BBC BLOGS - Paul Fletcher
« Previous | Main | Next »

How to build a sporting dynasty

Paul Fletcher | 19:45 UK time, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Sir Alex Ferguson is the most successful manager in British football.

In 22 years in charge at Manchester United the 67-year-old has won 10 Premier League titles, the FA Cup five times, the Champions League twice and countless other honours. Before that he won several honours - notably the the Uefa Cup Winners' Cup - with Aberdeen.

He has rebuilt his United team time and again, continually striving for and achieving success, and in the process become a modern managerial legend.

Meet Wayne Bennett, his rugby league equivalent in Australia.

Bennett was appointed coach of the Brisbane Broncos in 1988, the year they were formed, and built them into one of the greatest sides in the world, winning six premierships, before leaving at the end of last season for a new challenge at St. George Illawara Dragons.

The 59-year-old has also coached Australia, the Queensland State of Origin side and was an integral part of the backroom team as New Zealand pulled off a sensational victory at last year's World Cup.

The parallels between the men and the philosophies that have allowed them to succeed at the very top level over such a long period are undeniable.

Wayne BennettAt the core of it all is the belief that the team comes before everything else. And, for Bennett, if it means making decisions that upset people or make him unpopular, even with his friends, so be it.

"A lot of things I have had to do in my life are totally opposite to the person inside me," Bennett told me in a rare and candid interview.

"But the one underlying thing that has always got me across the line is doing what is right - doing the right thing by the team. It is a difference between the successful and the unsuccessful coaches."

According to Bennett, if coaches shy away from making difficult, perhaps even ruthless, decisions they will not last. Yet it is obvious he cares deeply about his players.

Legendary Australian half-back Alfie Langer spent a considerable portion of his career playing for Bennett and puts their relationship like this: "He's not only a father figure, I think I class him as one of my best friends."

Bennett adds. "My bond with my players is what I value most of all. They are never far from your thoughts and you are always there for them."

Which must make it hard when he decides it is in the best interests of the club to move a few of them on.

Bennett puts it this way: "I liken myself to a headmaster at school. They might be with you four or five years but a time comes when they have to move on. There is a kid in grade eight and he or she wants the opportunity you gave the other person."

To be successful over a long period of time teams have to be rebuilt and after Bennett had been in charge at Brisbane for a few years he knew he had to make some changes.

His side steadily improved after their debut season in 1988 but did not win their first premiership until 1992 - and by that stage Bennett had remodelled his team.

"I had to acknowledge how to sustain this, how to stay ultra competitive," he says. "I studied other clubs and saw how they made mistakes; they had been great but held on to players for too long."

Bennett reckons he built five different teams at the Broncos, learning how to strike the balance between retaining ageing players and talented youngsters coming through.

"You have a 20-year-old who is not as good as your 30-year-old pro but you know that he is going to be, he has got all the right attributes, so you take a short-term loss for a long-term gain," said Bennett.

A natural introvert - a definite contrast from Ferguson - Bennett says he does not find it easy breaking bad news to players but points out that if you make tough decisions consistently and fairly over a period of time, it becomes part of the culture at a club.

"In the end players become accepting of that," he said.

Ferguson has been accused in the past of jettisoning players too early. The sales of Mark Hughes and Paul Ince in 1995 spring to mind, yet their departures allowed home-grown players such as David Beckham and Gary Neville to emerge and succeed.

Bennett is aware of the similarities between himself and Ferguson. He has a lot of admiration for the Scot and has observed his career with interest.Sir Alex Ferguson (right) is a hugely successful manager

"Ferguson can make the hard decisions when he realises someone is starting to pull apart from the team and do all the other things that go with keeping a group of men together," said Bennett.

"It is probably the difference between him and a lot of other managers.

"I watched Dimitar Berbatov play at Tottenham and I thought he was a wasted talent. He has turned up at Man Utd and he is producing. That is what the best managers do - they get the best out of a guy."

How to succeed is something that Bennett, who speaks in a straightforward and honest way while displaying a dry wit, has obviously thought long and hard about during his career.

He lays great stock on having the trust of his players and believes that, in part, is a product of being honest with them.

"Honesty is a part of who I am," he told me.

"You cannot deal with men and you cannot lead if you cannot be honest - it just doesn't work."

You rarely read an article about Bennett with phrases such as super-coach, master coach and coaching guru appearing before his name. Yet Bennett is one of those people who looks incredibly unhappy in front of the media, with whom he has a testy relationship, and he is known during games for his expressionless demeanour that portrays neither joy nor sorrow.

But read either of his two books and a different person is revealed. The first, Don't Die With The Music in You, is all about realising your potential and became a publishing sensation in Australia. His second, The Man in the Mirror, has recently come out down under. In it, Bennett talks with great honesty and clarity about his shortcomings as a man while examining how he has had to overcome these to succeed in his profession.

One of the things that really struck me when reading Bennett's latest book was his admission that he had often known early in a season that it would not be Brisbane's year. Some ingredients were missing from the squad; they lacked that desire to get over the line.

It is an almost instinctive understanding, partly the product of experience; it tells him it is time for change. It is a quality that has helped to sustain Ferguson as well.

And both men recognise that although their respective games evolve and change certain core principles remain the same.

"Things that would have won you games 20 years ago still win today and you keep driving those things," said Bennett.

"You are still dealing with people, you have to get them organised, get self-belief and confidence into them and send them all in the same direction."

But if you want to be in your job at the sharp end of professional sport for more than two decades then there is one final ingredient that you need.

It might sound obvious, perhaps even a touch facetious, but as I talked with Bennett about building a winning culture, recognising potential, developing management systems and rebuilding teams, he pointed out the one ingredient that cannot be ignored.

"The other common denominator for us all in long-term jobs is that you still have to be winning," said Bennett, a former Australian winger.

"You can have all the persona and everything else but you are still expected to get results - it might not be about winning the Premiership every year but you are still expected to be up there."

There are no signs of declining standards at Old Trafford as Ferguson's team pursue a historic quintuple. Bennett meanwhile has moved on from Brisbane and, at close to 60, is unlikely to remain at his new club for decades but don't be surprised if they start to discover the winning habit.


  • Comment number 1.

    quality article. Bennett and ferguson are both proper legends of world sport

  • Comment number 2.

    Good blog- a very new take on an interesting subject.

    Paul, do you think that Liverpool's Benitez will, in 20 years, be lauded as one of the all time great managers? Up there with Paisley, Shankley and (dare I say it) Ferguson?

    Otherwise, I would rate Paisley higher than Ferguson, but thats just me.
    No doubt the people down the M62 will have differing opinions... :-)

  • Comment number 3.

    Cheers Paul, really enjoyed reading that.

    If Benitez can bring constitency to the Liverpool team season after season (as Fergie has done with United for atleast the last 15 years, then yea he too will be lauded as an all-time great.

    At the moment I'd lump Benitez in with managers like Mourinho and Klinsmann - managers that COULD one day be great...

    But thats just me...

  • Comment number 4.

    Although there are some similarities in terms of their success and drive, I would still question the idea that these guys are in any way similar on a personal level.

    From the article about Bennett "He's not only a father figure, I think I class him as one of my best friends."

    Couldn't ever imagine a Man Utd player saying that about Fergie!

  • Comment number 5.

    Excellent blog.

    As you point out it may seem obvious that great managers must have a lot of similarities but this comparison deals with that in a very interesting way.

    SAF always puts the club above the player, sometimes he makes an error, Stam for example, however it was done for the right reasons and he admits his mistake. Ironically almost all the players past and present have stated their admiration and respect for him, he is not the tyrant he is often portrayed as.

    Obviously now comparisons are being made with Rafa, Jose etc. This is a bit premature, although they are without shadow of doubt extremely good managers, greatness comes with time and consistency, we will see.

    Thanks again for an excellent article.

  • Comment number 6.

    people are getting to far ahead of themselves by even thinking benitez could be one of the all-time greatest managers in the future.

  • Comment number 7.

    Great Blog Paul,

    A really interesting read, enjoyed it Very Much. It was a great take on 2 sporting, Managerial, Legends?! nice to see the man/men behind the success!

    Congrats, Keep Up the Good Work?!

  • Comment number 8.

    One thing not mentioned !
    Wayne Bennett has a reputation for being an extremely strong disciplinarian. In his squad absolutely no one gets away with any nonsence, no matter who he is.
    The boss is the boss, but he will always back his boys to the hilt if they are blameless.

  • Comment number 9.

    Great read.

    No one is questioning just how impressive SAF's record is, but for our pommy friends it should be made clear that Bennett is operating under a salary cap rule which is so tight and ruthlessly enforced (apart from the Roosters) that the comp has had eight different winners in the last eight seasons - an issue SAF hasn't had to deal with. This should underscore how impressive Bennett has been to coach the Broncs to win six of the last seventeen comps.
    I only wish he was coaching the Tiges.

  • Comment number 10.

    Yes it's remarkable how he continually broken transfer record after transfer record to keep United at the top. I'm in awe I really am.

    What was interesting though was how Mourinho DOMINATED with Chelsea when he was given the money to do so and left in charge of the budget.

    Great circumstances have made a 'great manager' in history. Those who were about at the time though who don't blindly follow the sheep know he was about 5th best in his era.

  • Comment number 11.


    You're missing the point entirely. Lots of managers (and lots of teams) have spent as much as Man Utd over the years, with only a fraction of the success. Look at Real Madrid or Inter Milan now, for example - huge amounts spent, yet way off the pace now in European terms. You might rightly point out that, in their way, managers such as David Moyes or Dario O Gradi have achieved a great deal, but we're talking about the ability to continually produce teams at the very highest level, dealing with the pressure this brings on everyone.

    It would be interesting to know whether there are similarities between Man Utd and the Broncos in the consistency of their off-field team. Fergie, for example, changes his assistant every few years, as this brings fresh ideas and innovations to training and preparation. Did Wayne do the same? And have the Broncos got the same hands-off mentality between boardroom and manager? That, as we've seen with many teams, is a crucial component.

    Good article, Fletch. A 'story behind the headlines' and without continually puffing up yourself or your sources. I wonder if anyone could learn from that? :)

  • Comment number 12.

    A really good article.

    I must strongly disagree with the comments of DougCoglan.

    Man Uniteds dominance of the 90's was built on good football and good business sense in the boardroom.

    Which is what any supporter wants for there football club.

    As Ferguson won time and time again and as the club invested wisely in building the largest stadium in the premiership. Did he not deserve for the cash generated to be spent on the team ?

    I think he did.

    Unlike Mourinho he was just handed the cash.

    So any fans bitter with the money being spent at Old Trafford should take 5 and appreciate the fact it was earned through winning and good management.

  • Comment number 13.

    Sweetsmellofsuccess... no I'm not missing the point. 5th best in his era is not saying he's rubbish is it? I'm saying there are better that just haven't had his scenario.

  • Comment number 14.

    Really enjoyed the article Paul, good to read a comparison of 2 great coaches who have undoubtedly been the best of their eras in their respective sports.

  • Comment number 15.

    sweetsmellofsuccess - on the whole I agree with what you say, you certainly need more than just money to be successful. Although I don't really like the man I've always wondered how Mourinho, for example, would have got on if he'd gone to a team with not quite so much money, (Liverpool, Villa, Spurs etc, ie still a fair bit to spend but not a bottomless pit).

    One thing I have to disagree with though is what you say about Ferguson changing his assistant every few years to bring 'fresh ideas and innovations'. Almost all of his assistants left of their own accord to take on new roles. Archie Knox left to work with Walter Smith at Rangers, Brian Kidd was promoted from inside but wanted to try his hand at management and left to manage Blackburn, to probably his and their regret. Steve McClaren was appointed from Derby but eventualy left to manage Middlesbrough whilst Carlos Queiroz left to manage Real Madrid and then left again to manage Portugal.

    What I'm trying to say is that Ferguson didn't really have much choice when his assistants left, they all left of their own accord and Ferguson's hand was forced. He also promoted from within on at least a couple of occasions.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    Sir Alex Ferguson is the most successful manager in "WORLD" football - NOT British, cheers

  • Comment number 18.

    Don't pay too much attention to Rugby league so had never heard of Wayne Bennett but an interesting read nonetheless. May have to do a bit of research on him . . .

  • Comment number 19.


    Fegie broke NO TARNSFER RECORD at Aberdeen. Yet he won the cup winners cup beating the mighty Real Madrid and Bayern Munich on the way. This was with a provincial scottish club he also broke the Old firm strangle hold and won 3 titles and 4 scottish cups!


  • Comment number 20.

    Doug Coglan....You only have to look at Ferguson's record at a smaller club like Aberdeen in the 80s to see he wasn't 5th best 'in his era' (whatever that era may be). To completely dominate Scottish football for 10 years, including European trophies also, with hardly any money spent, is an amazing achievement that will never be surpassed.

  • Comment number 21.

    Good read Fletcher, really enjoyed it but i have an issue with the Berbatov section of your blog.
    He wasn't really a wasted talent at spurs, he enjoyed a wonderful partnership with robbie keane that has yet to come to fruition at MU, as berbatov struggles to play with rooney, tevez or ronaldo. His stats say he's scored 8 goals but 2 were against FC copenhagen (1 gift wrapped).
    My point is either berbatov isn't really settling in, or fergie has taken a risk on Mr Sulk! I agree that SAF is the pinnacle of Management but surely he needs to get the best out of all his players including £30million+ signings

  • Comment number 22.

    As a Spurs fan I'm afraid I have to take exception with Bennett's comments about Berbatov.

    I understand that his phrase 'wasted talent' may well have meant that Berbatov was a big fish in a small pond, an argument that is hard to oppose.

    However, his follow-up comment about Berbatov "now producing" at Manchester United riles a little.

    In two years at Spurs Berbatov scored 46 goals, 23 in each season. He currently has 13 with Man Utd and I would be surprised if he could add another 10 to that before the season comes to a close.

    My point is that surely 'wasted talent' does not contribute such a high number of goals, and conversely, win such a high number of games?

    Ultimately, Bennett is either saying one thing or the other. Either Berbatov was a big fish in a small pond at Spurs, which grudgingly I have to accept, or he's saying that we couldn't get the sort of football out of him that United have, which I take issue with. It was precisely because Berbatov set the world alight with Spurs for two years that United bid for him in the first place.

    A handful of good goals and one mesmerising turn don't trump two great years, in my opinion.

  • Comment number 23.

    I agree Gaffacake, and I'm a Man utd fan - the notion that he is now producing is ridiculous, he looked more at home and in form at Spurs.

  • Comment number 24.

    A great read. Other bloggers take note!

    Again on the Berbatov bit, as United supporter I would definately not say that he is producing. Yet. I know he's got to take some time to fit in, especially when he's surrounded by players of such ability but who wander all over the shop. He needs to work out exactly what he's expected to do (like, maybe be the sharp end of the attack, Dimi, rather than coming deep?). The idea spouted by some stupid fans that we should ditch him is laughable.

    Sir Alex will sort him out. He's a mercurial talent, and I think is a little overawed by the some of the other players, too willing to pass the ball off than hold it and do something. He just needs to start by facing goal rather than always with his back to it!

    On the subject of the blog, it is definately the skill in building and rebuilding a side that makes a manager great. Building is the easier of the two, but being ready to cut players loose when the fans still want them is the mark. Sadly, few managers these days get to that stage - even Redknapp has hardly stayed somewhere long enough to rebuild. Both Moyes and O'Neil have shown signs of that... fingers crossed. I just don't think its in the English mentality.

  • Comment number 25.

    I agree with the initial motion - other than the Berbatov bit. He hasn't really quite "settled" yet, and isn't really "producing". I think he's probably not playing as much as he did at Spurs though, so you can't simply use a goal count to show that.

    SAF is truly great, and has proven it by rebuilding a team, time and time again, that is good enough to compete with - and beat - the world.

  • Comment number 26.


    I take your point, but I think that what you're talking about says that a number 2 at Old Trafford is a valuable commodity at other clubs, hence they're always in demand. It's interesting to note that none of them have won significant trophies as a manager.

    What I meant was that (until Mike Phelan) Fergie generally brought in someone different from what was there before, and often brought in from outside. McLaren had different ideas to Kidd, and Queiros was different to McLaren. This is different to the 'promote from within' or 'boot room' mentality that was prevalent in the great eras of Paisley, Busby, Stein or Clough. Fergie was willing to bring in new ideas and attitudes, and work them into the basic structure he already had. That is something that marks him out as different to Shanks, for example.

    If anyone knows how Wayne Bennett and the Broncos have dealt with recruiting assistants, it would be interesting. My understanding is that ex-players like Langer generally step up.

  • Comment number 27.

    "Yes it's remarkable how he continually broken transfer record after transfer record to keep United at the top. I'm in awe I really am.

    What was interesting though was how Mourinho DOMINATED with Chelsea when he was given the money to do so and left in charge of the budget."

    Yeah Mourinho was a great manager given a shedload of money and left when his team was on the decline. He bought short term players in there mid to late twenties and was able to mould them quickly to become a successful team, e.g. Ballack, Drogba, Makalele, etc with some younger players such as Wright-Philips, Robben etc used as impact squad players. He has done a great job of marshalling his teams, and this combined with a longer than expected rebuilding project at Man United, Arsenal and Liverpool helped push Chelsea to the top.

    And if your any older than 15 then you should remember the days in the early 90's when Ferguson made world class players from bargains such as Schemichel, Cantona, Keane etc (less of a bargain, but for the amount paid now looks a snip). Ferguson also brought through quality players which Mourinho has always struggled with right from his days at Porto.

  • Comment number 28.

    Fergie is simply the best manager EVER in the history of English football.
    Why? Paisley, Shankley, Clough and Busby were all great managers but the reason I rate Fergie at the top is simply the task he undertook and succeded at.
    Given Utd's status when he took them over, he inherited a team in a similar position to that of Newcastle Utd now. A potentilly big club that had been falling short for decades and was in danger of relegation. He set about saving them from relegation, which he succseeded and then built his team over the years and in his 6th full season won the League and then built teams to keep this success ongoing for the next 16 years. No matter what happens with the league this year it is still a minium of 10 titles in a space of 16 years.
    To put this into perspective it would mean somebody taking over Newcastle, saving them from relegation, and then in the next few seasons creating a team(s) that can challenge for the title and eventually win it. Now, please put up your hands if anyone out ther (outside geordieland) believes this is possible!
    Paisley followed on from Shankleys success which is not an easy thing to do and I hope Utd can find a Paisley type when Fergie moves on but he did not have to start from such a low level like Fergie did. Liverpool were an established and succesful team then.
    Clough was also a great manager considering he took two small city clubs and made them into League champions, a feat that will be hard to surpass.
    Fergie's record speaks for itself, both at Utd and at Aberdeen, no manager will surpass the number of titles he has manager!

  • Comment number 29.

    Nice blog, something different and a good read :)
    Obvioulsy a Liverpool fan I think, and I'm sure some of you will agree, that Rafa's not done too badly considering how much money he has had to spend in comparison. Unfortunately I don't think he will be as successfull as good ol' Bob, Bill or SAF due to the fact he's too soft sometimes on the under-performers; something SAF has never stood for and this has also been a massive contributer to his success.
    Look at the flops in our squad and some that have left - whereas Fergie, didn't even take crap off the good un's like Becks and Jaap when he showed them the door. Something that would make me think hard as a player if I wanted to turn out for United. Respect for their manager works well for the chemistry of the enitre squad, not just the starting XI.

  • Comment number 30.

    quick comment back to DougCoglan undermining Sir Alex's acheivements as purely spending big money. He took over a struggling team. He rebuilt them based on youth that cost nothing.

    He raised the level of success that required bringing through top youth and combining with best players available. He raised the bar that meant he couldn't just expect a young player to automatically step in to Keane, Beckham or Pallister's shoes. Yes he spent money to bring in those players but he's not spent the most because he has always mixed them with youth. And he's brought continued success. No other club in the world has had that same return on investment.

    Additionally, you placed Sir Alex 5th. Who were the other 4 better than him.

    If they had been so much better, they'd have been trusted with the resources he latterly has.

  • Comment number 31.

    Excellent blog Paul.

    I'd have loved to see Wayne Bennett coach in England but I doubt that, considering he is 59-years-old, it will happen now.

    Now at St George Illwarra I believe, I suspect the Dragons fans will see a drastimc improvement in their clubs fortunes. My mate won't be happy though, he is a life long Sharks fan!

    Rally round the Robins!

  • Comment number 32.

    Now then,

    Many thanks for all your comments. Speaking personally, it was an immense pleasure to interview Wayne Bennett. He is a man I have admired for a long time, not just because of his success as a coach but because it is obvious that he cares about the game and is a deep thinker about it. He also talks alot in his books about maxmising potential, not just on the field but as people. If you haven't read either I really do suggest that you give one a go - I thought The Man in the Mirror was brilliant. I guess it helps if you are a big fan of rugby league but if you wanted an insight into running a top team you could do alot worse.

    Prior to the interview I wondered whether I would be hit with a series of dour, one-word answers but found him to be an intelligent and insightful interviewee who obvious has a wealth of knowledge about RL and managing people.

    I understand why people have taken umbrage with his point about Dimitar Berbatov. In fairness to Bennett, the interview did take place more than a month or so ago (I can only apologise for the delay in releasing the article) and I am not exactly sure how keenly he follows the fortune of individual Premier League players. However, it was an example he choose and so in it went into the piece - though I am not sure that it is the point/quote that I would pick up on more than any other.

    I should also point out that during the interview Bennett did make it clear that the salary cap he works within is a big factor - and one of the key differences in the jobs he and Ferguson do.

    In terms of appointing number twos - Bennett at Brisbane had key trusted staff, some older, some younger, surrounding him at the club. Some of his former assistants have gone on to be successful coaches - such as Melbourne Storm boss Craig Bellamy.

  • Comment number 33.

    cantona1968 you need to check your history before you make claims like that. Bill Shankly took Liverpool from near the bottom of the old second division to dominate, so he definitely took Liverpool from further than Ferguson did

  • Comment number 34.

    Bombaye, have checked history and.....

    Shankley won: 1 second Division Championship, 3 first Division Championships, 2 FA Cups and 1 UEFA Cup.

    Fergie has won so far:1 Scottish First Division Championship, 3 Scottish Premiership Championships, 4 Scottich Cups, 1 Scottish League Cup, 2 UEFA Cup Winners Cups, 10 Premiership Championships, 5 FA Cups, 3 League Cups, 2 UEFA Champions Leagues and I won't include Super Cup, Community SHields or World Titles.

    Paisley won: 6 First Division titles, 3 League Cups, 3 European Cups, 1 UEFA Cup. Agins discounting Charity Shields, European Super Cup and the like.

    Shankley 7 titles/cups
    Ferguson 29 titles/cups
    Paisley 13 titles/cups

    Actually didn't realise that Fergie had won more top level championships in England than Paisley and Shankley combined. Btw these facts do nothing to take away from the fact that they were both great managers. Ferguson took up management a few years after Shankley had retired and how each would have faired in the others era is always up for debate but its not only the amount of trophies which I think make fergie the greatest but also the fact that he has had high level success in two different leagues.

    Given Mourinho's 10 trophies so far between Portugal and England and likely trophies in Itally I believe he is the only manager likely to come close to Fergie in the success stakes. Kinda of similar winning leagues and European trophies from outside teh top four leagues before continuing it in the big leagues.

  • Comment number 35.

    All this talk of Paisley, Rafa, Shankley v Ferguson is ridiculous. This article is highlighting two managers who are currently plying their trade and have had sustained success at the highest level. The article offers a mere glimpse of some of the atributes needed to have such a long period of success and an insight into an excellent rugby league coach's personality.

    A very interesting read, I might add. However, it seems unfortunate that such a good piece has lowered itself into a Liverpool v Man Utd debate, and this is coming from a Liverpool fan!

  • Comment number 36.

    eurotour07....I agree and am GUILTY as charged! This guy Bennetts achievements are remarkable in what is a tough tough sport.

  • Comment number 37.

    "Rafa's not done too badly considering how much money he has had to spend in comparison"

    Rafa has spent more than Sir Alex over the past 5 seasons, most of the players of which have been a pretty average standard with a handful of exceptions, and many of which have left shortly after.

    He's wise enough to know that, for the last 5 years, there's been no point in worrying about challenging for the league, so has focused on the cups where he's an expert, and building a strong first team. I think the jury is very much out on his purchase choices, and it remains to be seen whether he can architect a squad, not just a team, over a number of seasons.

  • Comment number 38.

    "I watched Dimitar Berbatov play at Tottenham and I thought he was a wasted talent. He has turned up at Man Utd and he is producing."


  • Comment number 39.

    If Fergie is only the "5th best manager of his era", I'd be very interested to hear who the other four are.

    I'm assuming you're only looking at his career in England, so that's 1986 to present.

    So who are the mysterious four managers that have been consistantly better than Ferguson since 1986?

    Wenger? - Won the Prem 3 times and not won the Champions League
    Houlier? - Never won the Prem or the CL
    Mourinho? - Won the Prem 2 times and the CL (but not with an English Club)
    Benitez - Not won the Prem and won the CL once
    Dalgliesh? - Won the Prem with Liverpool and Blackburn, but didn't win the CL
    Wilkinson? - Won the Prem, didn't win the CL
    Graham? - Won the Prem, didn't win the European Cup

    Who else is there? Souness? Gullit? Venables? Hoddle? Keegan? Rioch? Taylor? Ron Atkinson?

    If you forget the "his era" comment then there still are not four better managers. I understand why Liverpool fans want to put forward Paisley (who won the European Cup three times in an era when Forest and Villa also won it - so surely it wasn't as diffult to win as the modern day CL!)

    Who else? Shankley? Clough? Busby?

    I'm sure you could argue a case for any of those, but to put them all above Ferguson would be a bit biased against the man in all honesty.

    10 Prems (soon to be 11), 2 CL (soon to be 3) and a whole host of other trophies - Ferguson is the greatest for my money.

  • Comment number 40.

    Doug Coglan....You only have to look at Ferguson's record at a smaller club like Aberdeen in the 80s to see he wasn't 5th best 'in his era' (whatever that era may be). To completely dominate Scottish football for 10 years, including European trophies also, with hardly any money spent, is an amazing achievement that will never be surpassed.


    Completely dominate? 3 titles in 10 years is not domination, or at least if it is Arsenal have dominated the premiership 1998-2008!!

    Dundee Utd won the scottish premier league, two league cups and reached four scottish cup finals in the 1980's, not to mention the Uefa Cup Final in 1987 and the semi-final of the European Cup in 1984 - both much tougher tournaments than the Cup Winners Cup! Jim McLean was at least the equal of Ferguson at that time, he took a club that had never won a trophy and made them a feared team in europe, Aberdeens record in europe under Ferguson other than that one season was relatively poor.

    The fact is Ferguson has only had Wenger (for only half his reign at Man U) and Mourinho (for only three years). Look at the sixties and early seventies, Revie, Shankly, Busby, Clough, not to mention the underrated Joe Mercer, Bertie Mee and Bill Nicholson. All around at the same time. Name the great rival managers of the last twenty years? Oh I have, Wenger and Mourinho. Not to mention the advantages he has had in rule changes, the likes of Paisley were far more restricted.

    Don't quote 'provincial club' re aberdeen winning the CWC when Clough won two European Cups with a provincial team - the same total that Fergie has won in 14 attempts with the richest club in the world!

    I'm not denying he has a place in the top 10 managers list, but not top 5. Trophies alone don't make one the best, the circumstances behind those trophies and the quality of the people you beat do. When Clough guided Derby to his first title as manager in 1972, Clough beat Revie and Shankly to the title. Fergie in 1993 beat.......Ron Atkinson!!!!!

    Ref the muppet who said Paisley (who won the European Cup three times in an era when Forest and Villa also won it - so surely it wasn't as diffult to win as the modern day CL!) Er, actually, you had to be champions to even qualify and you could be drawn against ANYONE in the early rounds, hence Liverpool (the Euro Champs) being drawn against Forest (the English Champs) in round one in 1979.

    Also, Dalglish never managed in the European Cup or Champions League with Liverpool (as English teams banned) or Blackburn (left), his only stab at the comp was with Newcastle - and if he'd won it with that side god would have resigned and offered Dalglish the reigns - Ferguson, Shankly and Paisley working together couldn't have pulled that off!

    You're own argument about the quality of Fergusons rivals over the last 22 years backs up my argument that he's had it easy compared to Shanks, Revie, Busby, Clough and the rest of the top 10!

    A great, yes, the greatest? Not by a mile.

  • Comment number 41.

    Sweet, post 11 - "have the Broncos got the same hands-off mentality between boardroom and manager?"

    Yes, it's generally the case in Rugby League in Australia that the coach calls the shots, there's a lot less money than in the EPL and no open slather on transfer fees and wages and you don't tend to get big-money big-ego hands-on directors. In a sense it's more like the old First Division was years ago before vast tv money came in.

    At one level, it's hard to compare Bennett with Fergie as the latter is at the pinnacle of a huge global sport with intense international club competition, far from the case with the NRL in Oz. The pressures on Fergie must be far more intense.

    I used to deliver Jackie Milburn's newspapers, and met a few NU players who visited him. In some ways (apart from the gross excessive drinking and group sex culture of many NRL players - including some of Bennett's Broncos), NRL is still a bit like football years ago, when the players and managers were part of the community rather than removed from it.

  • Comment number 42.

    # 40. Quality article... ;)

  • Comment number 43.

    Have to agree with no 40 and to add that Fergie inherited a youth team that stayed together in the seniors for 10yrs plus, so had to build or change very little. Also remember MU sold out to the stock market in mid 90's to generate a super rich club out buying every other club consistently over the last 15yr where other clubs have had to sell first to buy. Further monies came in on the back of touting itself as a brand around the world rather than a club even to the detriment of the FA Cup, MU flying off to Sth Amerca or somewhere purely for the filthy lucre. So I do not buy into the Fergie is the best manager line because until he bumped into Maureen it has never been a level playing field unlike in previous eras - as has been said before. I think this is important - often the media forgets this but they will whinge about money & the state of the modern game

  • Comment number 44.

    Honestly, I don't think its possible to argue that there has been a better manager in English football in the 20 or so years he has been at Manchester United. But lets not forget the first 4 years of his reign were not succesful. Without winning the FA Cup in 1990 he may well have been fired.

    Having said that his record post 1990 is as good as any other manager in English football history over such a prolonged period. I think that a true hallmark of his period at United has been the quality of the players the club itself has produced. Think about it, between Busby leaving United in the early seventies and the 1990s how many really great players did United develop for themselves? Very few of the quality Busby brought on. Since 1990, Ferguson has brought on Giggs, Scholes, Beckham, the Nevilles, Butt, all of whom have had succesful United and international careers. And that is not to mention the likes of Wes Brown who maybe haven't achieved as much, or the likes of Robbie Savage or Keith Gillespie who have found fame elsewhere, and had extended international careers.

    Of course he did buy Ralph Milne, so not exactly a stain free reputation.

  • Comment number 45.

    another fact "for our pommy friends". WB coached the Brisbane Broncos for 20 years. When the Broncos entered the (then) Sydney competition he had the entire state of Queensland as a catchment area - 15 teams in NSW.

    I will note that the advent of North Queensland and the Gold Coast has watered down this advantage over time. Some would say this coincides with a watering down of the Broncos abilities to win premierships!

  • Comment number 46.

    Good point about the salary cap in the NRL... Man Utd have spent alot more on wages than any other club (barring ChelSki now) over the premier league period- even now the wage bill is huge.

    Sir Wayne Bennetts point of the blend between youth and senior players is so important. Its something I think Liverpool need to focus on more, other wise we could be a flash in the pan.

    Its interesting to compare the two managers and sports- I remember Dame Roy Keane took part in a coaching session with NZ RU set up and alot can be learnt between the two/three sports.

    How is Bennetts popularity down under after the World Cup???

  • Comment number 47.

    Oldcoast road -

    "another fact "for our pommy friends". WB coached the Brisbane Broncos for 20 years. When the Broncos entered the (then) Sydney competition he had the entire state of Queensland as a catchment area - 15 teams in NSW"

    Which in some ways makes his task all the more impressive - imagine trying to manage the egos of an elite bunch of (Queenslander!) leaguies in a one-team town like Brisbane.

    "I will note that the advent of North Queensland and the Gold Coast has watered down this advantage over time. Some would say this coincides with a watering down of the Broncos abilities to win premierships!"

    Marginal correlation isn't much of an arguement.

  • Comment number 48.

    Great Article, i would also rate Phil Jackson over in the NBA in the same class as these two.

  • Comment number 49.

    "Ref the muppet who said Paisley (who won the European Cup three times in an era when Forest and Villa also won it - so surely it wasn't as diffult to win as the modern day CL!) Er, actually, you had to be champions to even qualify and you could be drawn against ANYONE in the early rounds, hence Liverpool (the Euro Champs) being drawn against Forest (the English Champs) in round one in 1979."

    You've actually answered your won argument here haven't you. In the days of the European Cup you had one English club, one Spanish Club and one Italian Club in the competition per year. Therefore, if Milan won the previous year's Serie A then Juve, Inter and co were absent. Same with Barca and Real, Liverpool, Leeds and Forest and so on and so on.

    Therefore, if the big clubs drew each other early on the team that won had a relatively easy walk to the final. When they got there they could expect to face such mighty sides as Malmo FF, Club Brugge or Stade Reims. Compare that to this years Champions League where we the last 16 contained the top 4 English sides, the top three Italian sides, the top four Spanish sides along with the best teams from Portugal, Germany, France and Greece.

    The team that wins the cup this year will need to overcome the very best teams in Europe. You really can't say that about the old European Cup format. Okay, all the teams in the competition were league champions, but since when were the champions of Finland, Austria, Switzerland, Poland and so on better teams than the ones who came 2nd, 3rd and 4th in England, Italy and Spain?

    This is not taking anything away from the teams that won the European Cup - you can only beat what is in front of you - but be realistic, it's a different era and a different competition to the Champions League. Football has moved on - hence why the last 16 nowadays doesn't have any minnows.

    Back to Fergie - sour grapes from Liverpool fans it seems. Could this perhaps come from Liverpool's total lack of achievement domestically for the past 18 years? Or maybe the fact that it's 2-1 to United in Champions League titles? Or is it the 76,000 fans that turn up each week you don't like? Or the best stadium in the league (how is Stanley Park coming along by the way?!)? Or is it the fact that United are (despite recent results) top of the league, in the semi finals of the FA Cup and current World Champions that you don't like? Or is it the fact United have had the resources to buy £30M players? Or the fact that United continue to produce home grown players (which Liverpool certainly aren't doing!)? Or is it the fact that deep down, you just know Liverpool aren't as big a club as United and never have been - even through the glory years of the 70s and 80s?

    Or is it the fact that you're just jealous?

  • Comment number 50.

    43, thepoetsyd, wrote "even to the detriment of the FA Cup, MU flying off to Sth Amerca or somewhere purely for the filthy lucre." My recollection is that Man U were strongly against playing in the World Club Championship, they found (and still find) it very disruptive in an already crowded season, they would have preferred not to miss the FA Cup, but the various football authorities insisted they play in the WCC.

    45, 47, the Broncos certainly got bigger crowds from being the only NRL team in SEQ, just as the Swans benefited from being the only AFL team in Sydney, and they had first call on the QRL talent pool, a big advantage compared to NSW teams.

  • Comment number 51.

    I'm sorry but Ferguson can't compete with the Cloughs, Busbys, Shankleys, Ramseys etc, not even with Dario Grady.

    Face it, the real core of Man U and Ferguson's success is the chequebook. Without it Man U would be just another Middlesbrough or Coventry City.

    Man U never has to sell their own talent and they cherry pick only the very best to buy - Ronaldo, Cantona, Rooney, Hargreaves, Tevez etc., often crippling their opponents in the process. Please don't give me that mushy pablum about management skills. Whether or not he possesses those skills (and I think he does and showed it while at Aberdeen)is irrelevant because his club's massive wealth makes such skills just an accessory. The stupid laws of the game allow a rich club like Man U to keep an entire squad of international level players sitting on the bench waiting to trot on for the final ten minutes to either score a needed goal or shut down the defence. Get real won't you?

  • Comment number 52.


    one can only assume you're not actually old enough to remember the European Cup back in the 70s & 80s.

    the fact of the matter is Champions from many leagues across Europe were fine sides in that era. Brugge (seeing as you brought them up) were a top side, as evidenced by them winning their own league many times as well as making the UEFA Cup Final in 1976, they also had one of the all time top managers in charge - Ernst Happel. Playing teams from behind the Iron Curtain in those days, packed with internationals, was no cake walk, either.

    Money has dictated that will never happen again as the best players now congregate in the Leagues and for the clubs with the most cash and so now we see the same old Big Names in the tournament year after year BUT the fact the 'famous' names of today's Champions League - Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Inter or Juventus couldn't raise a team back then to beat Liverpool, Forest or Villa doesn't mean the tournament was easier or a lesser competition.

    If you were the best team in Europe you had a fair shout at winnning it - same then as it is now.

  • Comment number 53.

    TommyOnion - I am more than old enough to remember the 70s and 80s thanks for asking, when Liverpool had won the league 17 times and European Cup four times whereas United had only won the league 6 times and the European Cup once. Bet you wish you could turn back the clock, don't you!

    Regarding the validity of the European Cup, are you in effect trying to say is that FC Brugge are a more worthy an opponent as let's say the modern day Liverpool team as they had won their domestic league on numerous occasions? Or do Liverpool get some special dispensation for the upset in Instanbul despite their frankly pathetic domestic results over the past 18 years?

    You seem to be missing the point here. The fact is that the former European Cup was not contested by the best sides in Europe, it was contested by the best side from each league. Please don't try to tell me that Belgian Champions Brugge were on a par with the teams from England, Spain, Italy and Germany who didn't qualify each year. Oh, sorry, I forgot your all-conquering Brugge team won the UEFA Cup in 1976 - which is certainly a HUGE trophy to win as it was part of Liverpool's glorious treble under Houllier... Not at all Mickey Mouse.

    Forest, Villa and Liverpool were certainly worthy winners, but would they have perhaps found winning the competion somewhat harder if the competition comprised of the 32 strongest teams in Europe regardless of whether they won their domestic league? I think so, but as I wrote previously, you can only beat what is in front of you and the record books show Liverpool, Forest and Villa all as European Champions.

    Anyway, think how bitter you'll feel against Ferguson and United come the end of May when United have to buy an even bigger trophy cabinet.

  • Comment number 54.

    Interesting. Fergies boots will be tough to fill. Which is why Man United are taking an unusual step to find Alex Ferguson's successor.

  • Comment number 55.

    DougCoglan - Logical Negativist. Flourished in the last part of the 20th Century. Propounded a set of laws the world generally ignores, to its benefit. Like his namesake he's obviously drunk.

    During the 90s there were many teams in England and abroad who were capable of spending more on players than United, look at the transfer world records of the time. Newcastle £15m on Shearer. When Ferguson was spending £6.5m on Andy Cole, in Italy and Spain players were being exchanged for £20+m

    Then consider - £3m Keane, £1.5m Schmeichel, £1m Cantona, £1.5m Solskjaer then of course the Nevilles, Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, Butt, Wes Brown etc all free. Even Andy Cole was only around £6-7m

    To accuse Ferguson of establishing success on the back of outlandish transfer records is laughable. Even now Carrick cost £17m, young enough to develop further and worth much more now than he paid for him. Compare that to what has been paid for R. Keane, Bent, Diarra, Shevchenko etc.

    Berbatov and Ferdinand - market forces, Veron - a mistake, but other than that I think the prices paid have not been ridiculous.

    As a pure coach Wenger and O'Neill are as good, Moyes looks like he will make an outstanding manager and several others are worthy of praise (Hodgson). But, Ferguson's all round managerial skills, coaching ability, consistency, success and longevity make him the outstanding manager of his generation. Only Paisley and Wenger can compare in the modern British era.

  • Comment number 56.

    Why have all my pund signs turned into question marks?

  • Comment number 57.


  • Comment number 58.

    I think it's you who continue to miss the point, nick.

    I'm saying back then Brugge were a top side. If you remember the 70's & 80s as you claim then you 'should' know that.

    They made the 76 UEFA Cup Final - they didn't win it - beating Hamburg, AC Milan & Roma on the way. In 1977 in the European Cup they knocked out Real Madrid before eventually losing to Borussia Mönchengladbach and in 1978 they knocked out Juventus & Atletico Madrid before losing the Final to Liverpool. So no - they weren't on a par with the Top 4 of Italy, Germany, & Spain back then, they were better than nearly all of them.

    The fact that you and countless other Man Utd fans (why is it always you lot, by the way?) dismiss such sides of that era merely shows up your own ignorance of the game more than anything.

    Changes to the Champions League format (which you also conveniently forget allowed Man Utd's success in 1999) and money has dictated over the last 20 odd years that all the best players go to a few clubs in a few leagues. The make up of European Football is massively different to what it was. Again - you 'should' know this.

    It's ironic that Man Utd fans will talk up Alex Ferguson's remarkable achievement in winning the Cup Winners Cup with Aberdeen and then criticise the European/UEFA Cup of the same era as being easy to win.

  • Comment number 59.

    TommyOnions - the man who answers his own arguments!

    Your point about United winning the CL in 1999 although they weren't domestic champions backs up my point completely. Although Arsenal won the Prem in 1998, United were without doubt the best club side in Europe in 1999 (when they won the proper treble, not the Mickey Scouse version) and it's only right and fitting that they were given the chance to prove this in the Champions League (that's competition that those "champions" Liverpool have been in for the past few years).

    And again, what a beautiful illustration you've made here of why it's unlikely that that many of the teams who won the European Cup wouldn't have done so it the second and third place teams had been allowed in - a fact overlooked by most Liverpool fans.

    Anyway Tommy, you can feel as bitter against Ferguson and United as you like, but the fact is there is no Liverpool fan alive who wouldn't want to swap where United are today compared to where Liverpool are today. You can rant as much as you like, but there's a reason United will soon have won the league 11 times in 16 years, why United has the the biggest stadium in the league, why they are the richest club in the world (if you ignore the current Euro exchange rates), why they have the current World Player of the Year on their team and that reason is Alex Ferguson.

    By the way, you don't need to put 'should' in quotation marks.

  • Comment number 60.

    I'm not bitter, i'm not ranting and i'm not interested in swapping Man Utd for Liverpool or for Chelsea, Arsenal or Accrington Stanley. I don't care how big Man Utd's stadium is, where they rank on the rich list or who won World Player of the Year last year - and why is that ?

    because none of it is relevant to the argument at hand but it's easy to see why you're banging on about it cos you've lost the debate as plainly evidenced by your refusal to address the points made.

    Football now and in 1999 is different to the 1970s and 1980s. The game has changed. I've explained to you (cos clearly you didn't remember like you claimed) that the likes of Brugge, whilst not a glamour name of today, were a top side back then. The teams that you want to have played in the European Cup back then (2nd, 3rd, 4th) weren't all that.

    Let me give an example that even a myopic manc like your goodself might understand.

    1980 - Forest European Champions for the 2nd season in a row. Liverpool were League Champions. So they both went into the European Cup. By your reckoning the 2nd place team in England should have gone into the European Cup. That would have been Manchester United, except they had to play in the UEFA Cup instead. First Round of the UEFA Cup 1980-81 they got knocked out by Widzew Lodz.

    Lodz were a decent side back then - obviously you wont have heard of them but they had Boniek & Smolarek, mainstays of the Polish side that got to the semi finals of the World Cup in 1982. But again just goes to show that unlike today the Top 2,3 & 4 in England, Spain & Italy actually weren't automatically 'the' top sides of European Football. And Lodz weren't even good enough to win their own league for another year or two after that !

    So carry on slagging the tournaments of yesteryear but it really is just yourself that you're making a show of.

    Oh and i put 'should' in quote marks because i'm unable to put it in italics in the format of this blog, that's all.

  • Comment number 61.

    Is the shift button also jammed on your keyboard too Tommy? Surely someone such a high intellectual capacity as yourself 'should' (sic) know that the first person singular is capitalised in English. Tut tut.

    Seeing as my age is turning in to something of an obsession for you, I was born in 1973, so I have a pretty good recollection of the late 70s and 80s.

    To go back to your points above, whoever said United in 1980 were anything approaching a decent side? I can't remember anyone claiming that either Lodz, or Poland in Espana were a poor sides. However, they were hardly great sides were they? Beating United under Sexton hardly gets them a seat at the top table of European football.

    When it comes to Poland in 82, perhaps you want to check your facts before you start to get giddy. Poland came 3rd in the tournament, but apart from the non-event 3rd place playoff they won only two games, drawing three and losing comprehensively to Paolo Rossi and Italy in the semis.

    Poland had the good fortune to be placed in the second group stage with the USSR and your beloved Belgians. Whilst the Soviets were always a tricky game, you can hardly say this group was as tricky as the one that contained Brazil, Argentina and Italy. It's also very doubtful they would have progressed if they had ended up in the same group as either the West Germans or the French, who deserved to be in the final or even England come to mention it. Whilst this represents the Golden Age of Polish football, it's hardly anything to get excited about.

    So, back to your comments about the European Cup versus the Champions League, you're right to say that the top sides in England were nothing special (after all Liverpool were more or less untouched for 15 years) but you are totally wrong to say that the top three or four sides in Spain, Italy and come to mention it West Germany were inferior to sides from Belgium or Poland.

    It's just not the case and no matter how much you want to convince yourself that a tournament where you get a bye in the first round, then play the mighty Dresden, Benfica, Monchengladbach before meeting Brugges in the final in anyway compares to being placed in a group containing Bayern Munich and Barcelona, before knocking out Inter then Juve and finally playing Bayern again in the final, then frankly you're living on a different planet from the rest of us.

    Still, you've always got this season's cup to look forward too haven't you? No doubt the quality of Lucas, Reira and Kuyt will see you banging in three at Stamford Bridge...

  • Comment number 62.

    willfully missing the point now

    "To go back to your points above, whoever said United in 1980 were anything approaching a decent side?"

    they finished 2nd in the League in England, the current format would put them in the Champions league - yet, as even you seem to know, they weren't a top European side

    and yet you claim

    "it's unlikely that that many of the teams who won the European Cup wouldn't have done so it the second and third place teams had been allowed in"

    look around what the current BIG names of European football were up to back then - getting beat by the likes of Widzew Lodz and Aberdeen - that's what !

    82 World Cup
    Poland topped the group containing Italy
    Belgium beat and topped the group containing Argentina
    whilst Northern Ireland beat all those great players from Barca and Real

    as i've said before your attempts to denigrate teams or countries from that era show you up more than anything else

    Benfica, Monchengladbach & Bruges were better teams than the likes of Barca, Inter & Juve. That's just the way it was. The Polish national team were a good side, as were the Belgians, the Danes too as it goes.
    It's clear you don't remember, i do and i've told you and you don't believe me so go look it up for yourself.

    as for the banging in 3 at the Bridge comment - LOL! classic!

  • Comment number 63.

    I can't be bothered wasting any more time on this or on you to be honest Tommy. If it makes up for another year of dust collecting in the Liverpool trophy cabinet I'll at least let you think you've won this little spat.

    So now you can go and live in your glorious past with the ghosts of Shankley and Paisley, hungover players with wobbling beer guts, pie and chips as a pre-match meal, the sound of the Kop in full voice on a European night against the mighty Crusaders or OPS and Stanley knives all round for those wonderful scally fans.

    I can understand why you seem to wish the clocks had stopped in 1991 as the smart money would say that you'll not see the league title back at Anfield in your lifetime (you are 21 aren't you Tommy?).

    By the way, I admit I was wrong, you did score more than three at Stamford Bridge, just a shame that you let in four goals after being in the driving seat eh? As usual it won't be Liverpool's fault though will it? It never is.

  • Comment number 64.

    "as for the banging in 3 at the Bridge comment - LOL! classic!"

    You do realise that you LOST don't you? LOL! classic!

  • Comment number 65.





Sign in

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.