Ferguson is now a class apart
FAILURE is not a word that comes easily to Sir Alex Ferguson.
In the lead up to the historic first all-English Champions League final against Chelsea in Moscow, he repeated the following phrase: "Time and time again I have said this club should have had more success in Europe."
He was right. The one blot on Ferguson's record in 22 years at Old Trafford was that he reached the Champions Cup final just once in 1999, albeit lifting the trophy in Barcelona against Bayern Munich after arguably the most thrilling finale in football history.
That matched the feat of Sir Matt Busby, who guided United to triumph against Benfica in 1968.
But two wins, when Real Madrid can boast nine, AC Milan seven and Liverpool five was a poor return for a club of United's standing.
Ferguson now has the second Champions League title of his career. It is unlikely he will want to stop there.
The fire still burns inside Ferguson, even though he has so many major trophies to his name at Old Trafford.
It is another reason why, love him or hate him – and few sit on the fence when it comes to Ferguson – the man demands respect.
The drive he still provides at 66 is akin to a force of nature.
Indeed, it is difficult to see how United could have gained and maintained their current dominance without the passion and application of the man who must surely be the greatest football manager Britain has ever seen.
Bill Shankly was a great innovator. Bob Paisley protected the Shankly legacy with pride and copious trophies, including three European Cups.
Jock Stein was a monumental force at Celtic, Brian Clough perhaps the most naturally-gifted motivator the game has seen, while in the modern day Arsne Wenger and Jose Mourinho have made their mark.
But when gauging the two greatest managers in English football, then surely it comes down to two Scots bewitched by the lure of Europe.
One in Busby, hewn from a mining community. Another in Ferguson, with family values forged in the harsh environment of the Govan shipyards. Tough, uncompromising characters.
Yet while Busby was the pioneer with the courage to defy the FA and take United into Europe, and while so much of United's history is entwined in his leadership, for sheer consistency and burning desire Ferguson surely now has the edge in a sport that ultimately comes down to silverware.
How appropriate then that Ferguson's second Champions League final should come in the season United commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Munich air crash.
It was Busby who created the swashbuckling team known as the 'Busby Babes'.
It was Busby who rose from Munich to build another great team that boasted George Best, Dennis Law and Bobby Charlton.
But it is Ferguson who has protected the United tradition of winning with style in a money-obsessed era when so many have resorted to more pragmatic routes.
At times Ferguson's decisions have been difficult to fathom.
He fell out with Jaap Stam, David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Roy Keane.
Some of his signings, such as Kleberson, Eric Djemba-Djemba and Juan Sebastian Veron, have raised eyebrows. Some have been positively brilliant, such as Cristiano Ronaldo.
And some players, such as Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, still form the heartbeat of the club they have served for more than 15 years since Ferguson nurtured them as schoolboys in the United academy. Yes, Ferguson can be impatient and irascible. He can be ruthless. He thinks nothing of intimidating referees while criticising others for a lack of respect.
But his contribution has been key in making United one of the richest and most powerful forces in world football.
At an age when some pensioners struggle to find the energy to do much more than sift through the TV listings, Ferguson is as passionate as ever about winning.
The blend of youth and experience in the current United side is such that they could be the dominant force for the best part of the next decade.
Ferguson will not stay that long, but you can guarantee he will be looking for another European trophy before he departs.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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