Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t.
The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”
Sir Alex Ferguson, over his memorable and remarkable stay at Old Trafford, has mastered the art of building, dismantling and rebuilding championship winning sides with jaw-dropping regularity. It’s the trademark of the great man and one of his several fantastic qualities that the transformation from one great side to the other is swift and most often sublime.
After the abrupt departure of the indomitable Eric Cantona, the club was in a state of shock and gloom. However, with Ferguson still looking more than ready for a new challenge, fans fears were ill-founded. Ferguson was yet to claim his raison d’être, the elusive European Cup. He wouldn’t and simply couldn’t rest before laying his hands on the most prestigious trophy in club football.
Fourth Of Ferguson’s Sides (99-2003): The Master Piece
Sir Alex finally achieved his holy grail and not only that, the Old Trafford club achieved the unthinkable Treble. After years of underachieving in Europe and coming up a cropper against their European counterparts, Sir Alex Ferguson finally cracked the code and how! Fergie’s treble winning side was founded on the bedrock of probably the best midfield ever assembled by the manager in his 25 years at the helm.
The midfield four of Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and David Beckham was unmatched and a cut above anything seen on these shores. The front two of Cole and York were like ‘Siamese twins’, telepathic and deadly effective. Super sub Ole Gunnar Solskjaer never ever disappointed, while Nicky Butt was a fantastic replacement to have off the bench. At the back, the imposing Jap Stam filled the opposition hearts with fear; Denis Irwin and Gary Neville were superb that season too.
After winning the historic treble, Man United and Sir Alex didn’t let the hunger die; in fact, for the next two years the league was won at a canter. New faces had arrived at the Theatre of Dreams while many walked off in sunset, no more important than Peter Schmeichel. Three league titles in three years, the club was having its prolonged honeymoon period and the fans now took success as surety and with an air of inevitability. United briefly lost their supremacy as Gunners stole a march on them but with their fourth title in five years, there was no denying the fact that Ferguson had indeed achieved the impossible in footballing terms with a decade of continued success.
David Beckham – United hero and a club legend was sold to Real Madrid following the title win of season 2003 as the manager and the player had severed all their ties. The fans were left exasperated but Ferguson’s authority was supreme and irrevocable.
Fifth Of The Ferguson’s Sides (2003-2006): Broken Promises
Probably the only time during Ferguson era that the club had lost its way somewhat. This period was marked with uncertainty about Fergie’s impending retirement and some shocking indulgences in the transfer market. The Scotsman had suddenly lost the knack in the shop window. While some were bad mistakes, others like Diego Forlan just didn’t work out for one reason or the other.
However, the club did manage to add to their repertoire two talents that would go on to rule the league. But for the moment, Mourinho’s Chelsea were miles ahead of the Red Devils. United’s Dutch international star Rudd Van Nistelrooy did all he could to bridge the gap but to no avail. Rudd was indeed in a class of his own but just didn’t have the support; he was United’s pole star in their night of gloom.
The year 2006 was a watershed year in the history of the club in more ways than one. Ferguson and Roy Keane parted ways in acrimonious circumstances. Things usually get worse before they eventually get any better. In United’s case it couldn’t be more true. United’s leading light, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, had a rift with the club and Ferguson showed him the door; much to the horror of United fans. After 150 Goals for the Old Trafford club in five jaw-dropping years at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’, how could Ruud ever be replaced was the question on every United fan’s mind?
Sixth Of The Ferguson’s Sides (2006-2010): Glory Returns To Old Trafford
After three years of being dominated by their London counterparts, Fergie and United finally answered the call of duty and in awe-inspiring style. Michael Carrick was the new acquisition as Rooney and Ronaldo doubled up to cause untold heartache to opposition defenses, ripping them apart in lightning counter attacks. The pace and panache in United’s game play was a joy to behold something which had gone missing for a few seasons. Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea were finally defeated and optimism returned among Red Devils around the globe.
United were crowned the Champions of Europe the next season along with retaining their premier league crown as the Cristiano Ronaldo phenomenon was now at its absolute zenith. Ronaldo lead United made it a hat-trick of league titles and in the process, equaled Liverpool’s record of 18 league titles to the utter disgust and envy of Merseyside.
Although Cristiano Ronaldo left for newer pastures, Ferguson still had unfinished business though. After Chelsea stole the title via a single point in the season 2009-10, Fergie guided Man United to their 19th and most celebrated league title the following season. Years ago, ‘they’ laughed off the claims and cries coming out of Manchester. Now that the peak has been achieved and summit scaled, is there still room for doubt?
Alex Ferguson has achieved what no one could have dreamt of all those years ago, he pulled off the miracle which lesser mortals couldn’t even contemplate. When Ferguson landed in Manchester, Liverpool’s authority and position in the English game was peerless but with every passing year the gap narrowed and finally diminished. It’s easy to forget where the club has come from, riding on the back of one man’s unrivaled vision and unquenchable thirst for success; it’s Ferguson’s success more than anyone else’s.
25 years on and more than 1400 games later, the Alex Ferguson juggernaut show no signs of slowing down. However, a new storm is brewing and this time closer to home. The noisy neighbors have turned up the decibels and Ferguson must respond to yet another battle cry. Liverpool, Blackburn, Newcastle, Arsenal, Chelsea have all had their go, Man City must try. Nonetheless, after two and a half decades of overcoming every roadblock that thwarted his path, trust Sir Alex to silence the Blue half of Manchester in due course.
The famous cliché in football says “no man is bigger than the club”, but perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson is now synonymous if not bigger than the club. The Alex Ferguson years at Old Trafford demonstrate that one man with courage makes a majority. For enriching our lives and bejeweling the beautiful game of football, raise your glasses to the grand old man of Manchester United, the unparalleled emperor of Old Trafford!