is finally retiring. Ferguson has been rumored to be retiring for over a decade now, and I can still recall the sure bet that it was about ten years ago for Celtic manager Martin O’Neil to take over United. Being a right thinking individual, and an Arsenal supporter, I’m not a fan of Manchester United, like I’m not a fan of the New York Yankees. Likewise, I don’t really like Ferguson. However, it’s difficult to ignore the results. What he did with both Aberdeen in the 1980s, and United since 1986, is pretty remarkable. While the Aberdeen side he took over were sporadically competitive, he broke the Old Firm monopoly with three titles in eight seasons, capped by a (now defunct) European Cup Winners Cup victory over Bayern Munich in 1983. In 1986, Man U had last won the league title in 1966/67 (and the European Cup in 1968, one year after Celtic became the first British side to win it, mind), and were even relegated at the end of the 1974 season. When Ferguson was hired, they were 21st in the league. It would take seven seasons before United won their first title under Ferguson in 1993, which indicates a patience not typical in the present day. Including 1993, United have won 13 league titles, two European Cups (in the guise of the UEFA Champions League), five FA Cups, and four League Cups. In short, United under Ferguson have been consistently more annoying than the Yankees.
Yeah, he’s been annoyingly successful. More interesting is comparing that success. The media here on this island are lauding him as the best British manager ever, and they might be right. Major trophies include 16 league titles, nine FA cups, five league cups, two European Cups, and two Cup Winners Cups, as well as a series of minor European and domestic trophies. I don’t have the time to do a comprehensive review, but the competition that comes to mind include Bob Paisley (only six top flight titles, no FA cups, but three European Cups), Matt Busby (5, 3, and 1), and Jock Stein (10 and 8, but all in Scotland, and one European Cup). It gets a little more competitive (and complicated) when comparing Ferguson internationally. Ferguson is one of 17 managers to have won the European Cup twice (the record remains Paisley’s three). I’m curious if anybody has replicated his sustained success both domestically and in European (or the relevant regional association) competition. The names I’m coming up with all seem to fall short somehow. Rinus Michels (four Eredivisie, one LaLiga, one European Cup, one European Championship, one World Cup funner-up), del Bosque (the World Cup, European Championship, two Champions Leagues, but only two LaLiga titles). Trapattoni? Maybe Hitzfeld (seven Bundesliga titles, two Swiss titles, and winning the Champions League with two different clubs)? What is clear is that if Real Madrid could have stuck with one manager for longer than five minutes at any point in their career (especially the late 1950s) Ferguson would have clear competition. And the next generation have a couple candidates that, if they replicate his longevity, might likewise compete (Guardiola and Mourinho specifically). But such longevity is rare; Johan Cruyff, who is five years younger than Ferguson, hasn’t managed a club since 1996.
A couple interesting facts about Ferguson — his first managerial job was at the mighty (and this past season, peer of Rangers) East Stirlingshire, subject of a very good book about quite possibly the worst professional team in Britain: Pointless. Second, his first match in charge of Man United? A 2-0 loss at Oxford United, who are currently settled in the fourth tier of English soccer.