Sir Alex Ferguson's 25 Years: A Tainted Legacy at Manchester United

Pop the corks and pour out the bubbly: it's Fergie time as Sir Alex celebrates his 25th anniversary at Old Trafford. But the Scot has somehow left a sour taste with Manchester United supporters.
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Pop the corks and pour out the bubbly: it's Fergie time as Sir Alex celebrates his 25th anniversary at Old Trafford. But the Scot has somehow left a sour taste with Manchester United supporters.

He's fulfilled a club's infinite potential, knocked Liverpool off their perch, conquered Europe and introduced phrases into the Collins English Dictionary. But Sir Alex Ferguson has still left a sour taste with Manchester United supporters despite 25 years of success.

When Alexander Chapman Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford 25 years ago this Sunday, the club was without a league title in 19 years and had won just three trophies since their 1968 European Cup zenith under Matt Busby. The club’s honours board contained seven league titles and six FA Cups in addition to conquering the continent.

Fast-forward to the Scot’s silver(ware) jubilee, and the club now boasts a mammoth 19 titles, 11 FA Cups, two more European Cups and four League Cups. Oh, and once more than England, Manchester United have been world champions twice. It is a measure of the ingenuity and magic that Ferguson has sprinkled on to the Old Trafford turf that the club, a sleeping giant when he journeyed south from Aberdeen, has morphed into one of the most fearsome footballing monsters thanks to his tireless work.

That banner at Anfield in 1993 which read ‘Come back when you’ve won 18’ was justifiable optimism on behalf of Scousers. No United supporter expected to witness their team usurp their rivals in the all-time league honours list in their lifetime, let alone 18 years. Only in 1992 an April defeat on Merseyside signalled one of the most devastating plummets to the depths for many Reds as Leeds United edged them to the league. Some wondered if they’d ever see a United league win, as their hosts gleefully chirped.

But in 1993, United lifted the league for the first time in 26 years, and amidst the hegemony that night the crowd rocked to James’ ‘Sit Down’. The Mancunian outfit’s classic early-90s song boasts the line, ‘If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor,’ and it’s a motto that succinctly encapsulates the feeling of United supporters during the Ferguson era. Those who suffered playground teasing at the 1974 relegation and heard Scousers crow about their latest European success have been compensated with two decades of dominance. Supporters growing up in the 90s couldn’t have had it so good.

It is testament to his greatness that in spite of the Glazers United have experienced one of their most successful and trophy-laden spurts.

So it is with a heavy heart when one states that Ferguson’s legacy is tainted. The gripe doesn’t lie with the club’s underachievement in the Champions League, his getting side-tracked by avarice over the champion racehorse Rock of Gibraltar, or his refusal to buy a midfielder. It is the turncoat mentality he adopted in 2005 when the Glazer family completed their takeover of the club, and his subsequent public support of them in gratuitously glowing terms that rankles.

In one foul swoop he reverted from approachable to aloof. The unfortunate reality is that his refusal to speak out against the takeover could feasibly have evaded the club from the clutches of their leeching owners. Would the banks have lent the Glazers hundreds of millions of pounds if the club’s long-serving and esteemed manager objected to their overtures? Had the Glazers had hire a new manager, then lending the money would have represented a far greater risk – one that the banks simply couldn’t countenance.

But Ferguson’s position was not as fortified as it is now, even after a 6-1 derby debacle. The Coolmore affair, financial dodginess in respect to his agent son Jason and a miserable 2004/05 season was compounded by elimination at the Champions League group stages a few months after the Glazers arrived. By supporting the Tampa-based family, it was fortified. The Glazers needed him more than he needed them.

Ferguson had previously declared his opposition to the looming takeover as ‘unworkable’ and ‘aggressive’, reassuring that he would strive to prevent it until the moment that it counted, when he was MIA. Traitorous or duplicitous? Both.

It stings each time he eulogises about his ‘brilliant’ owners when the bond documents spell out a grave state of financial affairs. The Glazer family has taken vast sums out of United and the club has paid hundreds of millions of pounds for the privilege of having them as owners. Brilliant.

Deliberately, Ferguson continues to distance himself from supporters who hold the club’s morals at heart. From having the temerity to erroneously downplay their role in preventing the 1998 BskyB coup in 2006 to declaring that he ‘didn’t care what the fans think’ in 2009. He has moved the goalposts.

Most memorable though was his Budapest blunder in 2005. With rage still raw over the Star-Spangled Banner being planted in the Old Trafford turf, in August he was confronted by a group of United fans at Budapest airport prior to a Champions League qualifier.

'You've f****d us over Fergie. You could have spoken out about it (the takeover),' he was informed. He merely responded that 'If you don't like it, go and watch Chelsea. See how much it costs for a ticket there.'

Ticket prices at United have gone up 50 per cent over the past five years.

Now he happily entertains the commercial sponsors, freeloaders and tourists (one fanzine has dubbed him the Purples-nosed Plutocrat).

On the road during the club’s pre-season tour of America too, he alerted the coach driver to stop when he noticed a smattering of excitable supporters and consequently invited them on to the coach for autographs and souvenirs. It was a marvellous gesture with one glaring caveat; why doesn’t he treat British supporters with such warmth?

To illustrate the kinship he once had with supporters, he said of the chastening 1989 5-1 derby defeat at Maine Road, ‘Every time somebody looks at me I feel I have betrayed that man. After such a result you feel as if you have to sneak around corners, feel as if you are some kind of criminal.’ Now he instead happily entertains the commercial sponsors, freeloaders and tourists (one fanzine has dubbed him the Purples-nosed Plutocrat) ahead of the hardcore contingent who have followed United to every corner of the Earth. Like pushing away your childhood sweetheart for an affluent yet vacuous model, he is now shallow and a shade of the man supporters could previously identify with.

'Let me get on with my job' he told the irate band in Budapest. It was an understandable counter. He'll always act in the best interests of Manchester United, endeavouring to ensure the club continues to be successful on the pitch. That's his domain, his priority. And it is testament to his greatness that in spite of the Glazers United have experienced one of their most successful and trophy-laden spurts (nine cups in six years). When he talks football, employing the us-versus-the-nation mentality, he is inspirational and followers forget some of the things he has said. TheTimes’ Patrick Barclay stated in his recent copy-and-paste biography of Ferguson that he was not a genius; so what do you call a man who buys a Fulham reserve, an unknown Mexican and a Portuguese vagrant yet still wins the league by nine points?

Supporters should toast what has been a remarkable 25 years, nostalgically reminisce over Rotterdam, Villa Park, Barcelona, Moscow and the world-class players and football they’ve been privileged to witness. Yet some of the champagne will taste sour since despite surpassing Sir Matt Busby's achievements, Ferguson should not be held in the same reverence as United’s first knight. Busby was the iron fist in a velvet glove whereas Ferguson’s the iron fist wielding a sledgehammer, yet his adoration was comparable to Busby's Pre-Glazer. But not Post-Glazer. It never had to be so bittersweet.

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When Alexander Chapman Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford 25 years ago this Sunday, the club was without a league title in 19 years and had won just three trophies since their 1968 European Cup zenith under Matt Busby. The club’s honours board contained seven league titles and six FA Cups in addition to conquering the continent.

Fast-forward to the Scot’s silver(ware) jubilee, and the club now boasts a mammoth 19 titles, 11 FA Cups, two more European Cups and four League Cups. Oh, and once more than England, Manchester United have been world champions twice. It is a measure of the ingenuity and magic that Ferguson has sprinkled on to the Old Trafford turf that the club, a sleeping giant when he journeyed south from Aberdeen, has morphed into one of the most fearsome footballing monsters.

That banner at Anfield in 1993 which read ‘Come back when you’ve won 18’ was justifiable optimism on behalf of Scousers. No United supporter expected to witness their team usurp their rivals in the all-time league honours list in their lifetime, let alone 18 years. Only in 1992 an April defeat on Merseyside signalled one of the most devastating plummets to the depths for many Reds as Leeds United edged them to the league. Some wondered if they’d ever see a United league win, as their hosts gleefully chirped.

But in 1993, United lifted the league for the first time in 26 years, and amidst the hegemony that night the crowd rocked to James’ ‘Sit Down’. The Mancunian outfit’s classic early-90s song boasts the line, ‘If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor,’ and it’s a motto that succinctly encapsulates the feeling of United supporters during the Ferguson era. Those who suffered playground teasing at the 1974 relegation and heard Scousers crow about their latest European success have been compensated with two decades of dominance. Supporters growing up in the 90s couldn’t have had it so good.

So it is with a heavy heart when one states that Ferguson’s legacy is tainted. The gripe doesn’t lie with the club’s underachievement in the Champions League, his getting side-tracked by avarice over the champion racehorse Rock of Gibraltar, or his refusal to buy a midfielder. It is the turncoat mentality he adopted in 2005 when the Glazer family completed their takeover of the club, and his subsequent public support of them in gratuitously glowing terms that rankles.

In one foul swoop he reverted from approachable to aloof. The unfortunate reality is that his refusal to speak out against the takeover could feasibly have evaded the club from the clutches of their leeching owners. Would the banks have lent the Glazers hundreds of millions of pounds if the club’s long-serving and esteemed manager objected to their overtures? Had the Glazers had hire a new manager, then lending the money would have represented a far greater risk – one that the banks simply couldn’t countenance.

But Ferguson’s position was not as fortified as it is now, even after a 6-1 derby debacle. The Coolmore affair, financial dodginess in respect to his agent son Jason and a miserable 2004/05 season was compounded by elimination at the Champions League group stages a few months after the Glazers arrived. By supporting the Tampa-based family, it was fortified. The Glazers needed him more than he needed them.

Ferguson had previously declared his opposition to the looming takeover as ‘unworkable’ and ‘aggressive’, reassuring that he would strive to prevent it until the moment that it counted, when he was MIA. Traitorous or duplicitous? Both.

It stings each time he eulogises about his ‘brilliant’ owners when the bond documents spell out a grave state of financial affairs. The Glazer family has taken vast sums out of United and the club has paid hundreds of millions of pounds for the privilege of having them as owners. Brilliant.

Deliberately, Ferguson continues to distance himself from supporters who hold the club’s morals at heart. From having the temerity to erroneously downplay their role in preventing the 1998 BskyB coup in 2006 to declaring that he ‘didn’t care what the fans think’ in 2009, he has moved the goalposts.

Most memorable though was his Budapest blunder in 2005. With rage still raw over the Star-Spangled Banner being planted in the Old Trafford turf, in August he was confronted by a group of United fans at Budapest airport prior to a Champions League qualifier.

'You've f****d us over Fergie. You could have spoken out about it (the takeover),' he was informed. He merely responded that 'If you don't like it, go and watch Chelsea. See how much it costs for a ticket there.'

Ticket prices at United have gone up 50 per cent over the past five years.

On the road during the club’s pre-season tour of America too, he alerted the coach driver to stop when he noticed a smattering of excitable supporters and consequently invited them on to the coach for autographs and souvenirs. It was a marvellous gesture with one glaring caveat; why doesn’t he treat British supporters with such warmth?

To illustrate the kinship he once had with supporters, he said of the chastening 1989 5-1 derby defeat at Maine Road, ‘Every time somebody looks at me I feel I have betrayed that man. After such a result you feel as if you have to sneak around corners, feel as if you are some kind of criminal.’ Now he instead happily entertains the commercial sponsors, freeloaders and tourists (one fanzine has dubbed him the Purples-nosed Plutocrat) ahead of the hardcore contingent who have followed United to every corner of the Earth. Like pushing away your childhood sweetheart for an affluent yet vacuous model, he is now shallow and a shade of the man supporters could previously identify with.

'Let me get on with my job' he told the irate band in Budapest. It was an understandable counter. He'll always act in the best interests of Manchester United, endeavouring to ensure the club continues to be successful on the pitch. That's his domain, his priority. And it is testament to his greatness that in spite of the Glazers United have experienced one of their most successful and trophy-laden spurts (nine cups in six years). When he talks football, employing the us-versus-the-nation mentality, he is inspirational and followers forget some of the things he has said. TheTimes’ Patrick Barclay stated in his recent copy-and-paste biography of Ferguson that he was not a genius; so what do you call a man who buys a Fulham reserve, an unknown Mexican and a Portuguese vagrant yet still wins the league by nine points?

Supporters should toast what has been a remarkable 25 years, nostalgically reminisce over Rotterdam, Barcelona, Moscow and the world-class players and football they’ve been privileged to witness. Yet some of the champagne will taste sour since despite surpassing Sir Matt Busby's achievements, Ferguson should not be held in the same reverence as United’s first knight. Busby was the iron fist in a velvet glove whereas Ferguson’s the iron fist wielding a sledgehammer, yet his adoration was comparable to Busby's Pre-Glazer. But not Post-Glazer. It never had to be so bittersweet.