Through Gritted Teeth #8: Alex Ferguson

by Thomas Levin

It’s hard to write about Alex Ferguson without covering what has already been said before. Very few people will disagree that he is at least one of the top 3 managers of all time: 11 of Manchester United’s 18 league titles, and likely soon to take Liverpool’s record. If you add to that two European Cups (so far), it’s safe to say that he is the most successful manager of our time.

1986: a year before my own birth, and the year that Alex Ferguson took the reins at Manchester United. I grew up on the other side of the East Lancs road and, influenced by my mum’s family, grew up supporting a Liverpool side including Robbie Fowler and Rob Jones. For the 23 years I have been on this green planet Liverpool fans have had to watch on as the arch rival has become a major force of world football. I was told by every other fan that I should hate that team, rile their supporters and never utter the words ‘Manchester United’ while in polite company.

After moving to St Helens in my early teens I entered an alien world. No longer was I going to school with just Liverpool or Everton disciples, but in the industrial Lancanshire town it was safe to pledge your allegiance to Manchester United. Fans had a lot to gloat about, and God did they gloat! No longer did I have the bragging rights, as I had had over my inter-city rivals; now I had to compete with a team on top of the table. Success breed arrogance, not helped by the unlikeable personality of Alex Ferguson: his utter disregard for the successful sides around him seemed to manifest itself in every one of his fans.

But I had a guilty secret, through the hatred of the man and the wind ups from my classmates, I actually admire Alex Ferguson and what he has given football in my lifetime, the teams he has constructed and the brand of football he has played all these years. This has stayed very much a secret: partly through not wanting to give the United fans the satisfaction that I actually admire the club, and partly not wanting to alienate myself from my fellow Scousers.

For me the most impressive side of my generation was the 2007/08 Champions League winning side. Ferguson was never a great tactical innovator, but he is an intelligent observer of the game able to adapt his tactics as modern football dictates. That side encompassed all of this, and had, in Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo, a front three so fluid and deadly it tore defences apart. Influenced by Luciano Spalletti’s 4-6-0 false-nine formation, they played football to win, a solid foundation at the back allowing the golden three to produce some of the best attacking football in the world.

However, Ferguson’s highest achievement — what he should be known for not only now but after his departure — is how he has sustained success over several generations. Béla Guttmann had a golden rule not to spend more then three years at a club. He believed that after that time you struggle to motivate and influence the players at your disposal. And football is littered with too many examples of great managers getting to the top and tumbling back down again. But the respect that Ferguson demands has extended his ability to put together a side with the right attitude: always hungry, always with a winning mentality and always building for the future. No matter who you are if you disrupt that mentality, then you’re out; it’s as important as technical ability, as club idols Roy Keane, Jaap Stam and David Beckham know all too well.

He will continue to annoy me with his ability to wind people up, his arrogance toward the media, and his abuse of the power that success has brought him. Off the pitch I despise him, but on the pitch he continues to amaze, doing what I so wished my Liverpool side could have done and what it did before my birth. I have watched my side win FA Cups, travel to several European Cup finals (one of which stands as the best final of modern times). Liverpool’s success is something many clubs would be envious of, but is only second best when compared to United.

Now Alex Ferguson is about to knock Liverpool “off their fucking perch” I can only look to applaud the great manager and the greatest team I have had to witness in my lifetime. Manchester United have shown themselves a worthy side for their titles. Many of my fellow fans would have rather we had rolled over against Chelsea and Arsenal to delay a 19th title for Manchester United; I, for one, disagreed. I would like to see the good times back at Anfield and regain our time at the top of the table by concentrating on our own football, by winning every game, instead of colluding with others to stop United.

And secretly, I couldn’t have imagined a better Champions League final than United and Barcelona.

Thomas Levin is a brave, brave man. He writes for Touchline Shouts and edits Football Manager Pundit. You can find him on Twitter @fmpundit, assuming he hasn’t been chased off the internet by furious Scousers.

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