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EDITIONS
Uniteds Euro Showdown Thursday, 27 May, 1999, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
The architects of Old Trafford
Pat Crerand and George Best celebrate Matt Busby's 1968 European Cup win
Two men stand head and shoulders above all other Manchester United managers - Sir Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson.

United's treble triumph
Sir Matt was, of course, the individual who did more than anyone to build United into arguably the biggest club in Britain and one of the most famous sides in the world.

Twenty-eight years after he ended his second stint as United manager, Busby's shadow still falls over Old Trafford.

Ferguson and Busby: United legends
His statue adorns the ground, which is itself situated in Sir Matt Busby Way.

It is impossible to underestimate Busby's importance to the Red Devils.

But now Ferguson has achieved his goal of winning the European Cup in Barcelona, his supporters can legitimately put him alongside Sir Matt.

United's triumph in the 1999 Premiership means Ferguson has equalled the five league titles his illustrious predecessor won in the 1950s and '60s.

And now Ferguson has add the one remaining piece of silverware to his personal trophy room - the European Cup itself.

Scottish success stories

The similarities between the two men, who grew up in the same area of western Scotland. are striking.

  • Both took over United in a state of chaos and turned the club into undisputed kings of English football.

  • Both based their success on shrewd youth development - Busby's Babes were followed in the 1990s by Fergie's Fledglings - and believed in playing the game in a stylish, at times adventurous, fashion.

  • And, unlike so many managers who seem to concentrate solely on the first-team squad, both were able to shape the club from top to bottom.

    Post-war salvage job

    Busby, a stylish half-back whose playing career was disrupted by the Second World War, inherited a team with no home, as Old Trafford had been severely damaged in the Blitz.

    The team were forced to play their matches at Maine Road, home of their arch rivals City, but despite the parlous condition of the club Busby soon began to turn them around.

    They won the championship in 1952, United's first title for 41 years, and in his first six seasons in charge they never finished lower in the table than fourth.

    Then came the tragedy of the 1956 Munich air crash that wiped out half the United team and nearly cost Busby his life.

    But undeterred, he rebuilt the side for a second time, basing his success around the world class triumvirate of Best, Law and Charlton.

    Burden of expectation

    Ferguson took the reins in 1986 in different circumstances, but there were still enormous problems.

    Flags adorn the street sign after Sir Matt's death in 1994
    Unlike when Busby assumed control, the infrastructure of the club was in tact - indeed United still claimed to be the biggest side in the land.

    But it was on the pitch where things were awry.

    The title had not returned to Old Trafford since Busby's last triumph in 1967 and despite the occasional FA Cup success, the holy grail of the championship looked a long way off and the pressure had taken its toll on a succession of managers.

    At first not everything went according to plan for Ferguson.

    Such was the parlous state of the United set-up that results did not go his way and, following a run of bad results in the 1989-90 season, the knives began to be sharpened.

    But Fergie saved his job with victory in the 1990 FA Cup - and with his position secure he was able to usher in a decade of domestic dominance.

    Fergie's 'the best ever'

    Few people in football are as qualified as Wilf McGuinness to offer an opinion on the relative merits of Ferguson and Busby.

    The former United manager spent 18 years at the club under Busby and has observed Ferguson's achievements from close range.

    And he believes that by bringing the European Cup back to Old Trafford, Ferguson has even eclipsed Sir Matt himself.

    "For me there's been nobody better than the two of them," McGuinness said.

    "With things going according to plan I think he's got to be the greatest ever. It's as simple as that.

    "Typical of Alex, though, he would just be delighted to be thought off in the same way that Matt was."

    McGuinness has no doubts that Sir Matt would be just as proud to be compared with Ferguson.

    He said: "I like to look at it in the romantic or dreamer's way and for me Matt Busby is up up there in heaven looking down on Alex and thinking 'What a wonderful job he's done'."

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    Former United manager Wilf McGuinness assesses Ferguson and Busby
    See also:

    30 Jun 98 | 
    BINARY STORY
    04 May 99 | FA Carling Premiership
    17 May 99 | FA Carling Premiership

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