How Alex Ferguson ruthlessly looked over Man Utd in the late 1980s


It’s easy to lose Sir Alex Ferguson’s phenomenal performance at Manchester United.

13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, two Champions League trophies … and the rest. He delivered United’s first league title in 26 years and installed the club as the most successful English football ever seen by grabbing and eventually overtaking Liverpool.

Since retiring in 2013, his impact has undoubtedly been felt even more when successor after successor fails at what he did and the club he once controlled every inch of struggles to find the necessary new structure to thrive again.

Man Utd have not won the Premier League since Ferguson retired / Tom Jenkins / Getty Images

United had been a big club since the early 1900s, while Ferguson was hot property in the mid-1980s thanks to his success with Aberdeen in Scotland and had been linked to a number of sites before the 1986 Manchester United phone call, including Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham.

But the enormous scope of the task before him when he was appointed by United on November 6, 1986, 34 years ago today, can not be ignored.

United have never been afraid to spend money, but after Matt Busby’s (second) retirement in 1970, a number of managers had failed to deliver the expected standards.

Frank O’Farrell, Tommy Docherty, Dave Sexton and Ron Atkinson all came and went, but the last league title to go to Old Trafford was still the one Busby won in 1967. United were even relegated from the First Division in 1974, six short years after have won the European Cup.

Ron Atkinson failed to win a league title at Man Utd / Patrick Riviere / Getty Images

They immediately finished third when they returned to the top tier under Docherty and as high as second under Sexton 1980, while Atkinson’s United were remarkably consistent in what was still a very fluid era of English football and never finished lower than four in any of his five whole seasons – but they also never finished higher than third.

There were also three FA Cup triumphs and two other finals spread over several managers, but the real goal remained painfully elusive.

In 1986, United had been within reach to restore the glory days of a decade, to constantly fall short, and the cracks began to appear when the latest attempt to build fell apart. The fact that goal scorer Mark Hughes was sold to Barcelona that summer for around £ 2 million and replaced with Peter Davenport for a fraction of the price was a sign of a significant step backwards.

When Ferguson arrived three months into the 1986/87 campaign, he inherited a team in a relegation battle rather than one with genuine ambitions to be crowned champions.

Man Utd was a fighting side in 1986 / Simon Bruty / Getty Images

On day one of the Fergie years, United were 19th in the league table, four points and three places from the bottom. They had only won three of their first 13 matches, while the likes of Nottingham Forest, Arsenal and Liverpool pushed for places at the top of the table.

Ferguson got enough of an immediate impact to steer United away from the threat of a second relegation in 13 years and up to the relative comfort of the middle at the end of the season. But his real work, the work that would shape the club into a title challenger at the start of the Premier League era and secure a long-term legacy for the next two decades, had not yet begun.

Ferguson’s first major task was to break up the drinking culture at Old Trafford, which had dominated the 1980s. He wanted more energetic and disciplined players, which ultimately left no future at United for such incredibly talented individuals as Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath.

Player turnover was huge in the late 1980s, with the new boss determined to build the squad in his own image, bring in his own players and ruthlessly send out those he thought were either over it, not good enough or that he could not save .

Man Utd player turnover in the late 1980s was high / Getty Images / Getty Images

Veteran striker Frank Stapleton was among those who moved on quickly in 1987, while in 1988 seven departures were seen, including the previously mentioned Davenport. His resignation coincided with Hughes’ return, which corrected the mistake in 1986, while long-serving defenders Kevin Moran and Arthur Albiston, plus both senior goalkeepers Gary Bailey and Chris Turner left.

McGrath, Whiteside and Gordon Strachan, the latter a player that Ferguson had had great success with at Aberdeen and had inherited at Manchester, left in 1989.

In 1991, it had been a complete transformation and the only surviving members of the squad that Ferguson inherited in 1986 were Bryan Robson, Clayton Blackmore and back-up goalkeeper Gary Walsh, with the latter two products from the club’s junior ranks.

For despite spending like Steve Bruce, Brian McClair, Jim Leighton (not all signings were a success), Mark Hughes, Gary Pallister, Paul Ince, Denis Irwin, Mike Phelan, Andrei Kanchelskis, Peter Schmeichel and others, Ferguson was also focused on resurrect a disadvantaged youth system.

Ferguson brought in his own players like Gary Pallister / Getty Images / Getty Images

He wanted to make sure that it was United and not Manchester City who got the best local youngsters, and that it was United, not Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, West Ham or anyone who also brought in and developed the best young talent from all. . across the country.

In the early 1990s, when the team he had put together expensively through the transfer market began to give in and get the kind of results that were expected, the youth production line also started to get good, as first Ryan Giggs and later Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and David Beckham appeared.

It took him four years to start seeing results, the kind of time and patience that unfortunately no longer exists in 2020, but Ferguson did a complete overhaul of Manchester United in the late 1980s.

Without such dramatic changes over a short period of time, none of what followed would have been possible.

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