Manchester United's former manager, Sir Alex Ferguson is the greatest manager in the history of football. He has won 13 Premier League championships with United. 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups and 2 European Champions League trophies. And 2 European Cup Winners Cup (1 with United and 1 with Aberdeen).
Sir Alex, or 'Fergie' as he is known, is one of the greatest managers in British football, but when you consider different judging criteria he comes up short as the best of all time. And I'll tell you why.
First of all let's look at his methods. Fergie believes in control and discipline. He has let many players who did not agree with his view go. David Beckham, Jaap Staam, and Roy Keane are three such high-profile cases. However his control was found lacking during Eric Cantona's infamous 'kung fu' kick at a spectator. Fergie broke his own rule. He knew Cantona was the best player in his team and he would do anything to keep him at the club. Ironically once Cantona retired, Fergie finally gained the European success at United he craved.
Fergie can also be credited with bringing through a talented stream of youth players. This was true at Aberdeen and again at United. Obviously a lot of credit has to go to the scouts and youth coaches too. Indeed the so-called "Class of '92" which included Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Beckham and the Nevilles is rare in British football. Possibly the only depth of young talent to come through in bulk like that were the Busby Babes of the 1950s and the Quality Street kids of the late 60s and early 70s at Celtic.
This is the foundation of Fergie's reputation. His longevity at United is comparable to the likes of Brian Clough (Nottingham Forest), Matt Busby (Manchester United) and Jim McLean (Dundee United). His trophy count outstrips them massively. However it could be argued that he had a greater competitive advantage over his rivals for a longer period than these managers due to Manchester United's rise as a global superpower. It is often overlooked that United outspent many rivals in the late 80s and early 90s. Blackburn Rovers and their millionaire owner Jack Walker 'bought success' when they won the title in 1995. But United outspent them over the 1990s.
Fergie's greatest success was with Aberdeen. He took the club from Scotland's oil capital and won the 1983 European Cup Winner's Cup in the Swedish city of Gothenburg against the mighty Real Madrid. However, his greatest achievement was actually ending the Old Firm dominance of Scottish Football by Celtic and Rangers. The Glasgow clubs have a duopoly on Scottish titles and cups with almost 100 league titles between them in around 120 years of competition. Fergie broke this mould along with to a lesser extent Jim McLean at Dundee United. His Aberdeen side won 3 Scottish championships, 4 Scottish cups and a league cup, all won within his 8 year spell at the manager. This is an impressive success rate over a sustained period in charge of a football club. It is one of British sports great "What If" questions to imagine what Fergie would have achieved at Aberdeen? What would Scottish football have been like in the 1990s? And what would Manchester United, Sky Sports, and the English Premiership have been like without Fergie and his all-conquering United side?
To be considered the very best then you have to prove it. This goes for any sport. You have to win the big competitions. If you are unlucky and lose a few times in the big events (Jimmy White was a perennial loser in snooker's World Championship and golfer Colin Montgomerie may have won 8 European Order of Merits but he could never win a major championship and there are 4 a season in golf) then you are a talented person or coach but you are not the best.
This is where domestic trophies should always be discounted when we discuss the best managers. Critics of the Scottish league would say that for Jock Stein or Walter Smith to win many championships at Celtic and Rangers is down to the lack of competition in a 'poor' Scottish league, then one could argue that Fergie may not have had a great deal of competition too. This is perhaps a tad unfair, but when we go into Europe it does hold.
Fergie took over at United in 1986 when English clubs were banned from Europe. This ban was lifted in 1990 and Fergie won the Cup Winner's Cup in 1991 at the first time of asking when United beat Barcelona 2-1. So Fergie, in his 26 years at United we can remove 4 when he wasn't allowed to be in Europe. It could also be argued that when the European Cup was revamped to the Champions League he gained an advantage previous British and European managers never had. More than 1 team from each country could now contest the big prize. So Fergie didn't even have to win the league!
Fergie won 2 European Cups in 22 years. This may impress some, but if he was the manager of Ipswich Town or Sunderland and had done this, then it is an impressive record. But as manager of Manchester United - "The Biggest Club in the World" then it doesn't look so good. He had a financial superiority over his domestic rivals for years until Chelsea turned up in 2004 under Russian oligarch Roman Ambramovitch. He was outspent in his early years by the likes of Juventus and Real Madrid but in his later years he could attract the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo away from the European giants to play for him at Old Trafford.
Fergie won 2 European Cups in 22 years. Brian Clough won 2 with little Nottingham Forest! Bob Paisley won 3 European Cups in a very short spell. If we include non-British managers then Jose Mourinho has won 2 in the space of 12 years already and with different clubs (Porto and Internazionale). Pep Guardiola won 2 with his superb Barcelona team in just 4 seasons.
The 2 wins Fergie achieved were also in very dramatic circumstances and could easily have went the other way. His first final in 1999 saw United trail Bayern Munich 1-0 as the game went into injury time. Remarkably United scored twice in 3 minutes from David Beckham corners to pip the Germans. In 2008 in the first all English final in Moscow, Chelsea's captain John Terry had a penalty kick to win the trophy but he slipped and hit the post. United's goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar had went the wrong way!
Over 22 years of leading United into Europe, Fergie would have to have won 4 or 5 European Cups to merit the "Greatest Ever" tag. I believe he underachieved in the European Cup. He contested 4 European cup finals in total winning 2. However he contested 8 European Cup semi finals, again winning 4. Perhaps Fergie was coming to achieve the dominance he craved near the end of his career as from 2008-11 he reached 3 out of 4 European finals, an achievement if he had sustained earlier then he would have become the all time best.
Pantheon of Greats
Without question Sir Alex Ferguson is an all time great. The number of trophies he won both at Manchester United and more impressively at Aberdeen is not debatable. However only 2 wins in European football's premier competition in 26 years shows he cannot be classed as the best.