Sir Alexander Chapman "Alex" Ferguson, CBE, (born 31 December 1941 in Govan, Glasgow) is a Scottish football manager and former player, currently managing Manchester United F.C., where he has been in charge since 1986. Considered to be one of the best football managers in the history of world football, he has also won more trophies than any other manager in the history of English football. With 21 years under his belt, he is the second-longest serving manager in the history of Manchester United after Sir Matt Busby, and the longest serving current manager in English football, having won a slew of awards and holding many records including winning Manager of the Year most times in British football history. He was an inaugural inductee into the English Football Hall of Fame for his great services to the English game, was knighted in 1999 by Queen Elizabeth II and currently holds the Freedom of the City of Aberdeen for his services to the city.
At Manchester United, Sir Alex has become the most successful manager in the history of English football, having guided the team to ten league championships and two Champions League titles. In 1999, he became the first manager to lead an English team to the treble of league championship, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League. As well as being the only manager to win the FA Cup five times, he is also the only manager ever to win three successive league championships in the top flight in England with the same club (1998–1999, 1999–2000 and 2000–2001). In 2008, he joined Brian Clough (Nottingham Forest) and Bob Paisley (Liverpool) as only the third British manager to win the European Cup on more than one occasion.
One recurring theme of Ferguson's management of Manchester United has been his view that no player is bigger than the club. He has consistently taken a "my way or the highway" approach in his dealings with players and the pressure of this management tactic has often been the cause of many notable players' departures. Over the years players such as Gordon Strachan, Paul McGrath, Paul Ince, Jaap Stam, Dwight Yorke, David Beckham and more recently, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Gabriel Heinze have left the club after varying degrees of conflict with Ferguson. It is also suggested that one of the most inspirational players in the club's history, Roy Keane was also a victim of Ferguson's wrath following damning criticism of his team mates on the club's in-house television channel, MUTV. This disciplinary line that he takes with such highly-paid, high-profile players has been mentioned as a reason for the ongoing success of Manchester United.
The son of Alexander Beaton Ferguson, a plater's helper in the shipbuilding industry, and his wife, the former Elizabeth Hardie, Ferguson lives in Wilmslow, Cheshire, with his wife, Cathy Ferguson (née Holding). They married in 1966 and have three sons: Mark (born 1968) and twins (born 1972) Darren, manager of Peterborough United, and Jason, who runs an events management company.
His playing career began as an amateur with Queen's Park, where he made his debut as a striker aged 16. He described his first match as a "nightmare" but scored Queen's Park's goal in a 2–1 defeat against Stranraer. As Queen's Park were an amateur team he also worked in the Clyde shipyards as an apprentice tool-worker, where he became an active trade union shop steward. Perhaps his most notable game for Queens Park was the 7–1 defeat away to Queen of the South on Boxing day 1959 when ex England international Ivor Broadis scored four for QoS. Ferguson was the Queens Park scorer.
In spite of the fact that he scored 20 goals in his 31 games for Queen's Park, he could not command a regular place in the side and moved to St. Johnstone in 1960. Although he continued to score regularly at St. Johnstone, he was still unable to command a regular place and regularly requested transfers. Even though he was out of favour at the club, their failure to sign a forward led the manager to select Ferguson for a match against Rangers, in which he scored a hat trick in a surprise victory. Dunfermline signed him the following summer (1964), and Ferguson became a full-time professional footballer.
The following season (1964–65), Dunfermline were strong challengers for the Scottish League and reached the Scottish Cup Final, but Ferguson was dropped for the final after a poor performance in a league game against St. Johnstone. Dunfermline lost the final 3–2 to Celtic, then failed to win the League by one point.
In 1967, he joined Rangers for £65,000, then a record fee for a transfer between two Scottish clubs. He was blamed for a goal that they conceded in the 1969 Scottish cup final, and was forced to play for the club's junior side instead of the first team. According to his brother, Ferguson was so upset by the experience that he threw his losers' medal away. There have been claims that he suffered discrimination at Rangers after his marriage to his wife Cathie, who was a Catholic but Ferguson himself makes it clear in his autobiography that Rangers knew of his wife's religion when he joined the club and that he left the club very reluctantly, due to the fall-out from his alleged cup final mistake.
The following October, Nottingham Forest wanted to sign Ferguson, but his wife was not keen on moving to England at that time so he went to Falkirk instead. He was promoted to player-coach there, but when John Prentice became manager he removed Ferguson's coaching responsibilities. Ferguson responded by requesting a transfer and moved to Ayr United, where he finished his playing career in 1974.
The following October, Ferguson was invited to manage St. Mirren. While they were below East Stirlingshire in the league, they were a bigger club and although Ferguson felt a degree of loyalty towards East Stirlingshire, he decided to join St. Mirren after taking advice from Jock Stein.
St Mirren have been the only club ever to sack Ferguson. He claimed wrongful dismissal against the club at an industrial tribunal but lost and was given no leave to appeal. According to a Billy Adams Sunday Herald article on 30 May 1999, the official version is that Ferguson was sacked for various breaches of contract including unauthorised payments to players. He was counter-accused of intimidating behaviour towards his office secretary because he wanted players to get some expenses tax free. He didn't speak to her for six weeks, confiscated her keys and communicated only through a 17-year-old assistant. The tribunal concluded that Ferguson was "particularly petty" and "immature" .
On 31 May 2008, The Guardian published an interview with the Willie Todd, the former St. Mirren chairman (by now aged 87), who had sacked Ferguson all those years earlier. He explained that the fundamental reason for the dismissal was a breach of contract relating to Ferguson having agreed to join Aberdeen. Ferguson told journalist Jim Rodger of the Daily Mirror that he had asked at least one member of the squad to go to Aberdeen with him. He also told the St Mirren staff he was leaving. Todd expressed regret over what happened but blamed Aberdeen for not approaching his club to discuss compensation.
In December 1979, they lost the league cup final again, this time to Dundee United after a replay. Ferguson took the blame for the defeat, saying he should have made changes to the team for the replay.
He was still a strict disciplinarian, though, and his players nicknamed him Furious Fergie. He fined one of his players, John Hewitt, for overtaking him on a public road, and kicked a tea urn at the players at half time after a poor first half. He was dissatisfied with the atmosphere at Aberdeen matches, and deliberately created a 'siege mentality' by accusing the Scottish media of being biased towards the Glasgow clubs, in order to motivate the team. The team continued their success with a Scottish Cup win in 1982. Ferguson was offered the managers' job at Wolves but turned it down as he felt that Wolves were in trouble and "[his] ambitions at Aberdeen were not even half fulfilled".
After a sub-standard start to the 1983–84 season, Aberdeen's form improved and the team won the Scottish league and retained the Scottish Cup. Ferguson was awarded the OBE in the 1984 honours list, and was offered the managers' jobs at Rangers, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur during the season. Aberdeen retained their league title in the 1984–85 season, but had a disappointing season in 1985–86, finishing fourth in the league, although they did win both domestic cups. Ferguson had been appointed to the club's board of directors early in 1986, but that April he told Dick Donald, their chairman, that he intended to leave that summer.
Ferguson had been part of coaching staff for the Scottish national side that had secured qualification for the 1986 World Cup, but manager Jock Stein had a collapsed and died on 10 September 1985 - at the end of the game in which Scotland's qualification was secured. Ferguson promptly agreed to take charge of the Scottish national side at the World Cup, and to allow him to fulfill his international duties he appointed Archie Knox as his co-manager at Aberdeen.
Around this time, Tottenham Hotspur offered Ferguson the chance to take over from Peter Shreeves as manager, but he rejected this offer and the job went to Luton Town's David Pleat instead. There was also an offer for Ferguson to replace Don Howe as Arsenal manager, but he rejected this offer as well, and fellow Scot George Graham took the post instead.
That summer, there had been speculation that he would take over from Ron Atkinson at Manchester United, who had slumped to fourth in the English top flight after a 10-match winning start had made title glory seem inevitable. Although Ferguson remained at the club over the summer, he did eventually join Manchester United when Atkinson was sacked in November 1986.
Ferguson endured a personal tragedy three weeks after his appointment, when his mother Elizabeth died of lung cancer aged 64.
In the 1987-88 season, Ferguson made several major signings, including Steve Bruce, Viv Anderson, Brian McClair and Jim Leighton. The new players made a great contribution to a United team who finished in second place, nine points behind Liverpool. United were expected to do well when Mark Hughes returned to the club two years after leaving for Barcelona, but the 1988–89 season was a disappointment for them, finishing eleventh in the league and losing 1–0 at home to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup quarter final.
For the 1989-90 season, Ferguson further boosted his squad by paying large sums of money for midfielders Neil Webb and Paul Ince, as well as defender Gary Pallister (a national record £2.3million signing from Middlesbrough). The season began well with a 4-1 win over defending champions Arsenal on the opening day, but United's league form quickly turned sour. In September, United suffered a humiliating 5–1 away defeat against fierce rivals Manchester City. Following this and an early season run of six defeats and two draws in eight games, a banner declaring "Three years of excuses and it's still crap. Ta ra Fergie." was displayed at Old Trafford, and many journalists and supporters called for Ferguson to be sacked. Ferguson later described December 1989 as "the darkest period [he had] ever suffered in the game."
Following a run of seven games without a win, Manchester United were drawn away to Nottingham Forest in the third round of the FA Cup. Forest were performing well in the League that season, and it was expected that United would lose the match and Ferguson would consequently be sacked, but United won the game 1–0 and eventually reached the final. This cup win is often cited as the match that saved Ferguson's Old Trafford career. United went on to win the FA Cup, beating Crystal Palace 1–0 in the final replay after a 3–3 draw in the first match, giving Ferguson his first major trophy as Manchester United manager. United's defensive frailties in the first match were unilaterally blamed on goalkeeper Jim Leighton, forcing Ferguson to drop his former Aberdeen player and bring in Les Sealey.
The 1991–92 season did not live up to Ferguson's expectations and, in Ferguson's words, "many in the media felt that [his] mistakes had contributed to the misery". United won the League Cup and Super Cup for the first time, but lost out on the league title to rivals Leeds United after leading the table for much of the season. Ferguson felt that his failure to secure the signing of Mick Harford from Luton Town had cost United the league, and that he needed "an extra dimension" to the team if they were to win the league the following season.
During the 1992 close season, Ferguson went on the hunt for a new striker. He first attempted to sign Alan Shearer from Southampton, but lost out to Blackburn Rovers. In the end, he paid £1 million for 23-year-old Cambridge United striker Dion Dublin - his only major signing of the summer.
After a slow start to the next season (they were 10th of 22 at the beginning of November) it looked as though United would miss out on the league title (now the Premier League) yet again. However, after the purchase of French striker Eric Cantona from Leeds United for £1.2 million, the future of Manchester United, and Ferguson's position as manager, began to look bright. Cantona formed a strong partnership with Mark Hughes and fired the club to the top of the table, ending United's 26-year wait for a League Championship, and also making them the first ever Premiership Champions, after the league reform. United had finished champions with a 10-point margin over runners-up Aston Villa, whose 1-0 defeat at Oldham on 2 May 1993 had given United the title. Alex Ferguson was voted Manager of the Year by the League Managers' Association.
United led the 1993–94 Premiership table virtually from start to finish. Cantona was top scorer with 25 goals in all competitions despite being sent off twice in the space of five days in March 1994. United also reached the League Cup final but lost 3–1 to Aston Villa, managed by Ferguson's predecessor, Ron Atkinson. In the FA Cup final, Manchester United achieved an impressive 4–0 scoreline against Chelsea, winning Ferguson his second league and cup Double, following his Scottish Premier Division and Scottish Cup titles with Aberdeen in 1984-85. Ferguson made only one close-season signing, paying Blackburn Rovers £1.2million for David May.
1994–95 was a harder season for Ferguson. Cantona assaulted a Crystal Palace supporter in a game at Selhurst Park, and it seemed likely he would leave English football. An eight month ban saw Cantona miss the final four months of the season. He also received a 14-day prison sentence for the offence but the sentence was quashed on appeal and replaced by a 120-hour community service order. On the brighter side, United paid a British record fee of £7million for Newcastle's prolific striker Andy Cole, with young winger Keith Gillespie heading to the north-east in exchange.
However, the championship slipped out of Manchester United's grasp as they drew 1–1 with West Ham United on the final day of the season, when a win would have given them the league. United also lost the FA Cup final in a 1–0 defeat to Everton.
Ferguson was heavily criticised in the summer of 1995 when three of United's star players were allowed to leave and replacements were not bought. First Paul Ince moved to Internazionale of Italy for £7.5 million, long serving striker Mark Hughes was suddenly sold to Chelsea in a £1.5 million deal, and Andrei Kanchelskis was sold to Everton. It was widely known that Ferguson felt that United had a number of young players who were ready to play in the first team. The youngsters, who would be known as "Fergie's Fledglings", included Gary Neville, Phil Neville, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt, who would all go on to be important members of the team.
When United lost their first league match 3–1 to Aston Villa, the media swooped upon Ferguson with undisguised glee. They wrote United off because Alex Ferguson's squad contained so many young and inexperienced players. Match of the Day pundit, Alan Hansen infamously proclaimed that "you can't win anything with kids". However, the young players performed well and United won their next five matches.
Cantona's return from suspension was a boost, but they found themselves fourteen points behind Newcastle. However a series of good results in early 1996 saw the gap close, and from early March onwards United led the table. This contrasted with a disastrous run of form for Newcastle, whose manager, Kevin Keegan, succumbed to the immense pressure of the title race, and the mind games Ferguson famously loves to play with opposing managers. His famous outburst on live television, "I'd love it if we beat them! Love it!" has gone down in football legend as Fergie's greatest personal victory over another manager. United's Premiership title success was confirmed on the final day of the season. They played Liverpool in that year's FA Cup final, winning 1–0 with a late goal by Cantona.
1996–97 saw Alex Ferguson guide Manchester United to their fourth Premiership title in five seasons. In late October, they suffered three league defeats in a row and conceded 13 goals in the process. They also lost their 40 year unbeaten home record in Europe to unfancied Turkish side Fenerbahçe. But they still reached the Champions League semi final, where they lost to Borussia Dortmund of Germany. At the end of the season, Cantona surprisingly retired from football.
Ferguson made two new signings to bolster United's challenge for the 1997–98 season, 31-year-old England striker Teddy Sheringham and defender Henning Berg. However the season ended trophyless as Arsenal won the Premiership under French manager Arsene Wenger, who started a long-lasting rivalry with Ferguson. The summer of 1998 saw striker Dwight Yorke, Dutch defender Jaap Stam and the Swedish winger Jesper Blomqvist join Manchester United.
1998–99 saw the club winning an unprecedented treble of the Premiership title, FA Cup and Champions League. The season was characterised by highly dramatic matches. In the Champions League semi-final second leg, United conceded two early goals away to Juventus; however, inspired by Roy Keane, who would later miss the final through suspension, United came back to beat Juventus 3–2 and reach their first European Cup final since 1968. In the FA Cup semi-final, United faced close rivals Arsenal and appeared to be heading for defeat when Keane was sent off and Arsenal were awarded a last-minute penalty. Peter Schmeichel saved the penalty, and in extra time Ryan Giggs ran the length of the pitch to score perhaps the most memorable goal of his career to win the match. They then defeated Newcastle United 2–0 in the FA Cup Final at Wembley thanks to goals from Teddy Sheringham and Paul Scholes. The European triumph was the most incredible of all. With 90 minutes on the clock they were 1–0 down to Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp in Barcelona following a Mario Basler free kick, but in 3 minutes of injury time allowed by referee Pierluigi Collina, Teddy Sheringham, a substitute, equalised and extra time looked certain. But with just seconds left on the clock, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, also a late substitution scored the winning goal and history was made.
On 12 June 1999, Alex Ferguson received a knighthood in recognition of his services to the game.
In April 2000, it was announced that Manchester United had agreed to sign Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy from PSV Eindhoven for a British record fee of £18million. But the move was put on hold when van Nistelrooy failed a medical, and he then returned to his homeland in a bid to regain fitness, only to suffer a serious knee injury which ruled him out for almost a year.
28-year-old French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez was signed from Monaco for £7.8million—making him the most expensive goalkeeper to be signed by a British club, and United won the title again. During the 2001 close season Ruud van Nistelrooy joined, and soon after Manchester United again broke the British transfer record—this time paying Lazio £28.1million for Argentine attacking midfielder Juan Sebastián Verón, although he failed to live up to the high expectations his transfer fee suggested and he was sold to Chelsea for £15million only two years later.
On 8 December 2001, Manchester United were ninth in the Premiership—11 points behind leaders Liverpool who had a game in hand. Then came a dramatic turn around in form: between mid-December and late January, eight successive wins saw Manchester United climb to the top of the Premiership and put their title challenge back on track. Despite this, United finished third in the Premiership as rival Arsene Wenger clinched the title for Arsenal at Old Trafford with a 1–0 win in the penultimate game of the season.
United were also unsuccessful in Europe, losing the Champions League semi-final on away goals to Bayer Leverkusen.
The 2001–02 season was to have been Ferguson's last as Manchester United manager, and the looming date of his retirement was cited by many as a reason for the team's loss of form. Ferguson himself admitted that the decision to pre-announce his retirement had resulted in a negative effect on the players and on his ability to impose discipline. But in February 2002 he agreed to stay in charge for at least another three years.
Manchester United won their eighth Premiership title yet just over two months before the end of the season they were eight points behind leaders Arsenal. But an improvement in form for United, and a decline for Arsenal, saw the Premiership trophy gradually slip out of the Londoners' grasp and push it back in the direction of Old Trafford. Ferguson described the 02/03 championship as his most satisfying ever, due to the nature of a remarkable comeback. Not for the first time, Ferguson had proven to be a master of managerial mind-games, successfully rattling the composure of Arsenal and their otherwise unflappable manager Arsène Wenger.
Ferguson guided Manchester United to their eleventh FA Cup at the end of the 2003–04 season, but it was a disappointing season which had seen them finish third in the Premiership and suffer Champions League elimination at the hands of eventual winners FC Porto. Rio Ferdinand missed the final four months of the season, as he served the beginning of an eight-month ban for missing a drugs test. New signings like Eric Djemba-Djemba and José Kléberson were disappointing, but there was at least one productive signing—19-year-old Portuguese winger Cristiano Ronaldo.
At the beginning of the 2004–05 season, Wayne Rooney and Argentine defender Gabriel Heinze joined United while Cristiano Ronaldo continued where he had left off the previous season by putting in more match-winning performances. But the lack of a striker after van Nistelrooy spent most of the season injured saw the club finish third for the third time in four seasons. In the FA Cup they lost on penalties to Arsenal.
Ferguson's preparations for the season were disrupted by a high-profile dispute with major shareholder John Magnier, over the ownership of the racehorse Rock of Gibraltar. When Magnier and business partner J. P. McManus agreed to sell their shares to American business tycoon Malcolm Glazer, it cleared the way for Glazer to acquire full control of the club. This sparked violent protests from United fans, and disrupted Ferguson's plans to strengthen the team in the transfer market. In spite of this, United looked to solve their goalkeeping and midfield problems. For this, they signed the Dutch keeper Edwin van der Sar from Fulham and Korean star Park Ji-Sung from PSV.
The season was one of transition. On 18 November, Roy Keane officially left the club, his contract ended by mutual consent. United failed to qualify for the knock-out phase of the UEFA Champions' League. In the January transfer window Serbian defender Nemanja Vidić and French full-back Patrice Evra were signed, and the side finished in second place in the league, behind runaway leaders Chelsea. Winning the League Cup was a consolation prize for lack of success elsewhere. Ruud van Nistelrooy's future at Old Trafford seemed to be in doubt after not starting in the Carling Cup final, and he departed at the end of the season.
Michael Carrick was signed as a replacement for Roy Keane for £14 million, although the figure may rise in the future to £18.6 million depending on appearances and results. United started the season well, and for the first time ever won their first four Premiership games. They set the early pace in the Premiership and never relinquished top spot from the tenth match of the 38–game season. The January 2006 signings had a huge impact on United's performances; Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidić came in to form a solid back line along with already existing players Rio Ferdinand and skipper Gary Neville. The signing of Michael Carrick, which was questioned and criticised by a large portion of the media, brought stability and further creativity in the United midfield, forming an effective partnership with Paul Scholes. Park Ji-Sung and Ryan Giggs both underlined their value to the first team squad by adding significant pace and incisiveness in attack with Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ferguson celebrated the 20th anniversary of his appointment as manager of Manchester United on 6 November 2006. Tributes also came from Ferguson's players, both past and present, as well as his old foe, Arsène Wenger, his old captain, Roy Keane, and current players. The party was spoiled the following day when United endured a single-goal defeat at the hands of Southend in the fourth round of the Carling Cup. However, on 1 December it was announced that Manchester United had signed 35 year old Henrik Larsson on loan, a player that Alex Ferguson had admired for many years, and attempted to capture previously. On 23 December 2006, Cristiano Ronaldo scored the club's 2000th goal under the helm of Ferguson in a match against Aston Villa.
Manchester United subsequently won their ninth Premiership title but were denied a double by Chelsea's Didier Drogba scoring a late goal in the FA Cup Final. In the Champions League, the club reached the semi-finals, recording a 7–1 home win over Roma in the quarter-final second leg, but lost at the San Siro to Milan 3-0 in the second leg of the semi-final after being 3–2 up from the first leg.
For the 2007–08 season, Ferguson made notable signings to reinforce United's first team. Long-term target Owen Hargreaves finally joined from Bayern Munich, bringing an end to a year of negotiations. Ferguson further bolstered the midfield with the additions of young Portuguese winger Nani and Brazilian playmaker Anderson. The last summer signing was of Carlos Tévez after a complex and protracted transfer saga.
United had their worst start to a season under Ferguson, drawing their first two league games before suffering a 1–0 defeat to crosstown rivals Manchester City. However, United recovered and began a tight race with Arsenal for the title. After a good run of form, Sir Alex claimed that throughout his time at Manchester United, this was the best squad he had managed to assemble thus far.
On 16 February 2008, United beat Arsenal 4–0 in an FA Cup Fifth Round match at Old Trafford, but were knocked out by eventual winners Portsmouth in the Sixth Round on 8 March, losing 1–0 at home. United having had a penalty claim turned down, Ferguson alleged after the game that Keith Hackett, general manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Board, was "not doing his job properly". Ferguson was subsequently charged by the FA with improper conduct, which he decided to contest. This was the second charge Ferguson faced in the season, following his complaints against the referee after United lost 1–0 at Bolton Wanderers – a charge he decided not to contest.
On 11 May, Ferguson led Manchester United to a tenth Premier League title by beating Wigan Athletic 2–0 at the JJB Stadium, exactly 25 years to the day after he led Aberdeen to European glory against Real Madrid in the European Cup Winners' Cup. Nearest rivals Chelsea – level on points going into the final round of matches, but with an inferior goal difference – could only draw 1–1 at home to Bolton, finishing 2 points adrift of the champions.
On 21 May, Ferguson won his second European Cup with Manchester United as they beat Chelsea 6–5 on penalties in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, following a 1–1 draw after extra time in the first ever all-English UEFA Champions League Final. After winning the UEFA Champions League 2007-08 Ferguson had stated that his intention to leave Manchester United within the next three years. Manchester United Chief Executive David Gill moved quickly to calm the speculation about Alex Ferguson's pending retirement.
He is the only manager to win the top league honours and the Double north and south of the England-Scotland border (winning the Premiership with Manchester United, and the Scottish Premier League with Aberdeen).
|East Stirlingshire||1 June 1974||20 October 1974||17||10||4||3|
|St. Mirren||21 October 1974||31 May 1978||151||63||49||39|
|Aberdeen||1 August 1978||5 November 1986||455||269||80||106|
|Scotland||10 September 1985||13 June 1986||10||3||3||4|
|Manchester United||6 November 1986||Present||1221||707||291||223|