It has to be as sure a bet as you’re ever likely to get, not quite impossible to lose but as near a certainty as can be. Managing the same club for 700 consecutive Premier League matches is a record that nobody will ever take from Sir Alex Ferguson. That milestone was reached at Goodison Park on Saturday but overall, the Scotsman has been in charge of Manchester United on 1336 occasions. It’s an incredible record built over 24 years at the club and nobody has any doubt that a quarter of a century will be clocked up in November next year to take him a shade past Sir Matt Busby. As Sir Alex celebrated his unique achievement, Sportsmail writers recall the moments of football genius and volcanic temper that put Fergie in a league of his own.
Graham Poll, former Referee – My first ‘hairdryer’ came in 1996 after a 2-2 draw against Everton. He was furious that I had not added enough time – I had only added nine minutes! Our next meeting was on November 16, 1996, again at Old Trafford and his 10th anniversary at United. I told him that I had considered buying him a watch to mark the occasion. He replied that after my last visit he had considered buying me one – a Mickey Mouse one!
After one game at Old Trafford he waited for me in the tunnel and blasted at me that ‘someone would have to take an axe out and fell one of his forwards before I awarded them a penalty.’ On my next visit, as the assistants walked down the line ups doing their equipment check, I shouted ‘Make sure you check for axes, it’ll help me with penalty appeals!’ He smiled at me.
Sir Alex did try to intimidate officials but respected good ones. He encouraged me to continue refereeing after my World Cup cock up and offered support. He does care about the game and not just Manchester United. The referees should listen to his ideas – they would benefit.
Steve Curry, Journalist – There are many happy memories of sitting in Fergie’s office at their old Cliff training ground. His banter, particularly with Brian Kidd, was the stuff of stand-up comics, especially when the jokes were about who had been the better player. Yet nothing gave him greater pleasure than watching Eric Cantona go through his strict, post training practice.
Of all the players Sir Alex has managed, the Frenchman’s skills and presence have given him the greatest pleasure and galvanised the side that won four Premier League titles with him in the team. He loved, too, Cantona’s mystery, his use of language and when he said things like ‘The ball is like a woman, she loves to be caressed.’ Fergie would drool with admiration.
He describes the day, on April 24, 1997, when Cantona told him he intended to quit as a hook to the head and his imagination is still fired by memories of his upturned collar and guardsman’s gait. Cantona is on record as saying ‘I want to die from an overdose of love.’ Well, Eric, there are few who admired you more than Fergie.
Jamie Redknapp, Former player – I was playing for Spurs against Manchester United and remember looking at Cristiano Ronaldo in the tunnel and admiring his shape and physique. He looked like a footballer. At the time, plenty were dismissing him as a show pony. There was a lot of focus on his theatrical falls and tricks without too much end product. After the game, I saw Sir Alex and said ‘Your No 7 isn’t too bad.’ He looked at me and said ‘I’m telling you, he’s going to be one of the best players in the world.’
His development of Ronaldo is an indication of his passion for the game, his knowledge and ability to spot a United player because it’s harder to play for the bigger clubs, such are the demands and expectations, the pressure to perform consistently when everyone is trying to bring you down.
Look at what Ferguson did with players such as David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. He is a brilliant spotter of talent and he knows how to take that talent and make them into a United talent. It was the same with Eric Cantona. It sums him up as a manager. I wonder if Ronaldo will ever enjoy his football as much as he did when he played for Sir Alex.
Ian Ladyman, Journalist – It was the day after Boxing Day 2004 and I sat with a group of other newspaper reporters in a small ante room at United’s Carrington training ground. The day before, Wayne Rooney had been criticised by Bolton manager Sam Allardyce for a swipe at defender Tal Ben Haim with his arm.
Sir Alex seemed in reasonable humour as he sat down behind his desk, gently chiding us for ‘ruining my Christmas by making me come here’. As can sometimes be the case though, the United manager’s temper was on a hair trigger that day and my questioning about the Rooney incident promptly saw a storm blow up the like of which I had never seen before and indeed have never seen since.
Sir Alex was into his stride quicker than Usain Bolt as he vented his spleen at Ben Haim for his alleged play acting and at us, the written press, for not highlighting it even though, as I tried to point out, we actually had. When he is in this mood, when the red mist has well and truly come down, Sir Alex is impossible to reason with. It’s as close as a journalist can ever come to feeling what it must be like when the dressing room hairdryer is turned on.
One of his strengths has always been the depth of his own convictions and the blind loyalty he feels towards his own players and indeed the club he has built in his own image. At times, it spills over. Deep down I can’t believe that he doesn’t sometimes regret it when it does.
This was certainly one of those occasions. I won’t repeat the exact dialogue here, although I have kept a copy, but as I tried to reason with him, tried to direct the exchange back on to a course fit to publish in a newspaper, Sir Alex merely swept me away, shouting over me, the air blue with profanities and accusations.
By the end he was standing on his feet and his final act was to swipe his right hand across the table, sending eight tape recorders flying into the wall. With that he walked towards the door but, before he left the room, he turned back to us. ‘Now you’ve got me to lose my f*****g temper’ he grimaced. Wonderful.
Matt Lawton, Journalist – The first thing Sir Alex Ferguson said to me takes some beating as an opening line. ‘Are you related to that tramp?’ he enquired, which not only took me by surprise but also suggested, back in 1995, that someone had given him some duff information. Well obviously.
But this was classic Ferguson. A then typical response to the arrival of another young journalist on the scene. He didn’t trust you. He didn’t want you using him to make a name for yourself. He didn’t want you getting comfortable. Instead, he wanted to put a marker down. During the seven years I worked specifically as a Manchester based football reporter, there were other such run ins.
Soon after he had announced his intention to retire in 2001 I’d run a story about how the new board members at Aberdeen would offer him an opportunity to return to Pittodrie as club chairman at the end of the season. That morning I got a call from Paddy Harverson, then the director of communications at Manchester United, who informed me Ferguson was spitting mad, not least because his phone hadn’t stopped ringing. Harverson wanted to try to diffuse the situation before I arrived at Carrington for his press conference later that day.
Sadly, he failed and Ferguson launched into a verbal tirade that turned briefly physical when I argued that the story was true. Harverson had to dive between us, suggested I leave and then – rather courageously it has to be said – told Ferguson that he not only believed the story had some substance, but that he also probably shouldn’t have tried to throw me out.
In fairness to Ferguson, he did then grant me permission to re-enter the building for an interview I had arranged with Ryan Giggs. ‘You still here?’ he asked as he walked past. There was a moment in a televised Champions League press conference. ‘It would take an entire interview to answer that question and it’s an interview you’re never going to get’ he said, much to the amusement of my colleagues.
But there is another side to Ferguson. A hugely generous side that many of the same journalists he has jousted with over the years have experienced. When colleagues he’s known have been taken ill he’s turned up at the hospital, even made a visit to their homes.
I’m not sure he’d do that for me but it’s been a great ride all the same. One of the highlights of reporting for the last 15 years on this amazing game.
Jeff Powell, Journalist – The Old Trafford draw against Juventus in the first leg of the 1999 Champions League semi final looked ominous. For the public record, Fergie acknowledged it would be tough in Turin. But, as we left the press conference, he beckoned me into a small room. ‘Have a Scotch’ he said. As we clinked glasses he looked hard at me and said ‘We’ll beat ’em over there and we’ll go on and win this thing.’ ‘Maybe’ I said. He grinned ‘Remember Gothenburg.’
On that damp May night 16 years earlier, after Alex’s upstart Aberdeen beat Real Madrid in the Cup Winners Cup Final, Fergie was holding court in the bar and he slapped me on the shoulder ‘Nae bad having an Englishman say cheers for what our wee club has achieved here.’ – (Pic on right – First day at Old Trafford)
For more than a quarter of a century, we have drunk to his successes, drowned the odd sorrow, agreed mostly but occasionally argued vigorously. Contrary to the fearsome reputation, he respects opinions, as long as they are expressed honestly. Sure enough, United won 3-2 in Turin and then performed European football’s greatest escape against Bayern Munich in the final.
So, now it’s on to the 700th Premier League game. Cheers, Alex – and may there be many more to come.
Mark Mullins (Man Utd fan), Dublin,Ireland, Finally, the thoughts of a fan, perhaps the ones which count more than any others – All I can say is Sir Alex is a LEGEND. He is completely unique. We will never see the likes of one man’s domination of the game for nearly three decades.
Opposing fans can have their views but one fact remains the same. If they could have gotten Sir Alex all those years ago then they would have probably sold their mother to do so! With jealousy comes hatred. There have been many princes to grace Old Trafford but only two kings, Busby and Ferguson. Long live the King and bring on number 19.
What more can anyone possibly say except 700 and wishing Sir Alex many more