Monday 03 September 2012
The dramatic 3-2 victory against Southampton was a poignant way to celebrate his 1,000th league match in charge of Manchester United.
Two-one down with three minutes to go, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side did what they have done throughout his 26-year tenure, and found a way to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat.
The moment Robin van Persie made it 2-2 with three minutes remaining Ferguson could be seen urging his men to get back in their half and spirit a final assault. United knew the drill and produced their winner with seconds remaining.
It is this time-honoured ability to instil an unyielding belief in his sides that has enabled Ferguson to survive for so long in such a volatile industry.
It took time for the Scotsman to imbue the Red Devils with a winning mentality, largely because when he took over in November 1986 and oversaw a 2-0 defeat by Oxford United, the club had not won a league title for 19 years.
"Not many managers have the guts to believe in young people like he does"
There were myriad problems to overcome, such as a drinking culture at the club that was prevalent in English football at the time, a difficult dressing room and the long shadow cast by an all-conquering Liverpool team that had dominated the domestic landscape for the best part of two decades.
But Ferguson met those challenges head-on and lived up to an authoritarian reputation cultivated during his successful stint at Aberdeen. Crucially, he was given the time to stamp his authority on his team and led them to the first of five FA Cup wins three-and-a-half years after taking over at Old Trafford.
Once the first of 12 Barclays Premier League titles arrived in the 1992/93 season, United were up and running.
Aided by "Fergie’s Fledglings" – a generation of talented youth players including Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs – and outstanding signings such as Eric Cantona, Roy Keane and Peter Schmeichel, United began to dominate the domestic scene playing an attractive brand of sweeping, attacking football.
"There aren't many other managers who have the guts and courage to believe in young people like he does time after time," said his former captain Gary Neville. "Who knows what sort of career I would have had without him?"
Even when a cause appeared to be lost, Ferguson's United always seemed capable of conjuring a late goal, the most famous example of which came when Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored in injury time against Bayern Munich in 1999 to clinch the first of two UEFA Champions League victories for Ferguson.
"The philosophy of United is built on discipline"
United continued to challenge into the new century, and respond to the threat of new rivals such as Jose Mourinho's Chelsea. Indeed, one of the 70-year-old's greatest strengths has been his ability to move key players on and regenerate his sides. Paul Ince, Jaap Stam, David Beckham and Keane are four examples of influential players to have been sacrificed for the greater good of the team. And in their absence Ferguson’s United has continued to challenge consistently for titles.
"Sir Alex is like the Godfather," former Sheffield United player Brian Deane told premierleague.com. "Nothing comes above and beyond him or they're out, and rightly so as well. I believe that's the way forward in terms of building a legacy, and it doesn't come bigger than Manchester United."
"The philosophy of the club is built on discipline and throughout the Premier League nobody's really been able to touch them over a prolonged period of time. They buy a certain type of player, play the Manchester United way and it works."
Even on those occasions when they have missed out on titles Ferguson has almost always run the winners close. Last season it took an injury-time strike by Manchester City's Sergio Aguero to force United to settle for a runners-up place for the fifth time, and it is worth noting that in the 20-year lifespan of the Barclays Premier League the Red Devils of Sir Alex have finished third on just three occasions.
Victory over Southampton was Ferguson's 599th in the league as Man Utd manager; he has drawn 233 matches in the competition and lost just 168, earning him a win percentage of just under 60%.
Little wonder that Ferguson has been voted the Barclays Premier League Manager of the Year on 10 occasions and last season received the Barclays Premier League 20 Seasons Best Manager award.
His desire to win continues to drive Ferguson on to continued success and perhaps his remarks at approaching this four-digit milestone were revealing about the secret of his success.
"I could never imagine how long I would be at the club or that I would be looking forward to my thousandth game," he said before the Southampton match. "It may be a special occasion but it's just another game that I want to win."
5 runners-up finishes
3 third-place finishes
*includes league matches played before inception of Premier League in 1992/93 season
Ferguson's record in the Premier League to date (including Southampton)
Goals For 1,547
Goals Against 665
Goal Difference 882
Average points/game 2.15
Additional silverware won with Man Utd
5 FA Cups
4 League Cups
10 FA Charity/Community Shields
2 UEFA Champions Leagues
1 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup
1 UEFA Super Cup
1 Intercontinental Cup
1 FIFA Club World Cup