He’s stood at the helm of the most powerful names in club soccer for over a generation. And this Sunday, he’ll be crowned for the most enduring tenure in English football. The League has changed, its stars have fallen by the wayside, some clubs have imploded while others have been resurrected over time, and yet one man has withstood the ravages of time and the demands of the sport. Still standing tall like a sphinx, Sir Alex Ferguson is, after all these years, the unmistakable face of English club football.

There are very few people in professional sport who have been subject to the vagaries of public sentiment as much as Fergie has. Misunderstood, underestimated, feared, respected, reviled, admired and adored in unequal measures, but most importantly, the enigma is still going strong conquering all odds.

Sir Alex : Another jewel in the thorne

When he arrived at the red half of Manchester in the month of November, 1986, United were languishing in the 19th place and facing possible relegation to the second tier of English football; but Fergie steadied the ship and prevented the demotion as they did admirably well to climb to the 11th spot in the final standings. The Gaffer almost got hold of the coveted title in his very next attempt, but a resurgent Liverpool clinched the crown and United had to settle with the second spot.

Move over Madonna, this man is the master of reinvention. For someone with a not-exactly-undeserved reputation for being stubborn, Fergie has been quick and agile when it came to dealing with the latest threat on the horizon to his undisputed crown.

The smooth transition and rebuilding of the United team after the treble winning season of 1999 deserves a special mention here. The way he rebuilt another equally competent squad after the departures of several key players speaks volume about Sir Alex’s caliber and the amount of respect he commands from his players. Arsene Wenger, the philosophical Frenchman, might well be the one who posed the longest and most persistent threat to Fergie. The Red Devils had to endure the ignominy of being bested by The Invincibles’ in the early noughties, and for a while it looked like Fergie’d found his match. If Fergie, looking to rebuild after the Treble Times, thought he had his hands full trying to plot Wenger’s downfall, he was in for an even bigger surprise.

A Russian mega-billionaire, flush with petrodollars stepped into the arena skewing it forever with a resurrection of Chelsea’s flagging fortunes. Suddenly Fergie, had to deal not only with the French thorn in his side, but also with the new kid on the block – a certain Special One – Jose Mourinho, a Portuguese with a big ego, and an even bigger resume. Throw in a Spaniard, who took over the reins of Liverpool, and Fergie began to look increasingly like an analog man in a digital world.

The evergreen Fergie

When the tale of the Premier League after the turn of the century is told someday, it will dedicate a chapter to the study of how Fergie outlasted the threats posed by an eclectic European bunch and emerged battered and bruised but still the last man standing after a rumble of royal proportions.

After Wenger and Mourinho’s time at the helm had come to pass, Fergie returned to claim his throne, establishing a stranglehold of terrifying proportions, as United ran out winners three years in a row. In that time, one of United’s earlier purchases Cristiano Ronaldo ascended the ranks from potential talent to a Greek god, under the watchful eyes of the old hawk. That meteoric rise corresponded with a mega haul of three Premier Leagues, one Champions League trophy among other silverware. The marriage between individual and club would prove to be fleeting, and Fergie once again had to answer the naysayers who predicted United’s downfall that season.

They would prove to be right, but not in as spectacular a fashion as they might have hoped for. United went on to lose the title to a resurgent Chelsea, by the narrowest of margins – one point. One point that denied United and Fergie, the chance to claim Liverpool’s proudest boast as their own.

The 2010 season started in uncharacteristically shaky form for United, with Rooney’s marital infidelities and public misgivings about the club, dealing what seemed to be a death blow to United’s fledgling campaign. And yet here we are, around Christmas, with Manchester United and Ferguson sitting pretty on the top and his nearest rivals in disarray.

It is fitting that Fergie gets to achieve that distinguished mark of longevity at the home of the Blues, defending champions and his biggest competitors in recent times. Regardless of what the eventual result is, one man will deservedly walk out of Stamford Bridge with his head held high, who has guided Manchester United to an unprecedented 11 English Premier League titles, 2 UEFA Champions League crowns, 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, 9 FA Community Shields, one UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, one UEFA Super Cup, an Intercontinental Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.

He might get a standing ovation, or a guard of honor, or none at all Stamford Bridge this Saturday. Either way, it wouldn’t matter for him. The ageless and the eternal do not worry about fleeting moments the way mere mortals do. We will raise a toast of champagne and say “Cheers Gaffer, here’s wishing for another glorious 24 years”.