTIONABLE: Daniel Sturridge (hamstring)