IBWM StaffComment

WAS ALEX FERGUSON DIFFERENT BEFORE MANCHESTER UNITED?

IBWM StaffComment

Short answer - no.  But before Old Trafford, it was like this....

At IBWM we are fortunate enough to have access to the the entire back catalogue of World Soccer Magazine's fifty plus years of content.  While looking through the archives this week, we found an article from July 1985 which considered Alex Ferguson's traits as a manager.  This was at Aberdeen though, a good year before Manchester United, and almost five years before Mark Robins would be mentioned, never mind Giggs, Cantona, Beckham or Rooney, who at the time this article was published would have been the size of a grapefruit.

What's great here is that author Alex Gordon makes mention of mind games, and a passing glance is afforded to the fabled hair dryer treatment.  In 1985 it was a tea urn.  Defnitley one for fans of Manchester United, but an insighful piece of nostalgia for everyone.  Enjoy...

ALEX FERGUSON is not a born winner.  Anyone who ever witnessed his displays on a football field would surely testify to that.  Fergie had more fire than flair, more guts than guile and more power than precision during his playing days as an old fashioned centre forward with Queen's Park, St Johnstone, Dunfermline, Rangers, Falkirk and Ayr United in the sixties and early seventies.  That's why his performance as a manager with Aberdeen is even more remarkable. 

In seven seasons he has guided them to a European Cup Winners’ Cup success, three Premier Division Championships and three consecutive Scottish Cup triumphs.  He dismisses the League cup tournament and that’s probably why he has never won it.   .   .   .   . 

In professional terms there is a Jekyll and Hyde character to the Pittodrie supremo.  An average footballer, but an above average team boss.  It’s also been said he's not a very good loser and can retreat into his shell whenever he sees fit.  There was no sign of the Aberdeen manager, for instance, when Dundee United flattened their hopes of making Scottish Cup history in the replayed semi final this season.  He was criticised for pulling the sort of vanishing stunt that used to be the trademark of Howard Hughes and we all know how eccentric he was, don't we?

Fergie didn't like it when pitifully few members of the media pointed out that his behaviour was hardly becoming of a man who had scaled more than a few pinnacles in recent history and had accepted the applause that goes with achievement.  On the day Aberdeen retained their Premier Division championship, Fergie met the waiting pressmen and said curtly: "I'll be brief.  I haven't much to say.  The players deserve all the credit." Come again, Fergie.  Is that all?

Let’s put the record straight.  Alex Ferguson deserves mammoth credit for masterminding his squad to the title and another tilt at the European Cup.  The previous season they had won the championship, but had lost the influential Gordon Strachan to Manchester United, top marksman Mark McGhee to SV Hamburg and the underrated Doug Rougvie to Chelsea.  On top of that he has long term injuries to Neale Cooper and Peter Weir to contend with.  He manipulated well in the transfer market and brought Tom McQueen from Clyde for £40,000 to replace Doug Rougvie while £100,000 took Frank McDougall from St Mirren to take over McGhee's responsibilities in attack.  The average age of the squad dropped to 23.  Billy Stark bought the previous term from St Mirren for £100,000 with a view to eventually replacing Strachan, paid high dividends with almost 20 goals from his midfield position.  An excellent return I would say.  I've nothing against Dundee United’s veteran ‘keeper Hamish McAlpine, but Stark would have been my choice as Scottish Football Writers' Player of the Year. 

The Aberdeen manager shaped a new side and it was enough to see off the challenge of Celtic, the only team to hassle them in the league.  In fact the Park head men took five out of a possible eight points from Aberdeen, but didn't help their cause at all by dropping points to teams such as Hibs (three), Morton (two), Dundee (two) and Dumbarton (one).  Aberdeen, through it all, kept on course and went determinedly for the flag with more confidence than possibly they should have displayed.

 Ferguson also scores here with his kidology.  He psyched a lot of teams to defeat and that, of course, is all part and parcel of being a foot ball manager these days.  He got the very best out of each player, emphasising their strengths and playing down their weaknesses.  And it worked.  How it worked!

Ferguson, it must be said, is a great motivator.  Once during half time in a European tie he "motivated” his players by knocking over a giant tea urn as he completely lost his cool.  His players, at that stage, were heading for defeat in Romania.  They went out and did the business in the second half.  The man doesn’t want to know the meaning of the word defeat.  He’s not alone, but losses must also be accepted with dignity.  It’s useless only being seen as a great sportsman after a lot more difficult to put on a brave face when your team has just belly flopped. 

Aberdeen clinched the title in their 1 - 1 draw with Celtic at Pittodrie, a game where the Parkhead side had a ''winning" goal four minutes from time ruled out by referee George Smith .  I've watched that "goal" several times in slow motion and I'm utterly convinced there is nothing wrong with it.  International goalkeeper Jim Leighton made a complete mess of a high ball from Murdo MacLeod, Torn McAdam out jumped him fairly and squarely, nodded it down to Frank McGarvey and the energetic little striker promptly whacked it into the back of the net.  The match official chalked it off, presumably for a foul by McAdam, but there was no unfair challenge that I could see.  Celtic saw any lingering title hopes dynamited there and then and manager Davie Hay would have been forgiven for spitting blood at everyone in sight.  Instead, when the final whistle went, he was one of the first to shake the hand of the jubilant Ferguson.  Nice one, Davie. 

But, despite that episode, no­ one should dare take credit away from Aberdeen or Alex Ferguson.  He got the absolute best out of his team, he pushed them all the way, he made them believe in themselves and at the end of the day they received a crown for his efforts and their endeavours.  Now, can they make it a hat­ trick? That would be a wonderful achievement and I wouldn't put it beyond the capabilities of Fergie or his cohorts.  And the European Cup? You can bet that Alex Ferguson will have that in his sights, as well.  I wish him the best of luck.  Although, as a manager, he has relied more upon good judgement than good fortune.  Alex Ferguson is not a born loser, either.  .  .

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