The real genius of Sir Alex
By Jeffrey Cammack
He is to Manchester United what Bill Shankly is to Liverpool, what Herbert Chapman or Arsene Wenger is to Arsenal and what Bill Nicholson is to Tottenham. Only Sir Alex Ferguson’s achievements outstrip them all.
But what is it, this undeniable brilliance, that Sir Alex has for putting together title winning team after title winning team, year after year? Even amidst the unsettling backdrop of the future of the club being contested in the media?
If you ask 100 football pundits, fans or players, then you may well get 100 different answers as to what it is that Sir Alex has that other managers just can’t match. Many will talk of his unfaltering desire, his fierce will to win, his passion for the game, his disciplinarian style that sees him in total control, his tactical acumen or the fact that he has placed so much faith, and money, into the clubs much vaunted youth system and is now reaping the rewards of his labour.
Fans of other teams may point out that Manchester United have so much more money, or that officials favour his teams for fear of upsetting him. But even if that were true, and such claims are undeniably spurious when given any careful consideration, they still do not explain his level success over nearly a quarter of a century. Or why when a new season rolls around, the betting exchanges are alive with fans of all clubs backing Sir Alex’s latest team for all the major honours.
So while opposition fans may vacuously moan about United’s wealth or their influence over officials and pundits and players claim any one of Fergie’s talents as the truth behind his longevity, the truth of the matter is actually far simpler than any of them would like to give him credit for.
The truth is Sir Alex Ferguson isn’t a football genius because he can buy the world’s best players. Any manager who is afforded such luxury would be able to make a team capable of success.
No, the truth is that Sir Alex Ferguson is a football genius because he has an uncanny knack of buying the RIGHT players.
Take Brian Clough as an example. Clough freely admitted that he had a very simple way of playing the game, but that he couldn’t spot a player like Peter Taylor could. Between them they took Nottingham Forest to the final of the European Cup and won the league with Derby County and Nottingham Forest.
Sir Alex’s football philosophy is equally as simple as Cloughies, the only difference is that he also spots the right players, at the right time, to fit into that simple footballing style. Furthermore, he isn’t daunted by the prospect of paying top money for the right player. £20m for a teenage Wayne Rooney seemed, almost unbelievably now, a gamble at one point. He’s now worth four times that at the very least. The same with the £12.24m paid to Sporting Lisbon for Cristiano Ronaldo.
Oh admittedly, he hasn’t got it right all the time. No manager has, but what makes Fergie special is just how often he does get it right. For every Eric Djemba Djemba or Kleberson, there’s a Wayne Rooney, Park Ji Sung, Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand, Edwin Van Der Sar, Luis Antonio Valencia or Cristiano Ronaldo and that is just from the recent generation.
And it isn’t just signing players in the transfer market. Ferguson’s active involvement at all levels at the club has reaped huge rewards and continues to do so to his very day. From “Fergie’s fledglings” including the likes of Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt and record appearance holder Ryan Giggs, through to players in the current squad such as Darron Gibson, Rafael and Darren Fletcher, his investment in youth has reaped massive dividends. To continually identify talent of this ability over a sustained period of almost 25 years, with the level of success he has, is truly staggering.
So, he may have plenty of money to spend on players, he may have the biggest club in English football and the love and adoration of every Manchester United fan the world over, but Sir Alex Ferguson’s brilliance lies in the simplicity of being able to identify the players he needs to make a winning team.
His real genius is doing it time and time again, through three generations and over twenty five years and it is a legacy that will be difficult, if not impossible, to surpass.