Niagara Gazette

May 9, 2013

MROZIAK: Sir Alex a winner over all winners

Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Think of any of North America's most successful coaches or managers throughout history: Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, Toe Blake, Scotty Bowman, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, Joe Torre, Connie Mack, Vivian Stringer, Pat Summitt...

All of them are among the greatest in their respective sports. Yet none of them hold a candle to Sir Alex Ferguson.

Perhaps the icon to top all icons among sports managers is walking away from his game. It was announced Wednesday that the man who has served as manager for soccer's Manchester United is retiring later this month, ending a 27-year run during which he turned the club into one of the most successful in all of Great Britain and Europe and among the most popular teams in the entire world.

Appropriately, he's assured to go out as a champion, with "Man U" already clinching this season's Barclays Premier League championship, its 13th such title under his guidance.

But wait, you may say, didn't Auerbach win 16 league titles in his various roles with the Boston Celtics?

Where Ferguson's legacy differs and stands out is with the many other awards Manchester United has won in addition to those 13 league titles. Under Ferguson, "Man U" has also won five Football Association (FA) Cups, four league cups, four community shield titles and six trophies from European competitions, two of them in the highly esteemed Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League.

Many of those titles were won simultaneously within a given season. I don't care how deep a team's roster might be; that's very hard to accomplish.

Imagine if NHL teams, for example, had to play their regular season and play a Stanley Cup playoff schedule and an international competition all at once.  That's what soccer does. In addition to the league's regular season, clubs in Europe also compete in a national soccer association championship playoff (in England's case the FA Cup) and, if you're as successful as Manchester United, participate in the UEFA Champions League. 

To win at least one of those competitions in a season is impressive enough. Ferguson won three of them simultaneously in 1998-99: the English Premier League championship, the FA Cup and the Champions League title. 

Fergie's success on the pitch, in turn, has elevated Manchester United into the biggest global sports brand of all, with an estimated net worth of $2.23 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

To put that in perspective, the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys, America's richest sports teams, both have an estimated value of $1.85 billion. 

Yankees caps may be recognized elsewhere in the world but do those folks really know Yankee baseball? Meanwhile, they not only recognize the red and yellow logo of Manchester United but they also know the team, and not just for being the club that made David Beckham famous. Ferguson played a significant role in making that worldwide recognition possible.

And I haven't even mentioned Ferguson's other trophies, including ten with Aberdeen, the Scottish club he led for eight years before getting the job at Manchester United.

Soccer may remain a sport for which many Americans could not care less. But sports fans seeking the individual who represents the best among the best in sports managers must look across the Atlantic and recognize that it's Ferguson, a man so good at his role that even Queen Elizabeth II has, since 1999, called him "Sir."