Longest-serving Manager – But Which is Fergie’s Best Team?
Last Sunday Sir Alex Ferguson eclipsed the record set by Sir Matt Busby to become the longest-serving manager in the history of Manchester United. His 24 year, 1 month and 14 day reign has been filled with achievements, winning an incredible 31 trophies. The secret to his continued success is an uncanny ability to know when a player’s time is up and a replacement needed. Think of his selling of Hughes, Kanchelskis and Ince in the summer of 1995. Or the moving on of club luminaries such as Beckham, Keane and van Nistelrooy. All entirely questionable at the time, but ultimately the right decision.
During the 24 years, I see that Fergie has moulded 5 great teams that have won trophies. But which is the best?
1993/94 Trophies – Premiership, FA Cup, Charity Shield
Arriving at Old Trafford at the end of 1986, Ferguson didn’t have a great deal to work with, and it took him until the 1992/93 season to wrestle back the League title for the first time in 26 years. The following season’s side added the FA Cup to win a fantastic double. Here is the team:
Parker Bruce Pallister Irwin
Kanchelskis Ince Keane Giggs
Notable squad members: Sharpe, McClair, Robson
This team had everything. It was a side full of leaders with future managers in Bruce, Ince, Keane and Hughes. It had pace and skill with Kanchelskis, Giggs and Sharpe. And it had the genius touch of Eric Cantona. If it wasn’t for the 3 foreigners rule (including Irish and Welsh) that UEFA enforced for the Champions League, this team I’m sure would have made its mark on Europe.
1995/96 Trophies – Premiership, FA Cup
At the time of the 94 team dominating England, there were a bunch of youngsters playing for the United B Team and carving out a reputation for themselves that didn’t go unnoticed by the boss. Fergie was confident that he could take a massive gamble on these kids and that they would be the future of Manchester United. How right he was.
G. Neville Bruce Pallister Irwin
Beckham Keane Butt Giggs
Notable squad members: P.Neville, Sharpe, Scholes, McClair
Despite losing the vast experience of Parker, Kanchelskis, Ince and Hughes, this team kept all the attributes I discussed but added the goals of Andy Cole. Keeping the same back 3 of Schmeichel, Bruce and Pallister was clearly crucial, as was the individual skill of Giggs and Cantona. The team showed all of its quality as they overturned Newcastle’s 12 point advantage at Christmas to win the title, thanks mainly to the return of Cantona from his enforced ban. ‘Le Roi’ was instrumental, often scoring the crucial goal in 1-0 wins and earning himself the Footballer of the Year trophy. It was his leadership that helped the youngsters settle in so well to prove certain ‘experts’ wrong about them being so focal in the squad.
1998/99 Trophies – Premiership, FA Cup, Champions League
The most successful season in the club’s history. Everything came right with the youngsters from 95/96 fulfilling all of their promise, some inspired signings and the odd bit of luck along the way, United did the unthinkable and achieved the first Treble in English league history.
G. Neville Stam Johnsen Irwin
Beckham Keane Scholes Giggs
Notable squad members: P. Neville, Berg, Butt, Blomqvist, Solskjaer, Sheringham
This team was all about fantastic partnerships. Jaap Stam was signed and immediately established himself as a terrific centre back alongside the pacey Ronny Johnsen. Gary Neville and David Beckham grew up together and were best mates. Denis Irwin and Ryan Giggs had worked down the left side for 8 years together. Roy Keane and Paul Scholes provided a fantastic mixture of tenacity and quality. And Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole had an understanding that is still talked about today as the one of the best we’ve seen. The midfield quartet will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest in the club’s history, providing the perfect balance, with Beckham’s crossing, Keane’s intensity, Scholes’ passing and Giggs’ trickery forming an unstoppable troupe. And with 4 top class strikers available it was a match made in heaven for Fergie as he finally achieved his dream of winning the European Cup.
2002/03 Trophies – Premiership
After winning the league three times in a row until 2000/2001, United lost out to Arsenal in 2002. But Fergie’s new team came back the following season to clinch the League, once again overcoming a heavy points disadvantage mid-way through the campaign.
G. Neville Ferdinand Silvestre O’Shea
Beckham Keane Veron Giggs
Notable squad members: P. Neville, Blanc, Butt, Solskjaer, Brown
Adopting a new 4-4-1-1 formation, this team got the best season of Paul Scholes’ career as he notched 20 goals playing a more forward role alongside goal machine Ruud van Nistelrooy who scored a monstrous 44. It was a decision Fergie made after signing £30m Juan Sebastien Veron to play in Scholes’ midfield role in 2001. As much as people say he flopped (and for that much money he did), Veron showed fantastic quality but just couldn’t get to grips with the pace of the English game. At the back, new £30m signing Ferdinand was forming a good partnership with Mikael Silvestre, who had moved into his preferred position after previously being used at left back. John O’Shea had a breakthrough year, impressing everyone with his forward thinking play. It’s a shame he’s shown no signs of that since.
2007/08 Trophies – Premier League, Champions League, Community Shield
After going 3 years without the League title, United came out in 2006 and played some of the best football I’ve seen from my team to win back the trophy from Mourinho and co at Chelsea. But the next season they went one huge step further, winning the Champions League and in the process Ferguson showed his doubters that he still had what it takes to lead a team to glory.
Van der Sar
Brown Ferdinand Vidic Evra
Ronaldo Carrick Scholes Giggs
Notable squad members: O’Shea, Hargreaves, Nani, Anderson, Park, Saha
In the years since 2003, Ferguson had put a lot of his faith in two signings who he hoped would become two of the best in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney. And it was this season where the two, especially Ronaldo, showed the world what they could do. Tevez and Rooney formed another great partnership, while stalwarts Scholes and the record-breaking Giggs continued to show they weren’t ready for retirement yet. Edwin van der Sar by this point had become the best goalkeeper the club had signed since Schmeichel, and after wobbly starts with the club, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra had established themselves as world class performers. The forward triad of Ronaldo, Tevez and Rooney were drawing comparisons with Best, Charlton and Law, such was the excitement they would bring. And having deputies with the quality of Hargreaves, Nani, Anderson, Park and Saha, this was unquestionably the strongest squad in Fergie’s time.
But what is it the greatest team? Looking through them, the two that stand out for me would be 93/94 and 98/99. If I had to choose, it’s hard to look past the Treble winning side of 1999. Their achievement was remarkable but not only that, they played some brilliant football that made the whole of Europe look on in envy. United fans will be hoping that Fergie still has the time to build one more great team before he sadly calls time on his incredible managerial career.
Which team do you think is the best? Let us know by leaving your comments below.
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