Andy Mitten: Don't take Fergie for granted
Sir Alex Ferguson will surpass Sir Matt Busby as Manchester United's longest-serving manager later this month when United play at Chelsea. Ferguson has been in the job for almost a quarter of a century well, 24 years, one month and 14 days by the time of the battle of Stamford Bridge. When I mention Ferguson in interviews to players and managers around Europe, there's a reverence bordering on disbelief that he's been in the job so long. It simply does not happen in the other leading football nations, though Auxerre's Guy Roux was in charge for 44 years. What sets Ferguson apart, they reckon, is consistency. United have not finished outside the top three since 1991, when the Reds were sixth a place behind City. That was the last time the Blues finished above United. Such consistency is now taken for granted by many United fans. They are wrong to do so and a quick look around Europe's major leagues shows why. Bayern Munich are currently seventh in Germany's Bundesliga. European and Italian champions Internazionale are sixth in Serie A, ten points off the leaders and their great rivals AC Milan. In Holland, former European champions Feyenoord are 14th in an 18 team league and lost a game 10-0 recently. Being a great club does not guarantee great results. In France, Lyon won just one of their first seven games this season and trailed Brest, an unfashionable promoted team whose manager Alex Dupont has been dubbed Sir Alex' in homage. In England, Liverpool haven't won the league since 1990. Suffered Reds haven't suffered such mediocrity from United for close on 20 years. Ferguson has led United to 11 league titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups, a Cup Winners' Cup, two World Club championships, a Super Cup and enough Charity Shields to put Oxfam out of business. Oh, and two, brilliantly won European Cups. I don't like the Sky influenced statistics which start with the formation of the Premier League or the Champions League. Football didn't start in the early 90s, but United have amassed more points in the Champions League than any other team. More than Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Milan and Juventus. Maybe Ferguson would have hoped to have won more European Cups: Milan and Madrid have both won five since Ferguson took charge at Old Trafford, three in the Champions League era. Barca and Real Madrid have won three each since the 90s. But such is Ferguson's consistency, often when people are predicting his demise, that it would be churlish to find fault in his management. The most criticism you're likely to hear about Ferguson is actually from United fans. It's partly because people are harder on their own, because United fans have been completely spoilt by success and because Ferguson's support for the club's unpopular owners has alienated some who wanted him to make a stand. Foreign coaches and players don't pick up the minutiae and nuances which form opinion on a local level, they just see a manager they consider to be peerless, even compared with the greatest. A City fan I spoke to at the weekend winced when I mentioned Ferguson. I hate him, he said. And my life would have been so much better without him. But he's a brilliant manager. I can't wait for him to finish. I can't see Ferguson retiring any time soon. The United manager says that he will continue for as long as his health remains good. He turns 69 on New Year's Eve and I can see him staying until he's 75. See him continuing to prove cynics wrong time and time again, in spite of new challenges to United's hegemony. Continuing to win more trophies and make unpopular decisions which prove to be correct. World champions as recently as two years ago, United are not the best team in the world any more. The Barca side I watched destroy Real Madrid 5-0 last Monday are a level above anyone at the moment, but United's first XI are so hard to beat that the one team all the European giants want to avoid is Manchester United. And that's largely down to Ferguson.
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