For over a decade, we’ve been hearing about Sir Alex Ferguson thinking about stepping down from his eternal hold on the Manchester United managerial seat, not to mention on the “King of English Football” title. After 40 years as a football manager, at the age of 71, bowing down as Premier League champion once again, he decided it’s time to say goodbye to the team, the fans and the game.
It’s an understatement to call Ferguson the most successful manager in the history of British football, but maybe a look at some of the numbers that have defined his 27 year career with Manchester United will do it better than anything else.
Championships are always the most important number, and Alex Ferguson began turning Manchester United into an empire just when the English Football decided to turn the top flight into the Premier League. When Ferguson won his first title, Liverpool had 18 league titles, Manchester United had 7. Ferguson once declared on his desire to knock Liverpool off their f&^*ing perch, and accomplished that with the title in 2011. Everything usually came in streaks. The 1993 championship was the first for the club in 26 years, followed by another one in 1994. Then came 1996 and 1997, a short break and then three in a row: 1999-2001. Again in 2003, before a three year drought, something United haven’t been used to since starting to pick up silverware. Another three peat followed: 2007-2009, then 2011 and 2013.
Since the European Cup became the Champions League, it has become more than just a means to make money. It’s the grand prize, the one thing that can sooth the aches of a bad season in the league. Alex Ferguson fancies Manchester United to be one of the biggest clubs in the world, but when he took over in 1986, the team had only one European cup, compared with the 4 Liverpool had or the 2 Nottingham Forest managed to win, not even mentioning clubs like Ajax, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Bayern Munich.
Then came the season of destiny, with the improbable finish in the 1999 final against Bayern, and Ferguson won his first. He had to wait nine more years until John Terry slipped, and he won his second. Ferguson still felt two doesn’t truly represent the size and importance of Manchester United, but Barcelona stood in his way in 2009 and 2011. His last two seasons ended quite soon – once in the group stage, and then against in the knockout stage.
Since Alex Ferguson was appointed to the position at Manchester United, the other members of the traditional top 4 have had 31 different people hold the position of manager at the club. One man since November 1986, opposed to 31 running Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, although some of them have been short lived caretaker appointments. Still, while success and being a global brand might be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the Red Devils, stability at the managerial position might be the most important ingredient in all that success.
It’ll end with a nice round number for Alex Ferguson. He’s managed Manchester United in 1498 matches up to this point, winning just less than 60% of them, 893, drawing 337 and losing 268. If you add it up to what he did in Scotland with Aberdeen, St. Mirren and East Stirlingshire we’ll reach 2143 competitive matches at club level (and add 10 with the Scottish national team), winning just over 58% of his matches over the years.
Nothing symbolizes the change in dominance better than the rise of Manchester United compared with the gradual decline of Liverpool. It shows in the matches between the clubs as well: Manchester United won 26 of 54 matches between the teams in the league under Alex Ferguson, 13 more ending in draws and 15 more won by Liverpool. Before his arrival, the balance tilted slightly in favor of Liverpool, winning one more match than United up until that point.
The first few seasons of Alex Ferguson at the helm after taking over for Ron Atkinson weren’t that successful. United finished 11th at the end of his first season, and after a promising second place finish in 1988 came season of 11th and 13th. Ferguson was quite close to getting sacked. But thing changed as the decade turned. United finished 2nd on the last season of the old division 1 label, and since then have only three seasons of finishing below second (2002, 2004, 2005) and none beneath that. Besides his 13 Premier League titles, he also has five runners-up finishes, most of them being decided on the final day of the season.