Sir Alex: Team builder
One reason Sir Alex Ferguson is considered one of the game’s greatest-ever managers is because he has built all-conquering teams not just once or twice, but three times.
While aware of the immediacy and short-term nature of modern football – fans and media demand success now, not tomorrow – he has always nurtured a careful succession plan, meaning the next generation is lining up ready to step forward just as the heroes of today are in their pomp.
His challenge was, of course, to build a fourth ‘great’ team – and the foundations are well in place…
The class of ’94
This era’s first-choice XI boasted a 100 per cent record in the games they played together in the 1993/94 Double season, built on a spine of talent bought in over a period of six seasons. Peter Schmeichel, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister and Denis Irwin would become defensive bedrocks of that first great Ferguson outfit, aided by Paul Parker at full-back. Roy Keane and Paul Ince provided the bite and creativity to augment Bryan Robson in his swansong season; Ryan Giggs and Mark Hughes were homegrown and Andrei Kanchelskis was a fleet-footed find from Russia. Then there was Eric Cantona – the catalyst who turned a very good team into a great one.
The Treble winners
The new clutch of youngsters were good enough, so they were old enough, and they were eased into a winning line-up over a transitional (but still successful) period in which seven of the above-mentioned 1994 XI departed. Key signings were added in the shape of Jaap Stam at centre-back and a rotating firing squad of Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Solskjaer. United had more strength in depth than ever, and long-awaited European glory was the reward.
The 2008 vintage
From the arrival of key men like Rio Ferdinand in 2002 through to Edwin van der Sar, Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic in 2005/06, a winning line-up came together, helped in no small part by the ripening of two truly world-class performers in the shape of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. Added to the winning mentality buried in the DNA of homegrown veterans like Paul Scholes, Giggs, Gary Neville and Wes Brown, it was a formidable blend of youth and experience, raw talent and solid reliability. Moscow was surely their finest hour.
The current crop
Despite winning the 2012/13 Premier League at a canter, today’s United team is yet to earn the ‘great’ title – but with so many blossoming youngsters, it’s only a matter of time. Having won a record-breaking 19th title in 2011, Sir Alex began assembling the new generation. David De Gea, Ashley Young and Phil Jones were added to an already youthful side, which eventually lost out on the championship crown on goal difference, before blossoming talents Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell joined the following season. Of course, cash was splashed to sign Robin van Persie, whose elegance and experience placed a cherry on top to aid the Reds’ title charge this term. As the boss wrote in his programme notes just last weekend, “this team of champions is not going away.”