Cut from the same cloth

MUSC Red Devils NCR
Sir Alex Ferguson holding the European Cup Winners Cup and Sir Matt Busby holding the European Cup at Old Trafford
Sir Alex Ferguson holding the European Cup Winners Cup and Sir Matt Busby holding the European Cup at Old Trafford / Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images

Every institution has icons; may it be business, industry or sport for that matter. You look back at history and it’s glittered with people who changed the world for the better. But it is extremely rare, that two icons come around at the same institution and change the very landscape they inherited. But it happened, and it happened at Manchester United; if anything, they were truly woven from the same cloth, the fighting Scottish spirit and an unnerving understanding of the world game, football.

The 19th & 20th century brought with it, the Football League First Division, when the likes of Preston North End, Aston Villa, Everton, Sunderland, Liverpool, and Manchester United were the initial forming members. But it was only after 20 years, that Newton Heath LYR Football Club won their first title in 1907-08. By then, Aston Villa had won five titles, followed by Sunderland and others.

The second title for the now Manchester United came in 1910-11, and then what followed was literally a 41 year period of being in the wilderness. Within that time, the likes of Sunderland, Liverpool, Arsenal, among others, kept winning titles. Surprisingly, Manchester United have had significantly large barren phases, but when they have started winning, they have been a dominant force for a considerable period.

The very principle, the ethos, or the culture, or the DNA, call it whatever you might, which we the fans of today talk so much about, was none better exemplified by the two greats to have managed Manchester United, Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson.

When I refer to them as being ‘cut out from the same cloth’, there are similarities abound and it is evident that for any club to be successful needs to look back at these foundations.

So let’s start by highlighting a few of their similarities:

1. Built the academy

Sir Matt Busby famously said, “If you want football’s finest fruit, grow your own”. In 1952, when United had an ageing squad, rather than signing expensive recruits, Sir Matt unearthed gems Bill Foulkes, Mark Jones, Albert Scanlon, David Pegg, Billy Whelan and the magicians in Duncan Edwards and Sir Bobby Charlton. Sir Matt quoted “its every manager’s dream, I suppose, to build a team by coaching young players 0f 15 to 17. That’s why I started a youth scheme".

Sir Alex in his early days as United manager, shuffled the squad considerably, but eventually found that stabilizing factor with excellence and world-class quality in the Class of 92. Modern day legends Gary Neville, Phil Neville, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt became the fulcrum of sides that Sir Alex built. The focus on youth was further highlighted by Sir Alex as he went about making the Manchester United scouting team the biggest ever seen in the history of English football.

2. Evolving Teams

Sir Matt inherited a team and a club that hadn’t won a title for 41 years; yes, 41 years. He then went about building his team, with a combination of youngsters and experienced players, which “in all modesty, my summing up of 1955-6 and 1956-7 must be that no club in the country could live with Manchester United."

But, the biggest challenge came after the Munich Tragedy, which shook the very foundations of Manchester United, so much so that the board almost decided to shut down the club. However, Sir Matt went about building another strong Manchester United side, which included the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton was.

On winning the European Cup in 1968, Sir Matt famously said, “The greatest night of my life, the fulfillment of my dearest wish to become the first English side to win the European Cup. I’m proud of the team."

Sir Alex had it all to do; he had to rip apart everything. He went unto build a club from its foundations; that’s why the Class of 92 were unearthed, and it is believed, and as was strongly discussed around his retirement, that he built 4 very successful teams, which dominated the landscape of English and European Football for two and a half decades.

3. The winning mentality

Sir Matt Busby “never wanted Manchester United to be second to anybody. Only the best would be good enough" he famously quoted, “at Manchester United we strive for perfection and if we fail we might just have to settle for excellence”, and boy did they live up to those standards, they played simple, attacking football and got their affectionate name, "The Busby Babes".

Building teams, surviving a tragedy and rebuilding the club to win the Champions League caught the attentions of Real Madrid, to which Sir Matt famously said “Manchester is my Heaven”. Sir Matt won 5 First Division Titles, 5 Charity Shields (2 shared), 2 FA Cups and the Champions League.

Manchester United Women v Reading Women - Barclays FA Women's Super League
Manchester United Women v Reading Women - Barclays FA Women's Super League / Naomi Baker/GettyImages

Sir Alex Ferguson was clear on what he wanted to achieve. His famous quote on Liverpool and the league in general still resonates very strongly with the Manchester United faithful.

"This isn’t just a job for me. It’s a mission. I am deadly serious about it. Some people would reckon too serious. We will get there, believe me, and when it happens, life will change for Liverpool and everyone else dramatically."

Sir Alex Ferguson

The gauntlet was well and truly laid down from top to bottom by Sir Alex; the aim was clear, and it was for sustained periods of success because he said this:

"My greatest challenge is not what’s happening at the moment. my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f***ing perch. And you can print that."

Sir Alex Ferguson

13 Premier League Titles, 10 Charity Shields, 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, 2 Champions League Titles, 1 FIFA Club World Cup, 1 European Cup Winners’ Cup, 1 European Super Cup and 1 Intercontinental Cup later, Sir Alex became one of the most successful manager in the history of world football.

The sheer determination to believe in themselves, to believe in their process, and their unparalleled desire to strive for improvement, led to success that had never been seen before in the history of football.

"I’m not always happy because standards are all important to me, and, if they are dropped, I’m angry."

Sir Alex Ferguson

"United is no longer just a football club; it is an institution’. Players came, and went under both, but the philosophy was always the same that, “hard work will always overcome natural talent when natural talent does not work hard enough’."

Sir Matt Busby

Both of them “made the impossible dream possible” in their own very successful ways. Manchester United scaled heights never seen before and in a manner never experienced before.

The club had a virus that infected everyone at United; it was called winning. The club got bombed in the war, lost its team in the Munich Tragedy, and failed for large parts. But at the core, both Sir Matt and Sir Alex believed, “football is nothing without fans”, and if standards had to be maintained, it was expected from everyone, even from the fans, in both success and in failure, and it was clear, “if you can’t support us when we lose, don’t support us when we win."

Everything both these legends did, encapsulated success perfectly, “cut out from the same cloth, woven in perfection”

We all have been lucky enough to witness it at Manchester United in many ways, one of them being these famous words, “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it, Football, Bloody Hell”.

Written by Mohit Arora for the MUSC Red Devils NCR