As the rain poured down on Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium a few nights ago, one man in particular would have been forgiven for failing to notice how inclement the weather had turned.
Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson – Fergie – had just seen his Manchester United team win the European Cup for the third time, the second time under his leadership. In spite of countless other prizes and achievements in over thirty years of football management, it was this week’s win that has finally assured Sir Alex of greatness.
And yet it could have all been so different. In 1990, three years into his time as manager of Man Utd, his team faced a tricky FA Cup match against Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest. A late winner by the young Mark Robins – a player who in the end was rather neglected by Fergie and who left the club not long after – saved his bacon that day. The Red Devils had won nothing under Ferguson till that point, and had he lost that day most people felt he was for the chop.
And now look at him: knighted, respected (if not universally loved), feared by opponents and by many on his own side too. No-one wants the famous “hairdryer” treatment, when Fergie gets up close and personal and lets you know exactly what he thought of your performance.
But as a manager of men he is unequalled. His teams display resilience, fighting spirit, and flair. The most talented players want to work with him. And these are not poorly paid people. “How do you make a millionaire sweat?”, another top football manager, Sir Bobby Robson, once asked. Fergie shows you how.
In spite of the knighthood, the prizes, and having reached 66 years of age, Fergie goes on and on. Why? He is addicted, people say. But his personal values give him an inner strength too. His large house in leafy Cheshire, in the north west of England, is called “Fairfields”, after the Glasgow shipyards where his parents worked. He’ll be up again bright and early tomorrow morning, planning next season’s campaign.