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Retrospective #13: Alex Ferguson in 1986 – his vision for the club

Self-confidence, it would seem, is something Alex Ferguson has never lacked. Full of ambition, the Scot declared in his first programme notes as Manchester United manager: “I am not really interested in what has happened here in the past. I don’t mean any disrespect to the great achievements of Manchester United over the years. It’s simply that now there is only one way to go, and that is forward.”

But, perhaps not even he could have envisaged just how “forward” he would have taken the club. He had every right to be optimistic, although some of it did appear misplaced when you consider the club’s recent shortcomings at that time – and indeed, initially, not everything had gone to plan for United’s new boss. He spoke of his desire to win a trophy right away – the championship – and from that, success will almost certainly follow.

“There always has to be a starting point, and I see the championship as the basis for Manchester United’s future,” said Ferguson. “Success has a snowball effect as I found at Aberdeen when some people mistakenly thought that our first championship was a flash in the pan.” Of course, it was never going to be that easy. He had to wait a lot longer for that first title than he would have liked – the 1992/93 season, in fact – but, sure enough, it opened the door for many more. What makes this particular quote so fascinating, in retrospect, was that his “snowball effect” analogy could not have come together more perfectly. 36 trophies have come between then and now in a mere 19 years.

Back in ’86, he wanted to do things his own way – undaunted by the task: “Taking over a club of the magnitude of Manchester United is an awesome prospect. But ultimately a football club is a football club and I shall simply try to run things at Old Trafford in what I believe to be the right way.” In the years preceding, it was fair to say United were in something of an unforeseeable decline, so bad it was. Sir Matt Busby had never properly been replaced and so the atmosphere around Old Trafford was tense, understandably, and pessimistic. And so Fergie made it clear that if United were to win the championship, then that would be the “only real way to lay the ghosts of the past”.

When you look at it, there isn’t much difference from the Alex Ferguson of then and the Sir Alex of today. Through the years, he has reiterated just how vital it is that his players believe in themselves – that the ideal footballer is one who can rise to any challenge; putting a lot of emphasis on mentality, stressing how important it is to have the right one. “I only want players here who are determined to achieve…for the club and for themselves,” Fergie said in ’86. “Straight away they must rid themselves of any negative thoughts that it can’t be done. I am only interested in players who really want to play for Manchester United, and who, like me, are bad losers.”

And goes on to say: “Belief and confidence are very important, and instilling the right outlook will be my first priority,” he adds. “It’s not something that can be built overnight, and it could take a few months before I can create a true relationship with the players. But that is what I shall work towards and I am going to love every minute of it here.”

This was all said in the build up to his first game at Old Trafford, to be played against Queens Park Rangers. “Hopefully we can build on what we learned at Norwich last week,” Ferguson said, referring to a game that ended 0-0. “Our performance at Carrow Road, though only a draw, convinced me that there is nothing seriously wrong with Manchester United. The most important aspect was that there was a willingness and an appetite to play.” Before ending with: “the team perhaps wants some direction but they will be alright.” Indeed, once they had found that direction, which was, as noted earlier, “forward”, Manchester United under Alex Ferguson have never looked back.

With thanks to @DanLowth. (Quotes from United Review, 22 November 1986.)

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‘A thing of footballing beauty’ from Manchester United

With a Champions’ League semi-final with Schalke 04 impending, we look back at a modern classic at the same stage of this competition; a game where Manchester United displayed their brand of blistering counter-attacking football for all of Europe to see – Arsenal being the victims that day, perishing to a 3-1 defeat. The third goal is what we’ll focus on, however, purely on the basis of the sheer beauty of the move. It was a moment of attacking football at its sumptuous best; nine seconds, three players, one goal. 

The tone was set, in truth, for a moment like this in the first eleven minutes. Manchester United, with a 1-0 aggregate lead coming into this second leg clash, had ripped and shredded their opponents in their own backyard in the opening quarter of an hour with a hint of savagery as if this were a chapter in Lord of the Flies. Park ji-Sung and Cristiano Ronaldo had applied the damage. The tie was already over by this stage; Arsenal simply had no answer to the early barrage. “We were caught by a team that has an art to kill and take advantage of every mistake you make,” a shattered and beleaguered Arsene Wenger said after the game.

United were really that good and it was made all the sweeter that it was against their rivals, a side in the middle of a trophy drought, in a game that promised so much. For The Gunners, it was a case of so close, yet so far. But United, sensing the occasion, made few errors and punished Arsenal, pushing them to the brink as BBC’s Phil McNulty observed: “Man Utd brushed Arsenal aside with a savagery, speed and ruthlessness that had plenty of observers labelling it as football’s equivalent of Manny Pacquiao’s demolition of Ricky Hatton.”

With much thanks to Mancunian Tactics for creating the image

<Figure 1> That counter-attack (gif animated image)

An hour had passed. Despite the comfort of a 3-0 aggregate lead, Arsenal were determined to salvage something at the Emirates. They forced a corner, but little would they know of the consequence of the set-piece. A meek cross was cleared away from Nemanja Vidic – and Ronaldo pounced on the loose ball, with an impudent, yet rather nonchalant, flick that a lurking Park received with much grace. The next nine seconds would go on to be remembered and revered even today as one of the greatest and audacious counter-attacking moves in the game. It is worth saying that Ronaldo picked up the ball well into his own half, 20 yards or so from his own goal.

The South Korean midfielder found Wayne Rooney and he took the ball, head down in assault of the Arsenal goal. Meanwhile, lurking on the right was Ronaldo, racing down the length of the field with much verve and urgency and had found himself in a good position – Rooney duly released him and the Portuguese winger finished expertly with great calm and composure past Manuel Almunia. Sir Alex Ferguson cut an excited figure and said post-match: “Arsenal were throwing everything forward and we caught them on the counter-attack and the speed of play was fantastic.” McNulty eloquently summed this moment up well: “United’s third goal must be beyond dispute as a thing of footballing beauty. It was a portrait of the game at its finest.”

Manchester United are so potent on the break, and this was a reassurance of just how deadly they can be – but pundits alike had soon outlined this tactic as an asset of Manchester United’s game that can prove decisive against Barcelona in the final; that wasn’t to be. But for United’s shortcomings in the 08/09 campaign in Europe, this game, this moment, should still be celebrated just for the sheer brilliance, sheer madness of it all. And it is, still. Schalke, beware.

A dip into the archives: Night to forget at the San Siro

AC Milan 3-0 Manchester Utd

Ahead of Tuesday’s game against AC Milan, I think it’s worth reminiscing the last time these two teams met at the San Siro. Let’s set our watches back three years, in a Champions League semi final second leg.

The rain poured sounding like drum rolls when it hit the advertising hoardings. The grey, murky skies up above were a warning of things to come for Manchester United. Here was a game United would rather forget. The Red Devils were well and truly crushed.

United led 3-2 on aggregate before the game but it took just 11 minutes before the scores were level (Milan winning on away goals) as the imperious Kaka had drilled home. Kaka set the tone for a blistering Milan performance where they had dominated the game from start to finish.

Chances were hard to come by for the unwanted visitors, this match a horror movie rather than a European fixture. Clarence Seedorf and Alberto Gilardino piled the misery on United as they were truly outclassed. In fact, Sir Alex could do little to prevent the Milan onslaught and it was damage-limitation more than anything.

Having endured a frustrating night, Man United needed to bounce back and they did. They snatched the league title away from Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea but these events at the San Siro can only be truly wiped from history if United are able to overcome Milan on Tuesday night. I promise the next time I do ‘A dip into the Archives‘ I look at a match where Manchester United are on the winning side and not focus on games we’d rather forget such as this one or that Chelsea game a week later.

AC Milan: Dida, Oddo, Nesta, Kaladze, Jankulovski, Gattuso, Pirlo, Seedorf, Ambrosini, Kaka, Inzaghi

Man Utd: Van der Sar, O’Shea, Brown, Vidic, Heinze, Ronaldo, Fletcher, Scholes, Carrick, Giggs, Rooney.

A dip into the archives: A bore draw with Chelsea

Chelsea 0-0 Manchester Utd

It’s FA Cup week, and Manchester United are not in the FA Cup. That gives me a chance to write about something else. How about ‘reminiscing’ a low key stalemate between Man Utd and Chelsea back in 2007?

There is only one word which could really describe this game between the top two sides in the country which looked like a tasty encounter on paper: boring. The Red Devils had already won the Premier League title and with a FA Cup game on both their minds, United and eventual runners up Chelsea had decided to field a youthful side.

In fact, Manchester United’s best chance of the game was, well, a shot dragged well wide by Gabriel Heinze. Chelsea had been the better side, but that still isn’t saying much. Dong Fangzhou had started that game, his only game in three years, but his impact was minimal. Chelsea had a few chances to score but the atmosphere of this game was similar to the kind you get at a funeral. It was hardly the spectacle for the 42,000 who watched the game. That is an understatement.

Jose Mourinho and ref Graham Poll argued in the dug-out, and Joh Obi Mikel was sent off for a wild challenge. You could hardly blame Mikel, who was just doing his best to liven up this uneventful affair. In fact, the highlight of this game came off the pitch, after the game, where Jose Mourinho had said that ‘Graham Poll had a normal performance when he is refereeing a Chelsea match.’

No one, however, was as embarrassed as John Terry. Back when life was easier for the Chelsea captain, he had the responsibility of keeping Dong out of action. He succeeded in doing so, but I wonder if Mourinho had fielded Margaret Thatcher instead at centre back, would Dong be able to at least touch the ball for more than two seconds.

This is game that isn’t worth remembering. It should be hidden away, wiped off the archives and, better yet, it should be against the law to talk about this game. This game doesn’t exist. Don’t believe what you’re reading here, there’s no such thing as a 0-0 draw between Chelsea and Manchester United played on the 9th May 2007.

Chelsea: Cudicini, Diarra, Ferreira, Terry, Bridge, Makelele, Wright-Phillips, Essien, Mikel, Kalou, Sinclair

Man Utd: Kuszczak, Lee, Brown, O’Shea, Heinze, Eagles, Smith, Fletcher, Richardson, Solskjaer, Dong

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