Boasting 12 Premier League titles, five FA Cups and two UEFA Champions League successes, Sir Alex Ferguson's time at Manchester United FC is unparalleled in English football. Ahead of the 25th anniversary of his Old Trafford tenure, which he celebrates on Sunday, the Scottish manager spoke to UEFA.com about the desire for European success that first stirred in him as long ago as 1960 and which still drives him 51 years on.
Sir Alex's initital interest of continental competition was stirred when he attended the 1960 European Champion Clubs' Cup final – hosted at Hampden Park in his native Glasgow – and won by Real Madrid CF. "That was probably the first instance of recognising what real European football was," said the Manchester United manager.
"I followed Rangers at the time and when they reached the semi-finals, they played Eintracht Frankfurt and lost 12-4 on aggregate, so every Rangers fan was saying, 'This Eintracht team will wipe Real Madrid away in the final,' – of course, it was the other way about and that gave me a measure of how good Real Madrid really were – they were unbelievable. They were the first really international club side and they were fantastic."
He also followed Manchester United's first UEFA club competition trophy win in 1968, when, Sir Matt Busby's side claimed their first European Champion Clubs' Cup a decade after the devastating Munich air disaster. "Everyone in Scotland was pleased for Sir Matt considering what he'd endured in 1958 and rebuilt that team mainly from his own players. The actual final team had only three players he'd brought in from other clubs and it was an incredible achievement. For Sir Matt, that was the pinnacle, being able to recreate from the loss of Munich and rebuilding a team to win the European Cup."
Guiding Aberdeen FC to a 2-1 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup victory against Real Madrid in 1983 only enhanced Sir Alex's desire for more European silverware – a mentality he would instil at Manchester United over his quarter-of-a-century reign, which took in a dramatic 2-1 victory against FC Bayern München in 1999, and, more recently, three further UEFA Champions League final appearances in the last four seasons.
"I think we've gathered an experience over the last few years that has acquitted us well for European football now," said the 69-year-old, whose side completed a second UEFA Champions League triumph in 2008. "I think we're far more patient away from home and we never used to be, so possession of the ball and concentration is much better. Sometimes in a European game, you can be doing actually quite well and then the roof falls in, suddenly. Many of our players are used to that now. They don't get caught out by sudden attacks the way they used to years ago."
A defeat by FC Barcelona in the 2011 UEFA Champions League final prompted Sir Alex to add to his squad in the summer with thoughts of a third European Cup foremost in his mind. "It's a great challenge. It's fantastic to equal anyone's top record and [former Liverpool FC manager] Bob Paisley was one of the great old wise birds of the game. He didn't say a lot but he knew a lot and his imparting of knowledge always had a great impact on the players of that time.
"It was a great period for them, but it's our time now. It's an opportunity for us to get to another level as Real Madrid have won it nine times, AC Milan seven times; Liverpool five; Bayern four; Ajax four; we really should be in that bracket so this is our opportunity to get into that bracket of more Champions League wins."
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