While the great majority of people reading this article are likely Manchester United fans, its important to point out that you probably never would have followed Manchester United to this day had it not been for Sir Alex Ferguson. This week marks a historic 25th year in charge of the Red Devils, the longest single stint of top flight management in the history of the league. An achievement that no one can possibly deny.
To put his achievements into perspective, one has to look past the silver ware that he has brought to the club and think about how football has fundamentally changed over the last 25 years. Every aspect of the game is approached in a completely different way, as compared to a quarter of a century ago. Training regiments, nutritional planning, equipment and most significantly tactics.
While I can wrap my head around the idea of being able to move with the times with respect to the aforementioned aspects of the game that have evolved over time and can just about fathom the idea of a man being able to keep up with those changes. I rationalize that part quite easily; he probably helped write the book on most of those changes being the revolutionary agent of change in football that he is, but what keeps me up at night is that last bit about how tactics have changed over the last quarter of a century.
While the game of football seems eternal in terms of its approach, those of us that are more familiar with the game know that is simply not true. To illustrate the kind of drastic change football has seen over the last 25 years, that new positions altogether have been invented is a good place to start. If you don’t believe there has been fundamental change, please try and succinctly express what position Rivaldo played for the Brazilian national team in the 1990’s. I’m guessing there are few takers if any.
Expanding on the subject of positions evolving and put into perspective where Sir Alex started for the reader, his managerial career in a world where the left and right back were mere defenders, rarely if ever allowed to explore what the second half of the pitch felt like under their boots. The notion of moving up the pitch to burgeon the attack while being shadowed by a midfielder that could take their place in an instant if things went wrong at the back, was a locker room fantasy in England.
I could go on forever, pointing out different positions and tactics that evolved over the last 25 years of Sir Alex’s reign but I can’t for a second hope to explain how he managed to evolve with the game during such a drastic period of change. His genius and ultimately his legacy in my mind is that whenever football changed he used the players he had to adjust formations and attitudes into a winning side, only for those same formations and tactics to often be replicated unsuccessfully by the competition until the next trophy brought further refinements. Eventually emerging the well oiled locomotive that he has been the conductor of for longer than some of us have been born.
While there will be significant argument over the subject of what his greatest achievement has been, as far as I’m concerned that is it in a nutshell. So from all of us at the Offsidetrap, we wish the Gaffer a happy 70th birthday and several successful years to come in charge of the club that he helped rebuild at Old Trafford, brick by brick.