Alex Ferguson… and the clubs he might have managed
This November marks the 30th anniversary of manager Alex Ferguson’s game-changing move from Aberdeen to Manchester United; and the start of a 1,500-game era of success that will likely never be replicated. As United fans prepare to celebrate 30 years since Fergie’s arrival, the Kitbag blog looks at what might have been; highlighting five other clubs that the Glasgow-born coach was linked with before securing his career-defining job at Old Trafford.
By 1982, Alex Ferguson had secured a first Scottish Premier Division title with Aberdeen, when relegation-threatened Wolverhampton Wanderers of the English top flight came hunting for his services. However, the 40-year-old coach would reject the advances of the Midlands club, later revealing that he felt his “ambitions at Aberdeen were not even half fulfilled”. Ferguson’s assertion would prove correct, as the Glaswegian brought two more league titles to Pittodrie in the seasons to follow. However, his success in Scotland would only attract a greater number of suitors; both across the border and somewhat closer to home.
With heads turned by Aberdeen’s domestic and European Cup Winners’ Cup success, Scottish Premier Division rivals Rangers (in the midst of a barren spell) soon turned to Ferguson to revive their fortunes. Ferguson had worn the Rangers jersey with pride in his playing days, only for a mistake in the 1969 Scottish Cup Final to end his spell at Ibrox on disappointing note. Nevertheless, a strong affinity with his boyhood club remained; and a deal to return in 1984 as manager appeared near completion, until off-field issues prompted second thoughts. As a result, Ferguson remained at his post in the Scottish northeast outpost… for now.
Following the sacking of Peter Shreeves, Ferguson was handed the chance to take over at White Hart Lane and take on the task of reinvigorating a stuttering Tottenham side, who had slumped to a tenth-place finish in the 1985-86 campaign. While relishing the fresh career challenge a move to England would bring, Ferguson would reject the role in SW13, freeing the way for David Pleat to take up the reigns at the Lane instead. An inspired alternative, Pleat would steer Spurs to a third-place finish and an FA Cup Final appearance the following year.
By the summer of 1986, Ferguson was busy balancing his club duties with Aberdeen with a temporary spell in the Scotland hotseat; working alongside Walter Smith in the run-up to the Mexico World Cup. Meanwhile, with manager Don Howe on the outs at Arsenal, the Gunners set their sights on Ferguson as his replacement. Having achieved all he could at Pittodrie, the Scotsman, now 44, was enthused by the prospect of relocating his pairing with Smith to North London. However, while on international duty in Israel, Smith dropped the bombshell he would be taking up a role with Rangers after the World Cup concluded. With Arsenal keen for an immediate answer and Ferguson committed to the Scottish camp, this particular ship would soon set sail, with Millwall boss George Graham taking the Highbury helm instead.
Finally, any dyed-in-the-wool Manchester United fan might well shudder at the thought, but Alex Ferguson could have found himself in charge of bitter rivals Liverpool, had history panned out differently. The retirement of Reds manager Joe Fagan in 1985 created a vacancy in the Anfield dugout and, with Liverpool at the height of their playing pomp, few managerial jobs in England could have held a greater allure. However, despite being linked to the role in the English national press, Ferguson would not be given the opportunity to preserve the Reds’ place on their lofty playing perch; that chance handed instead to forward Kenny Dalglish. Countryman Dalglish would win three league titles in England by the time of Alex Ferguson’s first in 1993. Nevertheless, the 12 further championships collected by Fergie over a 20-year period to follow ensured Liverpool’s loss was ultimately Manchester United’s gain. AC
- Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen by Action Images
- Alex Ferguson at Manchester United by Action Images