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Uniteds treble triumph Thursday, 27 May, 1999, 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK
Arise Sir Alex?
Alex Ferguson
Alex Ferguson: His tireless work has helped deliver the treble
Gullit may have the dreadlocks, Vialli the tan, but only Ferguson can claim what they all crave - sheer, unquestionable football immortality.

United's treble triumph
Manchester United's spectacular victory in the European Cup, sealing an unparalleled treble with the League title and FA Cup, has secured their manager a place in soccer sainthood.

Surely a knighthood is now just a matter of time for Alex Ferguson.

Even Ferguson himself, famed for his dourness and eyes like a sulking child, let the image slip.

"You can't top this because this is the pinnacle," he said, in the aftermath of Wednesday night's historic victory in Barcelona.

Ferguson and Busby
Ferguson with Man United mentor Matt Busby
Although far be it for him to lose any grip on reality. "You can equal it and we can try to maintain our high standards."

"Fergie" is now a British footballing icon to rank alongside Sir Matt Busby, who established United as a world class outfit in the 1950s, and whose reputation every United manager since has been trying to rival.

In truth, Ferguson, 57, had been a worthy heir to the Busby crown even before the victory against Bayern Munich. Since he broke a 20 year drought to bring the league title home to Old Trafford in 1993, he has delivered on his promises.

The side has topped the Premiership in five of the last seven years.

Born in Glasgow to a Protestant, working class family, his leadership skills first came to the fore as a shop steward in the Clyde shipyards, when Ferguson led an unofficial walk-out over a pay dispute.

His first love had always been football and Ferguson cut a reasonably impressive figure with Rangers. But he was made a scapegoat in the team's humiliating 4-0 defeat against arch rivals Celtic in the 1969 Cup Final.

He switched to management, first with St Mirren and then, from 1978, at Aberdeen.

His tough-talking, hands-on approach was a winner and Ferguson smashed the Celtic-Rangers "Old Firm" monopoly, winning three championships, four Scottish Cups and the European Cup Winners' Cup in six years.

Known for his fiery temper, he also won the reputation of a fiercely loyal coach who invests time and effort in star players and apprentices alike.

It is this mix-and-match approach which has served him so well at Manchester, where Ferguson has weaved home-gown talent and foreign flair into cohesive, gutsy sides.

Letting slip a smile before the match with Bayern Munich
Yet the going has not always been good for him at Old Trafford, where initially his abilities were called into question by the fans. The low point came in 1989 when the team found itself hammered 5-1 by its most bitter rivals, Manchester City.

On his third anniversary at the club a flag was unfurled at a home game which read: "Three years of excuses, ta-ra Fergie."

But chairman Martin Edwards and the board did not waver, a 1990 FA Cup victory bought him valuable time.

The family atmosphere he had worked hard to establish was bearing fruit and three years later the Guv'nor from Govan finally brought home the League title.

His management style has been thoroughly analysed by lovers of the sport. They have attributed his success to factors as diverse as a "working class ability" to asses the qualities of men around him, and "tunnel vision".

Friends in high places

Richard Greenbury, the former chairman of Marks and Spencer and a friend, called him the "best man-manager in Britain today". Ferguson himself has said: "Control everything in management."

Ferguson kissing the cup
Now let's do it all again
Whatever his given talents, Ferguson, who is married to Cathy and a father of three grown-up sons, also puts in the hours. He is usually at the ground by 0730 and regularly works 18-hour days. He is loyal to his players although never shy to give them a blast of his temper.

Added to this is the fact that he is a pure football fan; a fountain of knowledge about the sport.

Ferguson has fostered a wealth of international talent including Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, the Neville Brothers, as well as signing overseas players such as Eric Cantona, Peter Schmeichel and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

For someone so consumed by football, it may come as a surprise that he has outside interests. He owns a racehorse and has been a high profile campaigner for Tony Blair and the Labour Party.

So now Fergie is at the "pinnacle", has his seemingly insatiable thirst for glory been quenched?

Not a bit. Last month, while contemplating the three cups that have since come his way, he commented: "Even if we win all three, I'd want to go out and win it again."

Alex McLeish remembers Ferguson from his Aberdeen days
Links to more Uniteds treble triumph stories are at the foot of the page.

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