LS Sport’s Jamie Kirby gives a fitting send off and personal account of the impact Sir Alex had on Manchester United and the wider world.
As a slow, weak and technically ungifted 8 year-old any future interest in sport began to hang in limbo when, in 1999, something took my breath away. Seated next to my dad for the Champions League final, I felt excitement and distress. While the former of these emotions was present for obvious reasons, the distress lingered as I knew that, for me, this beautiful game could only ever be observed, and that I would never live this moment firsthand. Little did I know that over the course of two hours, a game, a club, and a legend would be instilled as the focal point of my life over the coming 14 years.
Each time I watched my ‘Treble’ VHS over the coming year, the moment resurfaced in my memory. As Ole Gunnar Solskjaer poked the ball into the roof of the net, I felt myself lifted (literally, as my dad elevated me through the air), touching the beam that hung from my ceiling. Come 2008, as this glory repeated itself, the beam was no longer out of my reach. But this growth was no longer only physical; as the moments of elation mounted – each time more extraordinary than the last – Sir Alex Ferguson taught all fans that no prior accomplishment can belittle the next, and that in greatness, prolonged achievement can be as exhilarating as any individual moment.
Having first announced his retirement in 2002, Sir Alex was forced to postpone this decision indefinitely, as United finished in 3rd position – an all time low for the club since the Premier League was created. The ‘Noughties’ brought 3 more seasons where the Trophy went missing at Old Trafford, eventually prolonging his managerial tenure a further 11 years from his original retirement date. This search for perfection was meant to leave United in a position in which its long term future could not be in jeapordy, no matter who was next to take the reins.
In this respect, and in hindsight, Ferguson’s decision to retire on May 8th should not have come as a shock to most fans. The signing of Robin van Persie – a ready-made Premier League striker of the highest order, and 28 years-old at the time – represented the manager’s need to achieve on a monumental scale this season. Despite Domestic Cup and European campaigns reaping no rewards, Ferguson proclaimed that the side he had at his disposal this season is better than any squad he has ever assembled. Whether pundits agree with this assertion is another matter, but the fact that the great Scot believes this to be true should have been the greatest hint yet that his time has come, as he had created a team whose quality should be able to lead them to future greatness without his leadership.
Fergie addressed his fans and players directly at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon. While a brief reminiscence of his time at Manchester United was afforded, his speech invariably referred to preserving this legacy of winning at the highest level, which has been engrained into the club since he took over. To fans, he said “I’d also like to remind you that when we had bad times here, the club stood by me, all my staff stood by me, the players stood by me. Your job now is to stand by our new manager. That is important.”
This testament was repeated to the players, as he said “I wish the players every success in the future. You know how good you are, you know the jersey you’re wearing, you know what it means to everyone here and don’t ever let yourself down. The expectation is always there.”
Indeed, Sir Alex Ferguson has embodied this mentality since his early days in Scottish League football. Beginning at East Stirling in 1974, who had only half a first team and no goalkeeper, he was soon appointed as the head at St Mirren. Despite being a tenure which is often forgotten, his four years turned the club from Division Two relegation candidates to Division One champions. Over the coming eight years, after a controversial dismissal, Ferguson would guide Aberdeen to three Scottish Premier League titles, four Scottish Cups, one League Cup, a UEFA Super Cup, and one Cup Winners Cup – the clubs highest honour to date. After knocking back an offers from Arsenal, Ferguson joined Manchester United, winning 49 trophies in a career which cannot conceivably be matched in the near future. Ferguson brought Manchester United themselves from a time of obscurity, as they languished in a relegation fight in 1986, to join arch rivals Liverpool as the team with the most major honours in English football history, and achieving more league titles than any other.
Upon opening his address to the 75,572 fans assembled at Old Trafford for his final home game, Ferguson’s words appeared to mimic his prolonged quest for perfection, saying “I’m just going to ramble on and hope I get to the core of what this football club has meant to me.” Those words ring true with the past 26 seasons, through which Sir Alex Ferguson has discovered what this club truly meant to him, meaning he can finally leave with piece of mind.