Fergie’s Reign: An Underachieving Dominance?

Sir Alex ’s reign at Manchester United is looked upon with envy by every other club in the British Isles. His position at Old Trafford is unrivaled in the history of the famous football club. While Sir Matt Busby remains the man responsible for the rise of the phenomenon that this football club has become, Sir Alex Ferguson is responsible for making it grow older, wiser and richer.

Sir Alex has time and again developed his teams for every battle and has been true to his word in knocking Liverpool “off their f***ing perch”. His domestic achievements are no longer be up for debate. Under his reign, Manchester United have equaled Liverpool’s eighteen English titles and left them behind in terms of  domestic trophies – the League, F.A. Cup and the League Cup combined. Ferguson has delivered emphatically in England. Europe, however, remains a different proposition.

Sports News - March 31, 2010
Sir Alex – Not impressive enough in Europe?

Ever since the ban owing to the Heysel disaster was lifted on English clubs in Europe coupled with United’s resurgence in the premier league era; Ferguson’s teams have been ever-present in Europe’s premier club competition. United’s dominance on the home front wasn’t a coincidence. It was an era in the club’s illustrious history when a certain ‘golden generation’ was coming to their own. Never since “The Babes” had there been such a buzz about a group of youth team players and what unfolded in the following years fully justified the air of expectation surrounding them.

If the so called “Fergie’s fledglings” were blossoming, there was the ‘King of Old Trafford’ to shepherd them through. Eric Cantona was setting the premiership alight with his skills, vision, charisma and sheer brilliance but European glory still continued to evade as United suffered setbacks after setbacks. Second round exit at the hands of Galatasaray followed by a group stage exit in the following year was hardly the stuff of English champions. Fergie, for all his tactical acumen, was yet to crack the European code.

Finally, it was the year 1997 that saw a much more balanced approach in United’s game play reaping rewards. A fantastic European run to the semi-finals was brought to an end by German side Borussia Dortmund. But United lost more than just that match, they also lost their talisman. Cantona unceremoniously announced his retirement.

Despite all that United didn’t lose heart, they came bouncing back the following year and topped their group which included Italian giants Juventus. But it all fell apart once again in the knock out stage as they bowed out on away goals against Portugal’s Porto. It would seem that they were destined to be the perennial Bride’s maid. Patience was running thin as Europe remained elusive.

Ferguson was desperate to emulate Sir Matt in guiding United to the European crown. He spent 27.7 million pounds to sign Yorke, Stam and Blomqvist before the 1998-99 season got under way and the money was well spent as United won an unprecedented treble. United won both the domestic trophies and reclaimed the European cup after thirty-one years of yearning for it.

It was in many ways the perfect ensemble squad that a club could ask for. Paul Scholes and Roy Keane formed a mid-field partnership that would widely be regarded as the best in European circles. In Paul Scholes, United found the creativity and flair to unlock the best and meanest of defenses, whereas Roy Keane provided the assurance and license for his team mates to lay siege on opposition goal. The wing combination of Ryan Giggs and David Beckham was running rings around full backs around the world. United also had four of the worlds top marksmen in their ranks to convert most half-chances into goals. The squad was absolutely brimming with brilliance and flair. Success on a regular front did not look a remote possibility.

Ryan Giggs, Jaap Stam, David Beckham and Gary Neville
Part of The ‘Golden Generation’ – Giggs (L),
Neville (R) and Beckham(2nd from R)

But there are few guarantees in football, and ‘success’ is surely not one of them. Sir Alex continued to deploy his all-out attacking philosophy which had won him everything domestically when a more cautious approach was the ‘need of the hour’ in Europe. The Old Trafford club continued to play their brand of attractive football and in the process won many admirers, but could not convert it into European success. The Italian efficiency or the German precision would always overpower the English grit and flair. ‘Wasted’ would be a harsh word to describe such a successful era, but United had not fully utilised the resources at their disposal in the right way.

But wise men learn from their follies and the approach to European heaven has been moulded remarkably. The carefree attacking approach has given way to a more measured one, so it should come as no surprise that the results have improved drastically. The 2006-07 campaign was probably the beginning when realisation dawned on Sir Alex. Since 06-07, Man United have reached the finals twice, winning once, and also reached the semi-finals once.

The win in Moscow was indeed a welcome relief to everyone associated with the club but no more a relief to Ferguson himself. Europe remains his ‘holy grail’ and his claim to being the absolute best may be tainted by his lack of greater European success.

With United’s ‘Golden Generation’ and players like Cantona, Keane, Ruud, Ronaldo and Rooney at his disposal, is winning only two European trophies in fifteen years an under-achievement for this great club?

Sir Alex knows the answer and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he nods in affirmation…

  • great wrk… probably its US fans, who always ask for more :)

  • haha

    Underachievers….ask Liverpool..:)

  • Red Devil

    excellent article….its the winning mentality that Sir Alex has developed amongst United fans that has led to this article…i am sure :)


    I think its too harsh on SAF and glory in Europe is something exquisite. Its not something whose responsibility could be burdened upon a manager’s shoulder, its eventually the players and luck too plays a very important part so just because the man has won 2 European cup doesn’t mean he has underachieved. Usually Managers in modern day football dont stay long at a club. And mostly its the success which gets highlighted, and not the time or tenure…Lets talk of his rivals and their records.


    Arsene Wenger(Arsenal)
    Games:779 W:456 D:191 L:140 Win %:58.54
    Premier League (3): 1997–98, 2001–02, 2003–04
    FA Cup (4): 1997–98, 2001–02, 2002–03, 2004–05
    FA Community Shield (4): 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004
    They still say he’s the best at Arsenal. His achievements are nowhere close to SAF’s.


    I would consider figures from the time when Carlo Ancelotti was at Milan cuz of the time he spent there…

    Carlo Ancelotti(A.C.Milan)
    Games:413 W:234 D:100 L:79 Win %:56.66

    Coppa Italia: 2002–03
    Serie A: 2003–04
    Italian Supercup: 2004
    UEFA Champions League: 2002–03, 2006–07
    UEFA Super Cup: 2003, 2007
    FIFA Club World Cup: 2007

    He did achieved european glory twice but how much success did he achieve domestically… only One scudetto?


    Where as Sir Alex Fergusson’s records are for not 15 but good 24 years
    Games:1,328 W:781 D:308 L:239 Win %:58.81

    Premier League (11): 1992–93, 1993–94, 1995–96, 1996–97, 1998–99, 1999–2000, 2000–01, 2002–03, 2006–07, 2007–08, 2008–09
    FA Cup (5): 1989–90, 1993–94, 1995–96, 1998–99, 2003–04
    League Cup (4): 1991–92, 2005–06, 2008–09, 2009–10
    FA Charity/Community Shield (8): 1990*, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2003, 2007, 2008 (* shared)
    UEFA Champions League (2): 1998–99, 2007–08
    UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup (1): 1990–91
    UEFA Super Cup (1): 1991
    Intercontinental Cup (1): 1999
    FIFA Club World Cup (1): 2008

  • sarad

    I think this discussion was a huge hit in/around 06-07. If this write-up came during that time, many utd fans would have also agreed to it.

    But this topic does not go so well at this point of time, when Utd has won their 2nd European title in 10 years and back to back finals in recent times. All these without compromising their position in league, their mission “to be the most successful club in England”.

    And when Liverpool (05), Barca (06), Milan (07) won it in Europe, where did they fall in the league in the following year?

  • Shady

    I guess people have to realise that fergie wins his EPL titles because he has aset of players who play well togather but when the same players play for their tiny nations they just dont make the impact. Which means fergie can win EPL but not UCL easily. The first time he won the UCL the competetion was not that great and he has a lot of luck and the 2nd time he won it because JT missed the penalty rather than any special effort put in by his squad. I would never accept fergie as a underachieving manager but call him a overchieving manager due to the good scouts he had.

  • First things first, Sir Alex is my Icon if i ever have one. Never do i doubt his decison making capabilities or his tactical accumen. He has nothing to prove to the world, been there done that all. He is in a league of his own, so when the time comes to finally call it a day.. i wish he leaves with no stone unturned. I mean not even a iota of doubt shall remain in any bodys mind that he is as gud as they come.

    I hope that clarifies my point, when we measure SIR we dont judge him with X,Y,Z manager. We could may be judge him by his own yard stick. He himself confided that Europe could have possibly been conquered more.

  • goofy

    nice artice.. keep up d gud wrk . :)

  • Cmon Fergie we need 2 more 😉 but yeah such are the expectations thay United faithful would never be satisfied 😉

  • haha

    UCL is the hardest competition to win and it does not matter that if u are the best, u will win it (which can be true this yr also if barca are knocked out next week). In the knock out competition even small things matter for a lot…like this yr United were out due to the 93rd min in Munich (Bayern’s fan might also say the same thing about ’99). and Sir Alex has been unlucky on few occasions as well….like in ’97 we lost to bremen in the semis even though we had the better chances over the two legs..’03 porto won it as scholes’ goal was disallowed and then keeper’s mistake in the dying minutes…who knows how vital fletcher’s red card last yr was…but having said all this..even Sir Alex would admit that United have won at least 1 UCL less considering the teams at his disposal.

  • Howard Roark

    Man United and Champion’s League – This article brings back painful memories of Moscow’o8 – JT’s painful slip. He slipped in Russia but my heart sank here :(

    BTW good article. It’s not often that Devils remove their red glasses and actually evaluate if they could have done better. I think they have done just fine in Europe, but this coming from a Chelsea fan is no yardstick to judge your aspirations.

    Maybe we can break our jinx one day, and get our hands on the coveted trophy :)