Fergie's 25 years at United: People wanted Alex sacked in the early days admits Edwards
Published 21:30 31/10/11 By David McDonnell
To mark the 25th anniversary of Alex Ferguson's appointment as Manchester United manager on November 6 1986, the Mirror are looking back at his Old Trafford reign...
Former Manchester United chief Martin Edwards has admitted Sir Alex Ferguson could have lost his job had success continued to elude him in his early years.
If United fans are eternally grateful to Ferguson for resurrecting their club and bringing it unprecedented success, they also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Edwards, the man who appointed him.
As Ferguson celebrates 25 years in charge of United this Sunday, Edwards, who recruited him back in 1986, reflected on a quarter of a century under the club’s greatest-ever boss.
But United’s former chairman admitted Ferguson could have been sacked back in 1990, before FA Cup glory that season proved the catalyst for the club’s subsequent success.
“Those first few years with Alex in charge were very difficult,” Edwards told the Mirror. “Alex came to us in November 1986 and it wasn’t until May 1990 that we won our first trophy under him.
“Even then, it took seven years until we won our first league with Alex, so it was tricky in those early years.
“But we knew how hard he was working. He’d completely revamped the scouting system and the youth set-up.
“We knew what he was working towards and we were hoping it would turn around quickly, because that would have taken the pressure off us.
“Alex’s position was never discussed by the board. But a lot of people were saying he wasn’t the right man for the job.
“My biggest worry was that if success didn’t arrive, the pressure on us from supporters would grow and grow.
“They may have started voting with their feet by not coming to games, because there was a lot of animosity towards Alex at that time.
“We really wanted Alex to survive. But if we’d gone on for another six months or a year without things changing, we’d have been forced to do something.
“We would have resisted that as long as we could but eventually, if success doesn’t come, you have to make a decision. But thankfully it did come.”
Since taking over from Ron Atkinson, Ferguson has led United to 12 Premier League titles, two European Cups, five FA Cups and three League Cups, the most successful period in the club’s history.
But Edwards admitted he and his fellow United board members - Sir Bobby Charlton, Maurice Watkins and Mike Edelson - could not have foreseen such glory and longevity when they lured him from Aberdeen.
“I don’t think anyone could have predicted he would be here 25 years,” said Edwards. “In the modern era that’s really quite phenomenal.
“We just wanted someone who could come in, take a grip and win us the league.
“If they could do that, then obviously that would have secured their tenure for a little bit longer.
“Even 10 years would have been a great length of time for a manager, but 25 at the highest level is quite extraordinary.”
The modern-day United is unrecognisable from the club Ferguson inherited in 1986, not just on the pitch but off it too.
Attendances from the mid-1980s have more than doubled to 76,000 with the redevelopment of Old Trafford, while United now boast a worldwide fan base of 333million.
Edwards is proud of such achievements and paid tribute to Ferguson for rousing United from years of dormancy back to the summit of world football.
“Alex is a football man through and through,” said Edwards.
“You think of Sir Matt Busby and Bill Shankly and you put Alex in that bracket. Football is everything to him.
“It’s his dedication and complete commitment to the job that marks him out. He’s a workaholic.
“From 1990 to the present day, there have only been four seasons where we haven’t won a trophy,” said Edwards.
“And in almost 20 years of the Premier League, we’ve only finished outside of the top two on three occasions.
“Winning that first league was the great triumph, because 26 years is a long time for a major club to go without winning it.
“That was followed by the Double in 1994 and again in 1996, then the Treble in 1999.
“It’s been phenomenal. From 1993 it just grew and grew.”
When Ferguson does eventually retire, Edwards is convinced United will erect a statue of him at Old Trafford, to join those of Sir Matt Busby and the Holy Trinity of Sir Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law.
“I’m sure there will be a statue of Alex Ferguson in the future,” said Edwards.
“It’s a racing certainty and so it should be after everything he’s done for the club.”
THAT SILVER ANNIVERSARY SILVERWARE IN FULL
Alex Ferguson’s trophy haul from his 25 years at Manchester United:
Premier League (12): 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011
Champions League (2): 1999, 2008
FA Cup (5): 1990, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2004
League Cup (4): 1992, 2006, 2009, 2010
European Cup-Winners’ Cup (1): 1991
Intercontinental/World Club Cup (2): 1999, 2008
Charity/Community Shield (10): 1990, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011
UEFA Super Cup (1): 1991