Can Fergie be a winner on the cheap? You bet he can, says his first signing

22 January 2010 12:45
A club going nowhere, with no training ground, one stand and rain coming through the dressing-room window. There were part-time players, just not enough of them, nor was there enough kit. The transfer kitty amounted to £2,000.

As another day brings yet another revelation about the state of Manchester United's finances, George Adams can take you back to how it used to be for Sir Alex Ferguson.

Adams has the distinction of being the first-ever managerial signing by Ferguson, then only 32 having just been taken on by East Stirlingshire FC. It was 1974. The Old Trafford boss recently joked that, as well as being his first signing, Adams was his worst. He was bought for a signing-on fee of about £100, and he earned £14 a week.

And the memory of places like East Stirling, and of a gritty Glasgow childhood, Adams says, should be considered when speculation centres on how Ferguson is reacting to the avalanche of debt the Glazer family are heaping upon United.

Then and now: Adams, seen in his Aberdeen days (left) and today, was Sir Alex Ferguson's first signing

Ferguson has declined to comment on the debts of £716 million at a club he, more than anyone, helped to re-invent. But Adams, who is in regular contact with his former boss he spoke to him this week does not give the impression that, privately, Ferguson is feeling cornered. Far from it.

The idea that the sheiks of Manchester City have given Ferguson the shakes has Adams almost guffawing. As well as East Stirling, Adams and Ferguson were together for eight and a half years at Aberdeen Adams was Ferguson's youth coach and Adams says the opposite is more likely.

'I think Alec sees all of this Manchester City and all of it as a challenge,' says Adams, who, like all of Ferguson's Scottish friends, refer to Sir Alex as 'Alec'.

'Alec uses this expression himself: 'See when you're in a fight, you roll your sleeves up. When it gets harder, you push them up higher. When it gets harder again, you get the jacket off and you fight bare-fisted'. He's been a fighter all his life. Is he going to give in now? Not a chance. Not a chance.

'Hey, he's relishing this. Without. A. Doubt. 'Someone coming in to take my crown? Not a chance. Not a chance. Not a chance'.

'And he pushes that attitude into folk. If you don't want to work, it's 'See ya'. Every time there's been a challenge, he's upped the stakes.

'See, whenever people think he's mellowing or whatever, that's when you've got to worry. Think of his work ethic. And never forget where he came from. If you come from somewhere where there's nothing, you can work with that.

'Nothing? That's Alec Ferguson going back to his roots.'

We're all ears, boss: Young Fergie has a captive audience at East Stirling

Yet if working with nothing was undeniably tough at East Stirling, working with nothing now at Old Trafford would be calamitous. No matter how brilliant Ferguson's youth policies have been, all progressive squads require investment and the palpable anxiety among United supporters is that the Glazer debt is eating into Ferguson's budget. Last summer United's net spend was minus £59m; City's net spend was about £118m.

'If one day you're told you've X amount to spend and the next you've not, then your hands are tied,' accepts Adams.

'Then you've got the neighbours. But I'm positive that will act as a catalyst. He'll be saying, 'I'll take them on and beat them'. And there will be contingencies,financially. There will be.'

That remains to be proven. Until a galvanising major signing is made, the sense will be that Ferguson is hemmed in.

Adams again accepts that argument, the importance of resources at the top level.

'There's no doubt you need a big budget,' he says. 'But he's not bad with that. Ronaldo cost Real Madrid £80m. What did he pay for him? The point is, whether he's dealing at that level or below, I think he's comfortable. Maybe he'll go back to buying bargain-basement again.

'What you have to bear in mind is that he took over Man United when they were a sleeping giant in 1986. Man United were on their knees. Look at what he's done. Look at what he did at Aberdeen:he started a revolution. Diligence and foresight, that's what he had.'

Adams says he saw those qualities from Ferguson's first training session as a manager. Having had eight players on the books the day he agreed to take the job, Ferguson rushed recruits like Adams into Firs Park. Now 59 and director of football at Ross County, Adams had been to Liverpool on trial with Kenny Dalglish in 1966 and went on to play for Aberdeen.

Ferguson quickly realised he and others were a cut above some of those East Stirling players he inherited and he separated training. It made an impression on Adams that has lasted. So, too, an early Ferguson half-time team-talk, when they were losing 3-0 at East Fife. Adams describes Ferguson's 'encouragement' as 'Phwoah!' The effect was a 3-3 draw and a thank-you drink from the manager.

Ferguson was there for 117 days before being pinched by St Mirren and in that time he established a youth policy and dropped a player for missing training; themes of youth and discipline which followed at Aberdeen (1978-86) and then United.

But the economic straitjacket is not a theme Ferguson will wish to revisit, although Adams says he would plough on regardless.

'Look at the passion he has. At 69! The drive? Financially, does he need to work? No. But does he need to work? Aye. Because it's a lifeline.

'Does he want to be the best? Aye. Will he give up? No. He's won everything but it's not enough. I know he gets a lot of credit I'm not sure that he gets enough.'

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Source: Daily_Mail

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