Football: Alex Ferguson, the man who rebuilt United

Alex Ferguson's successor as Manchester United manager, David Moyes, will be reminded of the gargantuan size of the task facing him every time he looks out across the Old Trafford pitch at the giant stand that bears his predecessor's name.

United's 25,500-capacity North Stand was renamed The Sir Alex Ferguson Stand in November 2011.

Facing the dug-outs, it towers over the pitch in the same way that Ferguson's legacy will loom over the club when he leaves, after a record-breaking 26-year spell in which he won 38 trophies.

The announcement of his retirement earlier this week sent shockwaves rippling through world football.

Former United star David Beckham hailed him as a "father figure", while tributes flooded in from current and former players, rival managers, and figures as varied as FIFA president Sepp Blatter and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

"He would get up in the middle of the night and travel 300 miles if he thought there was a schoolboy that he could sign," said United director and former captain Bobby Charlton.

"He loves the game and we at the club have had nothing to do, really."

Old Trafford was a very different place when Ferguson arrived on November 6, 1986, and United were a very different team.

Fourth from bottom in the old English First Division, they had gone 19 years without winning the league and were forced to toil in obscurity while hated rivals Liverpool swept all before them.

The son of a Glasgow shipbuilder, Ferguson arrived from Aberdeen with a reputation as an iron-fisted disciplinarian, having broken the Old Firm's stranglehold on the Scottish Premier Division.

His crowning glory at Pittodrie was a victory over the mighty Real Madrid in the final of the European Cup Winners' Cup in Gothenburg in 1983, but success at United initially proved elusive.

Ferguson's future at the club was reportedly at stake when United travelled to Nottingham Forest for an FA Cup third-round tie in January 1990, but a Mark Robins goal took the away side through and Ferguson never looked back.

Victory over Crystal Palace in an FA Cup final replay gave the Scot his first trophy at Old Trafford and sparked an unprecedented run of success that saw United emerge as one of the most popular sporting teams in the world.

A spiky centre-forward during his playing days, which included a two-year stint at Glasgow giants Rangers, stories about Ferguson's fiery temper were legion.

He was once reported to have ejected bemused revellers from a house party held by young United first-teamers Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe, while striker Mark Hughes famously likened a dressing-down from the manager to a blast from a "hairdryer".

Ferguson's intimidating reputation helped him to nurture a precocious group of talented young players who were to form the backbone of his most successful teams.

Giggs, Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Gary and Phil Neville emerged from United's youth set-up within years of each other and, dubbed 'Fergie's Fledglings', continued the tradition of rewarding youth instilled at Old Trafford by United's first great Scottish manager, Matt Busby.

United ended a 26-year wait for the league title by triumphing in the inaugural season of the Premier League in 1992-93, before claiming their first ever league and FA Cup Double the following year.

A side of youngsters galvanised around inspirational Frenchman Eric Cantona claimed another Double in 1996, before Ferguson's finest hour arrived in 1999, when United won an unprecedented Treble of league, FA Cup and Champions League honours.

In perhaps their most famous victory, United scored twice in injury time to overcome Bayern Munich 2-1 in Barcelona, prompting one of Ferguson's most famous remarks: "Football, bloody hell!"

After the victory, he was honoured with a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II.

Ferguson had to wait nine years for his next success in Europe's elite competition, following a penalty shootout win over Chelsea in the Moscow rain, and his one regret was that, for all their domestic success, United did not collect more silverware on the continental scene.

The 2008 Champions League triumph was the high watermark of a team that Ferguson assembled after a period of transition in which United were controversially taken over by American businessman Malcolm Glazer.

The move sparked angry protests from fans, at a time when United's dominance of the Premier League had been interrupted by Jose Mourinho's Chelsea, but Ferguson kept his eye on the ball with characteristic single-mindedness.

His thirst for success meant he was always on the look-out for signs of decay and players including Hughes, Beckham, Paul Ince, Jaap Stam, Ruud van Nistelrooy and even inspirational captain Roy Keane were all moved on with surprising haste.

Only once did Ferguson sell reluctantly, when Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo left for Real Madrid in 2009, but the United bandwagon rolled on.

Ferguson has been cast as a Machiavellian schemer, setting traps for rival managers to tumble into with carefully directed barbs.

He has had feuds with several opposition coaches, most notably Kevin Keegan, Arsene Wenger and Rafael Benitez, as well as countless run-ins with the football authorities, but his fellow managers often speak of his warmth.

"He is someone all the football managers look up to, they all respect him," said former Everton manager Moyes, who succeeds Ferguson on a six-year contract on July 1.

The club Ferguson leaves behind him is almost unrecognisable.

Old Trafford has almost doubled in size, expanding from a fading, single-tier arena to a huge, 75,700-capacity super-stadium.

United are no longer a mere football team, but a global brand with a listing on the New York stock exchange, and an estimated value of $3.17 billion (2.42 billion euros).

Many of the millions of fans attracted to United by the club's recent success have only ever known Ferguson as manager, but although many will mourn his departure, the club is now imbued with his will to win to its very core.


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