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Wed May 8, 2013
The Two-Way

Alex Ferguson: A Legendary Manager For An Iconic Franchise

Originally published on Wed May 8, 2013 5:55 pm

The resignation of veteran Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is an event causing ripples that go way beyond the island where the Scotsman spent his long and illustrious career.

Walk into a bar pretty much anywhere from Buenos Aires to Bangkok, mention Ferguson or his star-studded team of Red Devils, and you can be sure of a lively conversation — and perhaps a heated argument.

Ferguson's name is not always greeted with warmth, especially by supporters of rival English soccer teams whom he so often frustrated in the battle for trophies, of which he won an astounding 38 during his Manchester years.

He was a tough and highly competitive character in a notoriously ruthless business. In the English game, managers and coaches whose teams fail to perform tend to be sacked with unceremonious speed. It is a measure of Ferguson's remarkable success that he held his job for 27 years.

Ferguson's hard-nosed approach was particularly felt by soccer journalists. Those who upset him were banned from his press conferences. For seven years, Ferguson refused to be interviewed by the British Broadcasting Corp. because he was angry about a program it broadcast about him and one of his sons.

He could, at times, be abrasive and also outspoken: He knows how to get under the skin of opposition managers before a big game. He has a long record of lambasting referees for decisions he disliked — apparently undeterred by the resulting fines. In fact, his critics frequently accuse him of striking such fear in the heart of match officials that they become biased in favor of Manchester United players.

He could be a strict disciplinarian with his team and staff. "He was always falling out with people," Michael Crick, author of a book about Ferguson called The Boss, told the BBC. It is said that in Scotland, in the early stages of his managerial career, Ferguson once fined a player merely for having the gall to overtake his car while driving to the ground.

Tributes Flood In

News of Ferguson's decision to leave Manchester United at the end of this season is being greeted with a chorus of tributes from around the world, and a tsunami of statistics about his achievements: two European Champions League crowns, five FA Cups and five League Cups, and more. He leaves on a high — this year, for the 13th time on his watch, Manchester United won the highly prestigious English Premiership title.

In England, Ferguson's departure came as a surprise — and prompted a wave of emotional calls to radio phone-ins from Manchester United fans. But it has been the subject of discussion for years. There is speculation that his health perhaps played a part: He is reportedly due to have a hip operation soon.

Ferguson made the announcement with a statement saying that this is the "right time" to go, and paid tribute to the Florida-based Glazer family who own a controlling stake in Manchester United.

"The decision to retire is one that I have thought a great deal about. It is the right time," Ferguson said. "It was important to me to leave an organization in the strongest possible shape, and I believe I have done so."

Ferguson leaves his post at 71, after a career that began in Scotland as a player (he was a forward at Glasgow Rangers in the late 1960s), and ended as the most successful manager in the history of British football. In his homeland, Scotland, he's still revered for a remarkably successful stint as manager of Aberdeen FC in the early 1980s.

A debate has now begun among sports fans over exactly how prominent will be the place that Ferguson occupies in the history of soccer. A general consensus is emerging, even among his foes, that he will surely be remembered as one of the greatest managers in the world, who transformed his club into a major brand — with fans across the planet.

Betting has begun, too, over who will be his successor. His job is one of the most prestigious and high-profile in sport — but filling his boots will not be at all easy for his successor.

On his home turf, the Old Trafford soccer stadium, Ferguson's looming presence is likely to continue to be felt, not least because he is staying on at Manchester United as a director and ambassador. He already has a statue outside the club's famous stadium.

More honors are sure to follow from the Red Devils' fans who, in the coming days, will likely flock to see Ferguson's two last remaining games at the helm of one of the world's most glamorous soccer teams.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

From Boston to Bangkok, every follower of soccer knows his face. They've seen it on TV for years. His nose glows red. His jaws pound on a wad of gum. His eyes hawkishly follow every play. Alex Ferguson is one of the most prominent figures in the world's most popular sport. He has been manager of Manchester United for more than a quarter of a century, and today, he announced he is retiring at the end of this season.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Soccer fans don't often agree, but on this, there's a general consensus. Alex Ferguson is the most successful manager in British football and one of the greatest in the game's history.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Congratulations to the imperious Sir Alex...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

REEVES: The season, Manchester United won the English premiership for the 13th time under Ferguson's stewardship. That trophy has gone into a cabinet stuffed with silverware - 38 trophies in all during Ferguson's nearly 27 years at the club.

Ferguson started out as a player in the rough world of Scottish soccer. Later, as a manager, he prove shrewd and ruthless. He's known for his mind games with opponents and for lambasting referees and players. Ferguson says flying off the handle is part of the game.

ALEX FERGUSON: There's nothing wrong with losing your temper if it's for the right reasons. I don't leave it till the next day. I don't believe in that.

MICHAEL CRICK: The thing about Ferguson, he had a number of personal attributes - huge intelligence, an amazing physical constitution, this ability to survive on three or four hours sleep a night, so it meant he'd be in the training ground first thing in the morning. He'd have all sorts of jobs done, work done before any of the players turned up.

REEVES: Michael Crick's author of a book about Ferguson called "The Boss." Crick says there's another side to Ferguson. Though he usually makes up in the end, Ferguson tends to fall out with people.

CRICK: And particularly, he was always falling out with journalists. He would ban people from his press conferences if they asked the mildest critical question.

REEVES: Manchester United is owned by the Florida-based Glazer family. Ferguson, who's 71, says he's leaving the club in the strongest possible shape. It's become one of world's most valuable sports franchises. Over the years, he's nurtured some of soccer's greatest players: Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, and more. That's why his resignation's caused dismay thousands of miles from Manchester to Ken Lai, of Manchester United Supporters' Club in Singapore.

KEN LAI: We wished that he stays on forever but it's not possible. We had hoped that the day would not be coming so fast, soon. But there's never a right time for this.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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