Ferguson the Universal Constant – A Barca Fan’s Perspective

It was the first time I was to watch a complete Barcelona game. A live Barcelona game. I couldn’t sit still – the excitement more energizing than any sugar rush. As a nine-year old, I was still some way from truly grasping the intricacies of football; from truly enjoying the art that permeates through the beautiful game. But I loved the action, Barca was my team and they were in a European final.

I remember parts of that evening clearly. My uncle needling me endlessly. A former player popping up to score two goals. A goal pulled back by my first idol, Koeman. A frantic end. A defeat. How could we have lost? Why would they lose knowing it was my first live match? Who was this other team?

It was the first time I saw United play. It was the first time I ever heard of Alex Ferguson.



It was a different United, that one. It was the first season back in Europe for English teams following the Heysel disaster, and it was to mark the beginning of one of Football’s greatest stories. A story I was more or less indifferent to. I don’t follow United. Never have. Don’t love them. Don’t hate them. However, from the time I truly started watching football – from that disappointing May evening when I was 9 – they have been ever-present at the highest level, and Ferguson has been the only constant in the changing world of football.

Over time he has built and rebuilt United, sometimes seemingly from scratch. Along the way he has achieved unimaginable success – 13 league titles, 4 European trophies and many more international and domestic honors – and at times he has done it against the odds. He has faced many pretenders; all attempting to overthrow him backed by war chests that could arm entire nations. Some succeeded in usurping his throne – for a while. But their reigns were short-lived. Ferguson would gather his troops and strike back.

He always struck back.

That determination and drive to succeed is nothing if not awe-inspiring. To repeatedly try and reach the pinnacle of football…sometimes you just have to sit back and admire his desire to be the best.

There are, of course, many managers who share that drive, but Ferguson never seemed to have the arrogance of Jose, or the quiet pondering of Rafa. He wore his heart on his sleeve and football was the better for it. He also enjoyed the game. The sheer pleasure on his face when talking about Barca’s 6-2 hammering of Real at the Bernabeu in 2009 was memorable. And that was right before United were to play Barca in Rome. It was the reaction of a man who truly loved his football.

This is not an ode to Sir Alex. I am not his biggest fan. I have always questioned his tactical acumen. Tactical brilliance (subjective as it is), however, is not the only criteria for a great manager, and it is difficult to argue with his results. He has forged one of football’s greatest legacies – one that will probably remain unmatched given the managerial demands of the modern game. For that – for his accomplishments – he deserves our respect. He has mine.

He leaves the same way he has run his team; the same way he has defined his legacy. On his own terms. His retirement is a loss for football.

The Emperor has abdicated. What now for the empire?

Some random facts from “Fergie’s Reign”

  • It was 6 years after Ferguson started at United that FIFA introduced the back-pass rule – where keepers were not allowed to handle the ball from a back-pass
  • There have been three changes to the offside rule and its interpretation during this time
  • Carles Busquets was in goal during United’s 2-1 win over Barca in the 91 Cup Winner’s Cup Final. His son, Sergio, started in midfield during Barca’s 2-0 win over United in Rome, 2009. Ferguson was United manager for both the games
  • There have been 24 managers at Real Madrid during the time Ferguson has been at United
  • Rexach (3 times) and Van Gaal (twice) have managed Barca more than once during the period Fergie has been at United
  • In United’s recent 1-0 loss to Chelsea, seven of United’s starting XI were not born when Ferguson took reign at Old Trafford, and Nani was only 1-year old.
  • There have been 3 UEFA presidents and 2 FIFA presidents during Ferguson’s reign
  • Brazil (twice), Germany, France, Italy and Spain have all been crowned FIFA World Champions during this period

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