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Published: 08 JUNE 2003

Sir Alex & Sir Matt
by Pete Hargreaves

A pal of mine wrote to me recently. He said: >>> Now, I wanted to test this on you, because in my mind, it approaches heresy. I used to say that "Sir Alex is the best thing to have happened to Manchester United since Sir Matt". A few years ago, I changed that to "Sir Alex and Sir Matt are the best things to have happened to Manchester United". Now the heresy. I am wondering if it would now be fair to say: "Sir Alex is the best thing to have happened to Manchester United". <<<

I have decided that my response to him (which he said I could send to the Lists) might open up a thread during the close season. Let us know what you think.

I understand exactly how you feel and do not believe it to be 'heresy'! The one thing which I always bear in mind when I am thinking about the Sirs Matt and Alex is the crash. Firstly we will never know how what Manchester United would have achieved in the 60's had those boys not been killed and the younger lads promoted before their time. I truly believe that Liverpool et al would NEVER have had a chance if the crash had not happened. The team which was largely destroyed would have dominated Europe for at least
another ten seasons and then we would have had other boys coming through. The crash did not just destroy a team, it nearly killed Sir Matt and did bring about an end to our youth policy - because there were other, more immediate things which had to be dealt with. It was nearly six years after the crash before the youth system was re-established. I think that this is something which has to be considered when making any sort of comparison between the two men.

I've tried to list the factors which I believe are of greatest significance.

1. Achievement on winning trophies.

This 'award' MUST go to Sir Alex as he has won more trophies, more consistently. Plainly Sir Alex is the most successful manager of all time in this respect (in ANY respect as far as I am concerned). So he has to be in front of Sir Matt in this one.

2. Contribution to the Club

Plainly this is very subjective. But I'm trying to consider the effect of that person on the total 'persona' of the Club. If you talk to my dad (or talked - as his memory has gone really) you would discover that when he was a boy Manchester United were complete nonentities. He was the only boy in his class at school (in the 1920's) who supported Manchester United and that must tell you something. From 1911 until the outbreak of WW2 Manchester United were a 'nothing' team, swinging from 1st to 2nd divisions
on a regular basis, doing nothing in the FA Cup and really only 'surviving'. Sir Matt's arrival after the war changed all that, and changed it quite dramatically. Sir Matt had NO real supporter base to speak of (only the 'die-hards' and their sons - like my dad and his dad). No money. AND a team which, whilst containing good professionals, was not 'united'
and going nowhere. He changed all that.

Sir Alex, on the other hand, took over a Club with the best supporter base in the world (in however way you want to measure that). A quite magnificent stadium 'ready' to be filled as soon as Manchester United began to be successful (again). An acceptable money pot. A reasonable squad of players containing, amongst others (and in no order), Robson, Stapleton, Strachan, Moran, Whiteside, McGrath, Blackmore, Duxbury, Moses. These were all good players.

So in this category I have to make the 'award' to Sir Matt Busby.

3. Restoration of the Club's 'pride'

When Sir Matt took over in 1946 we had gone thirty-five years since we had last won the League (the real measure of a team's 'proper' success) - BUT there had been two World wars in that time. When Sir Alex took over we had gone eighteen years. In some respects, then, the situation was similar for both men. I believe that BOTH men brought about a restoration of pride in the Club. Both men established a base upon which the Club's supporters could build a real belief in the Club and it's potential for success.

I think both men share this 'award'.

4. Development of a Youth policy

Sir Matt Busby is acknowledged (by the 'experts') to be the 'father' of youth football at the 'professional' level in this country. His commitment to young players is well chronicled and indisputable. It was Sir Matt who established the youth set-up, bringing in (or bringing back in fact) Bert Whalley ('assisted' by Jimmy Murphy in this regard) to run things. Sir
Matt's development of the youth team brought about the unparalleled success of the 50's and also, to a lesser extent, the 60's. It was Sir Matt's loss of 'power' (because of the injuries from the crash) which saw the demise of the youth set-up from about 1964 and thus the lack of 'quality' after 1968.

When Sir Alex arrived in 1986 the youth set-up had been neglected for the best part of twenty years. Previous managers taking virtually no (or to my eye NO) interest in either the Reserves or Youth teams. Mostly (like Atkinson) preferring to buy straight into the first team. Sir Alex re-established the youth team set-up bringing in Nobby Stiles and Brian
Kidd, then Eric Harrison to do the job Whalley had done - and to do it wonderfully well. We both know how much the youth team development has brought to the club since, say, 1992.

Both men share this 'award'

5. Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson as men

To the 'outsider' they appear to be quite different men. To me they are exactly the same. Both men share an unbelievable will to win. Almost to the point where they will 'win at all costs'. Sir Alex is far more outspoken BUT media 'access' is so totally different these days that comparisons are difficult. Sir Matt was, I KNOW, similar to Sir Alex with regard to his 'manipulation' of 'situations' to the benefit of the Club. Adept, if you will, at the 'mind games'.

Both men are/were 'generous' in the extreme. I KNOW this as I have personal examples relating to both men. Whilst Sir Alex appears 'brash' he is not. Under his hard exterior beats a heart of pure gold. The same was true, though not as obvious externally, with Sir Matt.

Both men share the 'award' for being wonderful human beings, wonderful 'managers' of men, wonderful communicators, wonderful motivators.

So who, then, is the better of the two managers. I don't think I know! I don't think I can make a distinction purely because we will NEVER know what effect the crash had on Manchester United and it's potential for the 60's and 70's. I think, on balance, that there is no way to separate the two men and thus I declare that, for me, both men are EQUAL.

I hope I've been able to put down how I feel and that the above makes some sort of sense. See what you think in the categories above and, if you would, let me have some other categories to add to the list so that we can draw comparisons in those areas too.

Keep the faith, Pete

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Not to be reproduced without permission of the author.


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