HomeSportAt Last... Sir Alex Ferguson Can Take His Seat Among The Gods

At Last… Sir Alex Ferguson Can Take His Seat Among The Gods

MOSCOW’S got a new great dictator yesterday. A new enlightened despot. Fergie the Terrible. Fergie the Brave. Fergie the Great. Whatever you call him, this much is beyond doubt: his place in the history of football is secure.


After this incredible victory in the biggest game in the history of British club football, there can be no quibbling about what he has achieved.

His second Champions League triumph puts him up there with men like Brian Clough and Helenio Herrera and moves him closer to Bob Paisley’s record of three wins. Until last night, the fact that he had only won one European Cup in 22 years in charge of Manchester United was Ferguson’s Achilles’ heel.

Let’s face it, if United had lost in the Luzhniki Stadium, Ferguson would have won as many European Cups as Avram Grant. And Tony Barton. He deserves better company than that. And now he has it. Now he has kept his promise to the men of Munich that he would not let them down 50 years after the air disaster that claimed the lives of so many of the Busby Babes.

That sentiment and the fact that Ferguson has always produced teams that thrill the soul made it feel as though United’s victory in this enthralling match was a victory for the spirit of the game. A victory for a club that has stayed loyal to a manager. And a manager that has stayed loyal to a club. A victory for football’s last dictator and for the principle that a manager decides. A victory for playing football the right way.

For trying to win a match. Rather than trying not to lose one. But however lavish the tributes to Ferguson, the most sumptuous tribute of all was the one provided by his players during the match.

Some of the football they played on an occasion which often stifles creativity and expression was breathtakingly beautiful. There was Cristiano Ronaldo’s bewitching step-over and change of feet that mesmerised Michael Essien midway through the first half.

There was Paul Scholes’ lightning quick exchange with Wes Brown, simple but brilliant, which gave Brown the space to cross for Ronaldo to head the opening goal. Then there was Wayne Rooney, riding a tackle from Ricardo Carvalho near his own corner flag and
hitting a 70-yard pass into the path of Ronaldo. Ronaldo controlled it with one touch, took it past Essien and crossed for Carlos Tevez. If Tevez had burst the net with his header, it would have been the goal of the season. He didn’t.

On the sideline, Ferguson had leapt up off the bench. He headed an imaginary ball when Tevez flung himself at the ball, he hit an imaginary shot when Carrick directed the follow-up too close to Cech.

Then he turned back to the bench, his face creased with dismay.

But still United pressed forward. Another sweeping move ended with a cross from Rooney that split the Chelsea defence and gave Tevez another golden opportunity.

He spurned it again.

In the context of United’s domination, Chelsea’s equaliser on the stroke of half time was particularly cruel. The goal was as scrappy as their play had been, a pinball move of fortuitous rebounds that presented Frank Lampard with an open net.Until then, it had only been United who had shown real ambition. But they paid for the profligacy of Tevez in front of goal.The game should have been beyond Chelsea by the interval and United knew it.

Ferguson came on to the pitch at half time, wagging his finger angrily at referee Lubos Michel, presumably for his failure to deal more harshly with Carvalho’s shocking first half challenge on Ronaldo. But Chelsea imposed themselves on United in the second half and dominated the game as completely as United done in the opening period. Now the match became a test of Ferguson’s ability to build a team of grit as well as skill.

That quality has never been in doubt in Ferguson or his sides. His treble-winning team of 1999 was renowned for its refusal to know when it was beaten. Last night’s team were no different. —

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