On the pic, ManU icons Solksjaer, Cantona, York, Cole, Van the Man, Van der Sar
Sir Alex’ retirement can be scrutinised in detail in all international media. There is not much we can cover here that you haven’t already read about the 71 year old. Still, I believe it is fitting for us to acknowledge the man who can be seen as one of the Best Managers of the World Ever.
There is a number of extraordinary aspects to mention about Sir Alex. The fact that he was in charge of the same club for 26 years is definitely unique. At the same time, this says a lot about the actual board of Man United and their long term (football) vision.
There are already many analyses done on his long reign and I’m sure more will follow in the months or even years to come. Louis van Gaal and Co Adriaanse have both ordered their copy :-). In a world where the average football manager is in charge not much longer than two seasons (Man United is pushing the average up, as does Arsenal, while Chelsea keeps it nice and low) at the same club, Sir Alex can be seen as a unique role model. Such, that Frank de Boer already talks about himself potentially, as the SAF of Ajax…
Our little write up will be from the Dutch angle. To start with former goalie legend, Peter Schmeichel: “How can Sir Alex time his retirement now? Only one season with Robin van Persie???”.
Jordie Cruyff was the first Dutch player to work with Sir Alex (Arnold Muhren left the season before the Scotsman got the job). The young Cruyff was used to working with brilliant, yet dominant coaches (he played for Barcelona, where on Johan Cruyff was his coach….). “Ferguson has something special in his personality. He is definitely the boss. You don’t want to cross him, or be on the wrong side of his temper. But at the same time, he is very warm. Really like a father figure for most if not all of us.”
Raymond van der Gouw was the sub goalie at Man United for 6 seasons. His impact at Man United was seen as huge, as some people (incl Sir Alex) commented on his “binding” skills in the dressing room. The former Vitesse goalie even coached the goalies in the youth system for a year. Van der Gouw: “Ferguson is not known to be the analyst coach, like Wenger or Van Gaal but he definitely knew everything he had to know about opponents. I don’t think he actually studied them consciously, like others do. He would simply see it really fast and was always able to make small changes in the team make-up and he would win games like that. A sixth sense….”
Jaap Stam would be the third Dutchie under Alex Ferguson and despite having played only 3 seasons at Old Trafford, the former Zwolle defender became a club icon. Stam was pushed out of the club by Sir Alex after some indiscrete comments about his coach in his biography. Something both men regretted. When the ManU coach was asked which decision he wished he could turn around, he said he wished he didn’t let Stam go that easily. While Stam (who would go on to play for AC Milan and Ajax) later admitted he would never disclose what he did if he had the chance to do it again.”
But Stam doesn’t believe his book was the real reason to leave. “It will have been a part of it, but at the time, Man United needed the cash too. Lazio made a big offer (20 mio pounds) and I believe Sir Alex needed that money to rebuild the team. At a certain point, we had a big clash again. I left the club, angry, and Ferguson’s PA called me to check where I was. I was at a petrol station and she asked me to wait. Sir Alex showed up and asked me to take the Lazio offer. I decided to go then and there. At the petrol station. I look back at it and believe I shouldn’t have been so pleasing to go. I left a huge club after an emotional spat at a petrol station, hahaha. But I don’t look back in anger. I love the club, love the fans and hope to be able to coach in England sometime soon myself.”
Sir Alex has the name of being able to spot huge talents where others are slumbering and signing them for a low fee. Stam is definitely seen as one of them, as were Schmeichel, Solksjear, even Van der Sar and Cantona. Van Nistelrooy definitely was not a cheap signing. And it took Ferguson two seasons to finally land him, due to Ruud’s injury dramas.
The Dutch striker scored 150 goals for the Red Devils in 219 games ( 5 seasons). “Working with Sir Alex as a huge and unique privilege.”
Van Nistelrooy saw his manager as a second father. Their relationship has always been very warm. Not unlike Beckham and C Ronaldo, the former Den Bosch striker had intense contact with his coach for all sorts of topics. Until the magic was suddenly gone and the ruthless Scottish coach decided to offload the goal machine.
Ruud van Nistelrooy believes his own brutal departure from Manchester United underlines why Sir Alex Ferguson has spent so long at the top.
Ruud’s staggering return counted for nothing when Ferguson decided Van Nistelrooy had outlived his usefulness.
As the summer of 2006 approached, Ferguson decided to pick Giuseppe Rossi ahead of Van Nistelrooy for the final game of the season against Charlton. The Dutchman drove away from Old Trafford in disgust and – until Friday’s unveiling of a Ferguson statue – had not been back since. ‘When he is building new teams he is willing to do things like that,’ said Van Nistelrooy. ‘That is all credit to him. In his mind, the club is the most important thing. That is what he always said. It is his most-repeated sentence.’
At the time, Van Nistelrooy was incredulous, as were many fans.
Yet United came back to win three successive Premier League titles and a Champions League triumph in 2008, in a period when they never did worse than a semi-final.
‘What he did was fair enough,’ said Van Nistelrooy. ‘I didn’t find it hard to deal with. I accepted it.I moved on to Madrid and had four great years there. He moved the club further onwards. Of course, we had our things with the way it ended but he is man who gets the best out of people. He did that with me as well.’
Edwin van der Sar was seen by many (incl Sir Alex himself) as the ideal candidate to replace Peter Schmeichel. It still took a long time for the Ajax goalie to find his way to Old Trafford via Juventus and Fulham. Like Van Nistelrooy, he developed a very strong relationship with his coach and speaks very highly of the man. Sar was at Man U from
2005 and 2011 and believe no one will be able to replicate what the great man did.
“It didn’t surprise me. I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago by chance and I remember thinking that this would be his last season, based on what he told me. And lets face it, he is way past normal retirement age, haha. We were kidding about this years ago already. But he is more than just a manager right? He is the club ambassador and he moulded and created the club as it is now, with Rene Meulensteen as a very important pawn in the game. Rene does all the field coaching. Can you imagine, someone like Ryan Giggs, never worked with another manager at this club. Unreal.”
Van der Sar can’t say enough. “I have gotten to know him as a warm man. You could discuss everything with him. He once went on to me about his grandson who goes to the same school as my son. They both were in this play together. It was at practice. Whenever I had to perform a save, he would stop talking. And once the ball was on the other side of the pitch, he would talk about that acting performance of these kids. He would always protect you too. Unless you did something really foolish. He was always very busy with all sorts of things. He has many interests. I think he doesn’t sleep at night… And yes, he had his clashes with big name players (Beckham, Keane, Stam, Van Nistelrooy) but only if these lads damaged the club. And all these players still have a warm bond with Sir Alex.”
Rene Meulensteen knew it had to happen one day. But the announcement that it would be this season was a surprise. “It’s probably the right time for him. He will not make decisions like this lightly, of course. And he announced it in his own special way. Typical for him. He asked us all to visit him in his office. We came in, we sat down, and he told us. Just like that. No frills, no emotion. Just another message to relay.”