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In November, Sir Alex Ferguson celebrated 25 years in charge of Manchester United FC. In that quarter of a century, the Scot has put 12 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, four English League Cups, two UEFA Champions Leagues and one UEFA Cup Winners' Cup inside the Old Trafford trophy cabinet.
To mark his silver jubilee, Champions canvassed some of Europe's most famous coaches for their thoughts, memories and anecdotes of Sir Alex.
UEFA Champions League winner as coach and player with AC Milan
I got to know Alex Ferguson and all but fell in love with him. Few understand football as deeply as him. He has created a very modern United team which is more European than English. Alex never acts like some kind of higher power of football, whoever he is talking to, but he does transmit his considerable winning spirit and refusal to give up to his team. That determination has got him out of many tough situations, like the 1999 UEFA Champions League final.
UEFA Champions League-winning coach in 1997 and 2001 who famously lost to Ferguson in 1999
My pithiest memory of our many encounters was the 1999 UEFA Champions League final. Bayern München were 1-0 up until the 90th minute, but lost 2-1 against Ferguson's Manchester United, partly because we wasted a series of good chances to finish the game, partly because Sir Alex's team never stopped believing in victory.
That final was one of the bitterest moments of my career but we have remained closely connected since because Alex empathised with my situation. After that, our meetings in the Champions League were always very cordial. Whenever I played his team in Manchester, he'd invite me for a cup of tea. We have one important thing in common – we both cannot lose, we hate defeats.
Coach of Budapest Honvéd FC, Ferguson's first opponents in the UEFA Champions League as United manager in 1993
What I remember most was how friendly he was after the game, inviting me for a drink in his office. I didn't know him that well so it was very special that he wanted to talk. When young coaches have such great help from big names, they grow up. What is special is that he didn't mind giving me advice. I'm so glad he's still there. That is his biggest achievement, spending so many years at the top. How he does it, I don't know, but it works.
UEFA Champions League-winning coach who often faced Ferguson in the late 1990s
I have always admired him as a person and a coach, particularly how he has maintained United's high standards. That's a rare thing, especially in a career of a quarter of a century. Alex said he took my Juve as his prototype for its technical quality, tactics and, above all, our will to win. He loves red wines from Tuscany so every Christmas I give him bottles of Masseto, Sassicaia and Chianti. He always reciprocates with McClelland's whisky.
UEFA Technical Director, who succeeded Sir Alex as Scotland manager
Sir Alex has a burning passion for the game and an exceptionally strong work ethic. His daily routine gets under way when he opens his office door shortly after 6am. But for managers, as for players, work rate is not enough. He has worked with a few characters – many of them rebellious – and displayed exceptional man-management abilities. He gives a concise resume of the qualities required at the top of his profession. 'Success in football management,' he says, 'is about selection, decision-making, ability to handle players – and luck.' He has shown an immense talent for the first three and any luck he has had along the way has been more than earned.
AJ Auxerre's legendary coach, and the manager who discovered – among other budding stars – Eric Cantona
To last as long as he has, you need three things. The first crucial one is consistency in results. That's not a problem for him, is it? Most of the time, he finishes first, goes a long way in the Champions League and wins a cup or two. Satisfaction guaranteed.
Players have to respect and rate you. You've got to be competent, firm and fair, with a good understanding of a footballer's psychology. But the real secret is: you must love your players. If you love your guys, they'll love you, and you'll be three-quarters of the way to where you want to be. This is true of any manager, whether you manage Manchester United or a team of fruit-pickers in a strawberry field.
The last coach to retain the European Cup
It is extraordinary he has remained so long managing the most loved club in England. Alex has done this because has always put the team's interests above those of the individuals he's worked with. I remember his relationships with fiery and strong characters like Gordon Strachan, Paul McGrath, Paul Ince, Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy. They were world-class players with very individualistic characters, but Alex moulded them to serve the collective needs.
This is an edited version of a piece from the new issue of Champions, the official magazine of the UEFA Champions League, which is out now.
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