How Ferguson turned It around
By Dan Richards
As the whistle blew for full time at the end of Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game in management, an enthralling 5-5 draw with West Brom, it would be easy to forget that the 13-time Premier League winner was on the brink of getting sack 20 years prior.
A week earlier in his farewell speech at Old Trafford, Ferguson pleaded to the crowd “I'd like you to remind you that when I had bad times here the club stood by me. All my staff stood by me, the players stood by me, and you stood by me, and your job now is to stand by your new manager. That is important.” Of course, we all now know how that ended. His successor and fellow Scot would only last 10 months into a 6-year deal, but how different could it have been, had he too been given time like Sir Alex was?
Appointed on the 6th November 1986, Ferguson strolled into the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ a serial winner north of the border. Whilst at Aberdeen, he won three Scottish Premier League and 4 Scottish Cups. He even won the European Cup against Real Madrid! Thanks to a John Hewitt goal in extra time. It was safe to say he joined the club with much optimism, the feel-good factor was back amongst the fans too.
The era of the Busby Babes was gone though, and their last title was a staggering 21 years ago. It was also safe to say the job at hand would not be easy. Not at all. Particularly given that when Ferguson took over the club, they were languishing in 19th place. They had only picked up 13 points from the first 13 games that campaign. The short-term mission was to keep them up, as opposed to bring glory back to the red half of Manchester.
Although things started bleak with a 2-0 loss away at Oxford United, The Scotsman did manage to climb places in the league and he finished his first season as the Red Devils boss in 11th. The fans were pretty satisfied with that, compared to the fact their previous Manager, Ron Atkinson had lost six of their first eight games that season.
That summer though was where a serious change to the club. Ferguson began to implement new ideas to enforce the vision he had for the football club. Firstly, he brought in completely new training regimes with help of the new staff he had brought in. He also revamped the scouting network in the club in order to promote his essential youth policy and a huge emphasis on promoting from within the academy. Not to forget, of course, one of the biggest challenges he faced early on in the job, eradicating the drinking culture. Initially, things looked great. In his first full season in charge, the Scot led United to 2nd place, nine points off the still dominant Liverpool.
However, consistency was Ferguson's main undoing during his early years in Manchester, whilst trying to revive the falling giant of a club. In the following season, they slumped back down to 11th. It was time to go back to the drawing board once again.
The 1989/90 season is in many Manchester United fans though, is one of the most pivotal in their history. In the run-up to it, the expectation on Ferguson was high, the pressure building. This was his team now. Since he had arrived, he had brought in 16 of his own players at around the cost of £13 million altogether. Huge money at the time. He had also gotten rid of 18 players during his 3 years so far, only the stalwart Bryan Robson and Mike Duxbury surviving during the mass exodus.
Although they started the season well, beating the champions Arsenal on the opening day, things slowly turned sour. United when on a nightmare run. This even included a 5-1 mauling at the hands of fierce rivals, the blue side of Manchester. Ferguson would later go on to call the December of that year the “darkest period of my time in management.” There were starting to be calls for his head. One headline from the Daily Express wrote ‘Fergie Flop’. The pressure was mounting.
Then came the infamous 3rd round FA Cup tie with Nottingham Forest on the 7th January 1990. Going into the game it was many people's impression at the time that if he lost it, he was gone. It was ‘D-day for Ferguson. Fortunately for him, in the 56th minute Mark Hughes produced a De Bruyne esque pass with the outside of his right boot, to delightfully set up his strike partner Mark Robins who neatly finished. They were able to hold on for the 1-0 win, in what many believe to be Fergusons defining match in his United career.
Even though the Red Devils would go on to finish 13th that year, they would go on to secure the FA Cup, after a replay win against Crystal Palace, who had a young Ian Wright upfront. It was the first trophy in Ferguson's haul in England. Many believe it to be the catalyst for Ferguson's dominance for years to come.
The other catalyst came in the form of a Frenchman signed from Leeds. I believe his name was Eric Cantona. Perhaps the shrewdest signing of Ferguson's career? The enigma would be the missing piece to the puzzle for United and would lead to Steve Bruce raising the inaugural Premier League. It also ended the 26-year wait for a title at old Trafford… The rest I think you know.