Magical, majestic, miraculous – no words seem to overstate the impact Sir Alex Ferguson has had during his 26-year reign at Manchester United.
But while the tributes flow in, MM takes you on a journey through time to relive the top five moments of his Red Devils career.
5. ‘Knocking Liverpool off their perch’
It wasn’t a dig made straight after another title-winning season, nor sparked by a triumph over United’s bitterest rivals.
In fact, Ferguson gave journalists a snippet to salivate over in September 2002 – off the back of a miserable season in which they had limped over the line ten points behind Arsenal.
Another poor start to the campaign followed, and when Alan Hansen – who has a history of misjudging a United downfall at the wrong time – blurted out that Sir Alex faced the ‘biggest challenge of his career’, he gave the media both barrels:
“My greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f****** perch,” he said. “And you can print that.”
As much as Ferguson loves winding up the Liverpool faithful, there is more than a grain of truth in the assertion he played a major role in plotting their downfall – the league trophy last made its way to Anfield in 1990.
4. Steve Bruce’s header
Conspiracy theorists usually point to April 10 1993 as the day Fergie-time was born. After faltering at the last against Leeds the year before, the Theatre of Dreams was a bundle of nerves again when John Sheridan put Sheffield Wednesday ahead.
Another late season collapse was beckoning until the Red Devils were granted the six minutes extra they needed to go for the kill after Bruce’s 85th minute equaliser.
A cross deflected, the centre-back pounced to break a 26-year duck – and set-up the first of Fergie’s 13 Premier Leagues.
3. Mark Robins saves Fergie’s skin
It’s an age-old question: Would Sir Alex have been in line for the chop in 1990 if not for Mark Robins? Not exactly one of the Scot’s brightest lights during his tenure, but the now-Huddersfield Town manager may have kept Fergie’s light bulb flickering.
His solitary goal against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup third round proved the spark for Ferguson’s first trophy at United – who were languishing down the table in 15th.
No matter how many times he is asked, former chairman Martin Edwards insists the sack was out of the question no matter the result. Regardless, whether he would have stayed on much longer in a similar vein is questionable at best.
The Red Devils went on to pick up silverware for the next four years as Sir Alex started hoovering up honours and banished any fears over his job security forever.
2. ‘Football, bloody hell!’
Mention ‘Barcelona’ to a United fan and the Catalan giants are not usually the first image that springs to mind.
The commentary of Clive Tyldesley setting up the Red Devils for a grandstand finish against Bayern Munich, David Beckham sweeping back his hair to line-up two of the most famous corners of all time, a supporter in full Red Devil garb jittering up and down with his flag – the Nou Camp set the scene for the club’s greatest-ever comeback.
And with the celebrations still in full-flow, Ferguson was there to sum it up in three immortal words: ‘Football, bloody hell!’
Stripping away all the sentiment, there was nothing particularly shocking about Sir Alex announcing his retirement. Time creeps on and all things must come to an end. Re-establishing United at the top of the English pyramid – tearing back the title from Manchester City no less –is as good a time as any to step down.
Yet it still stopped the world dead in its tracks. From Africa to the Arctic, Manchester to Mumbai, the exact moment millions learned of the news left the internet reverberating.
Someone’s more than likely whispered the news in Kim Jong-un’s ear, too.
Social media anthropologists – an occupation of the future no doubt – will look back upon each reaction like a fossilised human emotion.
Should sport matter so much? Maybe not, but it does. The legacy he leaves will doubtless never be matched and May 8, 2013, is the day we all felt it the most.
Image courtesy of BBC, via YiuTube, with thanks