Sir Alex Ferguson – Old foe halts United’s progress

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Ferguson had brought United their first title in 26 years and followed it up by winning the double

Sir Alex Ferguson Copyright Gordon Flood and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence 2
Alex Ferguson

Early career in Scotland
Joining Manchester United
You win nothing with kids?
Winning the treble
Further European success
Football’s Greatest Managers

The following season, United failed to win a major trophy. Blackburn Rovers had emerged as a force thanks to the millions of pounds being pumped into the club by local businessman, Jack Walker.

Kenny Dalglish, who had twice won the league as Liverpool manager since Ferguson’s appointment at United, was now in charge at Blackburn.

United might have signed Keane after he had been in talks with Blackburn, but Walker’s money had enabled Dalglish to beat Ferguson to other major signings such as Shearer and Chris Sutton. In 1994-95, Blackburn also beat United to the title despite losing their final game of the season away at Anfield.

United had been without their key playmaker for the final four months of the season; Cantona was suspended for a total of eight months for attacking a Crystal Palace fan at Selhurst Park. Ferguson again broke the transfer record to sign Andy Cole for £7m. Cole scored 12 goals in 18 games but the team didn’t do enough to fend off Blackburn in the end.

What could have been a glorious end to the season turned into a nightmare when they lost the FA Cup final 1-0 against Everton.

Manchester United regain the title

The 1995-96 season was important for Ferguson and United. They needed to make a serious push to regain the title or they risked becoming yesterday’s men. Ferguson prepared for the season in a way that surprised everyone. He sold three of his key experienced players, Ince, Hughes and Kanchelskis without seemingly having adequate replacements.

He failed in his attempts to sign Roberto Baggio, Marc Overmars and Darren Anderton and instead promoted several youngsters to the first team squad. Gary Neville, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes had already made a several first team appearances in the previous campaign. They were joined by David Beckham and Phil Neville.

Many people thought that Ferguson had lost the plot. Alan Hansen told Match of the Day viewers that ‘you can’t win anything with kids’.

Ferguson’s mind games

The season was also famous for the way Newcastle United surrendered a 10 point lead at the top of the table. United were on fire after Cantona returned from suspension and they ruthlessly whittled away Newcastle’s lead.

The young players proved that Ferguson hadn’t lost the plot in putting his faith in them. In fact it was Ferguson’s opposite number, Newcastle manager, Kevin Keegan, who seemed to temporarily lose the plot.

Ferguson was voted LMA Manager of the Decade for the 1990s.

After a number of negative remarks in the media, which would later become famous as Ferguson’s ‘mind games’ or ‘gamesmanship’, Keegan launched into an angry rant live on Sky Sports. He shouted into the microphone that Ferguson had gone down in his estimation and that he would ‘Love it!’ if Newcastle beat them.

It was a passionate speech but it wasn’t particularly articulate or inspiring, instead it put even more unwanted pressure on his own players. Most of all it showed that Ferguson had got under Keegan’s skin.

The ‘Double double’

Newcastle went into freefall. Unable to cope with the pressure, they dropped several points during the run in and United won the title on the final day of the season with a win against Middlesbrough.

A week later, they played in their third FA Cup final in a row. Their opponents were Liverpool, whose players turned up in matching cream suits. United’s players didn’t dress as flashy as Liverpool’s ‘Spice boys’ and their minds were 100% focused on the game rather than making their grand entrance into Wembley.

Cantona scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory and United became the first team in England to win the league and cup double twice – proving that you can win major trophies with kids.

The beginning of the Wenger rivalry

Manchester United won the league again the following year. Again they finished ahead of Kevin Keegan’s entertaining Newcastle side. The highlight of the season for United was Beckham’s famous goal from the half way line against Wimbledon. It was also Cantona’s last season for the club.

It was the season that one of Ferguson’s great rivals, Arsène Wenger, arrived in the Premier league. Wenger arrived in September 1996 and led Arsenal to 3rd in the table. Ferguson wasn’t initially impressed or threatened by Wenger. At the time he said of the Frenchman: ‘What does he know about English football?’

Ferguson signed Teddy Sheringham to replace Cantona at the start of the 1997-98 season. United were top of the league for much of the season but stuttered towards the end. By contrast, Wenger had his Arsenal side playing like men possessed and they put together a fabulous winning run. United ended up finishing second to Arsenal by just one point. United have their most successful season ever – Read more

Early career in Scotland
Joining Manchester United
You win nothing with kids?
Winning the treble
Further European success
Football’s Greatest Managers