Sir Alex Ferguson is a legend of the game and is among the most successful managers in English football. He has churned out many successful teams during his reign and is famous for his man-management. However, not all his teams have been filled with superstars, but he somehow has managed to get the best out of very average United teams. Fergie had to start makeshift teams because many first team injuries, and this was quite a common theme throughout his years managing United. Even though some of the players under Fergie were not considered “world class”, they were still massively important . Players like John O’Shea, Park Ji Sung and Darren Fletcher were reliable, tactically disciplined and crucial whenever they were required to put in a shift. More importantly, these were the players that embody the character of a Manchester United player.
Sir Alex’s trophy haul includes 1 FIFA Club World Cup, 2 UEFA Champions League, 13 Premier League, 5 FA Cup, 10 Community Shield, 4 League Cup, 1 Super Cup and 1 Cup Winners Cup. I believe that he would have added more to his trophy cabinet had he signed more of the players he wanted. However, the teams written in this article is a testament of the genius of Sir Alex and how he managed to mastermind famous wins with average United teams.
Wolfsburg 1- 3 Manchester United – Champions League, 2009
An away game in Europe is not an easy task, even if the home team is of a lesser quality. What made this game harder to win was playing three midfielders in defence. Having Carrick and Fletcher as centrebacks is certainly not an ideal backline to have on an away night in Wolfsburg. Furthermore, backup keeper, Tomasz Kuszczak was in goal. I remember seeing the lineup and had a feeling United were going to lose this match. However, even with seven midfielders on the pitch, Ferguson managed to spring a surprise 1-3 win courtesy of a Michael Owen hat-trick. Even Gabriel Obertan got in on the action and managed to assist one of the goals. This match was one of the hallmarks of Sir Alex’s genius when it came to getting the best out of very average United teams.
Manchester United 2 – 0 Arsenal – FA Cup, 2011
Manchester United comfortably won this match even with a makeshift team against Arsenal. This was a period of time when United always seemed to win games against the Gunners. Even with seven defenders in the team, United managed to comfortably beat Arsenal 2 – 0. Rafael and Fabio were impressive in their attacking display, oftentimes being at the heart of the counterattacks. This game gave me hope that the fullback berths were secured with the Da Silva brothers, but things did not eventually work out in the end.
Manchester United 8 – 2 Arsenal – English Premier League, 2011
How this Manchester United team managed to score EIGHT goals against Arsenal will forever be puzzling to me. This game was followed by Manchester City’s thrashing of Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. Spurs were beaten 1 – 5 by Manchester City and it was this match that dubbed the Citizens as title contenders. At that point in time, I actually believed that to be true. City had signed good quality players over the summer and had a really good manager in Roberto Mancini. City’s result against Spurs probably fueled United’s desire to make a statement about their noisy neighbours, and this was the best game to do it. But to win 8-2 was incredible. This was a testament of Sir Alex’s capability as a manager, because he was able to get players such as Cleverley to play beyond his potential. Sir Alex also had faith in Welbeck, who is now an Arsenal legend, to be a striker of United’s calibre. Smalling, Jones and Evans were undoubtedly very good players but they were not champion-material yet. Alas, this United team did not have enough quality to finish ahead of their neighbours, as City were crowned EPL champions in the 2011/2012 season. However, this was just the start of a squad rebuild into a team that was meant to challenge for titles in the future.
Manchester United 6 – 2 Fenerbahçe, Champions League, 2004
“So good, they named him twice.” While it is true Djemba-Djemba was named twice, his football could not quite nearly reach half of its potential. On paper, a centre midfield pairing of Kleberson and Djemba-Djemba does not exactly ring world class. Bellion could also be considered to be another United flop. Bellion’s career at United never really took off and failed to nail a starting place in an evolving United team. On paper, the midfield looks like a mid-table team, barring Ryan Giggs. However, it was thanks to the excellence of Wayne Rooney, on his debut, that United managed to destroy Fenerbache 6 – 2. Rooney’s debut hat-trick was certainly the stuff of dreams, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Manchester United 3 – 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers, Carling Cup 2010
It is common knowledge that the Big Four (in 2009) would field promising young players in the League Cup for them to gain crucial first team experience. Against Wolves, Sir Alex had fielded a fairly young United team, which included the likes of Bebe, Macheda and Obertan. With Ronaldo leaving the Reds in 2008, Fergie had set out trying to find someone to replace him. Along came Obertan from Bordeaux. Little was known about him, but he was supposedly the one to replace Ronaldo. Even I was bought into it at that time. I was hopeful of this unknown talent from France, as he had the skills exactly like Ronaldo. However, this hype was premature, as his career only went downhill after leaving United. The same can be said about Bebe. The Portuguese midfielder’s shock move to United raised eyebrows as Ferguson did not even watch the player play. I was doubtful of Bebe, but I thought he would have at least put on a display whenever he played. Unfortunately, he only started seven games during his four year stint at United, scoring two goals.
Even though these players were average, some below average, it is important to note that fringe players do have an important role in title challenges. The depth of the United squad meant that fringe players were crucial to take some of the burden carried by the starters. The fact that most of these players are no longer in the current United side but are still plying their trade elsewhere goes to show how Sir Alex had managed to squeeze the very best out of relatively weak and average players. His man-management was something to marvel at and should be a guiding principle for managers to follow suit.