Sir Alex Ferguson's top ten matches as Man United legend turns 80

Putting Aberdeen on the map and THAT Champions League comeback win in Barcelona… the ten matches that defined Sir Alex Ferguson’s career

  • Legendary British manager Sir Alex Ferguson turns 80 on New Year’s Eve
  • The Scot won 49 trophies as a manager, including 38 at Manchester United 
  • Sportsmail goes through the top ten matches from Fergie’s 2,155 games as boss
  • PICTURE AND VIDEO SPECIAL: Sir Alex Ferguson through the years of his career 
  • Fergie in other peoples’ words as his disciples remember the hairdryer and more 

Legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson turns 80 on New Year’s Eve, so Sportsmail is looking back on his legendary career in football. 

The Scot became one of the most successful managers in football history, winning 49 trophies overall with 38 of them coming at Manchester United.

Ferguson presided over 2,155 matches across across nearly 40 years in management – and the vast majority of them were dramatic and full of controversy.

Legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson turns 80 on New Year’s Eve

Sportsmail looks at the top ten matches from Ferguson’s glittering career in football…

With that in mind, Sportsmail picks out 10 matches that defined Ferguson’s career, from the early days in Scotland to taking Manchester Untied to the top of the European game.  


It may not be the greatest of achievements but Ferguson’s first trophy laid the groundwork for the Scot’s trophy-laden career. 

The young Scottish manager managed to transform a St Mirren side who lay in the bottom half of the Second Division into title contenders in just three years.

Ferguson managed his first league title win using a squad with an average age of 20, known as ‘Fergie’s Furies’. Club captain Tony Fitzpatrick, now a club legend at St Mirren, was aged just 19 when they won the Second Division title in 1997. 

A young Ferguson (left – with Buddies assistant David Proven) guided St Mirren to the Scottish Second Division title in 1977

That achievement was wrapped up with two games to spare as a 4-0 win at Dundee, courtesy of a Frank McGarvey hat-trick and a Billy Stark strike, earned Ferguson his first career honour.

St Mirren were in the big league with Old Firm neighbours Rangers and Celtic just ten miles down the road, little did those two giants know that Ferguson would eclipse them in just a few years.  


After being sacked at St Mirren shortly after their Second Division title triumph, Ferguson was appointed as Aberdeen manager and had one simple aim at Pittodrie: become better than the Old Firm.

After three years, Ferguson had turned the Dons into title challengers after building on the good work his predecessor Billy McNeil had done. A thrilling 3-2 victory over Rangers in January gave Aberdeen hope, before two quickfire wins away at Celtic in the second-half of the season left them on the brink of the title. 

Ferguson guided Aberdeen to the 1980 Scottish league title with a 5-0 win over Hibernian

The Dons went into the penultimate game of the league season away at Hibernian needing to win and hoping Celtic slipped up against Ferguson’s former side St Mirren. 

Ferguson’s Aberdeen showed the quality they had been thrilling everybody with all season with a comfortable 5-0 victory through four different goalscorers. Celtic, meanwhile, were held 0-0 by St Mirren and even missed a penalty ten minutes from time.

Fergie ran onto the Hibernian pitch after the Celtic result came through – he had finally accomplished his goal of putting Aberdeen ahead of the Old Firm in the upper echelons of Scottish football. And there was more success to come…


Ferguson’s next challenge was to put Aberdeen – a provincial club even in Scotland – on the European stage and he managed to achieve that in the 1982-83 season.

The Dons qualified in the preliminary round of the competition and would end up going all the way. They started to be taken seriously when they knocked out German giants Bayern Munich 3-2 in the quarter-final stage before breezing past Belgian club Waterschei Thor to reach the final. 

Ferguson’s Aberdeen beat Bayern Munich 2-1 to win the European Cup Winners’ Cup final

Ferguson’s task was to beat the mighty Real Madrid, managed by Los Blancos legend Alfredo Di Stefano, in the Swedish city of Gothenburg. Real had won the European Cup just five years before, while Aberdeen were appearing in their first final in this competition. 

The match started brilliantly for Aberdeen when Eric Black opened the scoring after seven minutes, but the Scottish side were pegged back when Real captain Juanito scored a penalty. 

Aberdeen dominated the second period but struggled to find a way past Real goalkeeper Agustin in Gothenburg’s dreadful conditions. The match ended 1-1 in normal time so extra-time followed, which saw John Hewitt head home with eight minutes remaining. 

It was Ferguson’s (left) first European trophy of his career and it put Aberdeen on the map

After losing the final 2-1, Real coach Di Stefano said: ‘Aberdeen have what money can’t buy – a soul, a team spirit built in a family tradition.’

Ferguson had achieved greatness with this Aberdeen side and he was starting to build a reputation around Europe. 


Ferguson was chosen to become Manchester United’s new manager in 1986 – but the Scot really struggled in his first few years at Old Trafford. 

After being appointed in November of that year, he guided United to 11th in the table before taking the club to second in the First Division in his first full season in charge.

Ferguson struggled in his early years as Man  United boss and was nearly sacked in 1990

But another mid-table finish the following season raised more doubts about Ferguson, and the 1989-90 season started poorly for the Scottish manager.

A poor start to the campaign and a winless December created calls from United’s fans to sack Ferguson as the new decade came around. When the Red Devils travelled to Nottingham Forest in the third round of the FA Cup in January, reports claimed that the Scot would be dismissed in the event of a defeat. 

United struggled again but Mark Robins, now manager of Coventry City, popped up with a second-half winner to save Ferguson’s job. 

Mark Robins (left) scored a second-half winner for United away at Nottingham Forest to keep Fergie in a job

The club’s league form did not improve, as United finished 13th, but that Robins goal was crucial as the Ferguson won the FA Cup later that season – the Scot’s first in English football. 

It would be the start of a dynasty of trophies at Old Trafford under Ferguson, but imagine if United had failed to win that FA Cup tie in Nottingham… 


When United were one of the founder clubs of the Premier League, it also marked a new era in the club’s history – as Ferguson’s side became a dominant force in English football from 1993.

The inaugural Premier League season started poorly for United again, who were in 10th place by November – but the arrival of Eric Cantona helped the club discover some form as they got involved in the title race alongside Aston Villa and Norwich.

Ferguson delivered United’s first league title for 26 years in the first Premier League season

But March 1993 proved to be a difficult period for the club as four matches without a win dropped them down to third in the three-way title race. 

A 3-1 win at Norwich pulled the Canaries out of the race before a slip-up from Aston Villa gave Ferguson’s side the chance to return to the top of the table with win over Sheffield Wednesday.

United looked like they were blowing their chance when John Sheridan’s second-half penalty put the Owls 1-0 up at Old Trafford – but drama would soon follow.

Steve Bruce struck twice in the final four minutes of the game to turn the tables and return United to the Premier League’s summit. Ferguson was seen dancing on the pitch as United brought about a pivotal moment in the title race.

Steve Bruce scored twice late on in a 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday in a crucial run-in result

That last-gasp win over Sheffield Wednesday was part of a seven-game winning run that saw United clinch their first top-flight title in 26 years. The first of 13 Premier League trophies Ferguson would pick up at Old Trafford. United were back.  


If need to find  a season that sums up how Ferguson used mind games to dominate English football, then the 1995-96 season is what you’re looking for. 

United won another top-flight title after their 1993 success but the likes of Jack Walker, Kenny Dalglish and Alan Shearer earned Blackburn the title in the following year.

Ferguson’s Red Devils were gunning for another top-flight title but found tricky opposition in Newcastle United, who went 12 points clear as 1996 came around. 

Kevin Keegan’s side were 1-5 favourites and Ferguson refused to discuss the possibility of catching them. In the United dressing room, he told his players that the Magpies were the type of team that would give them a chance – and that is how it panned out.

Eric Cantona’s goal earned United a 1-0 victory at title rivals Newcastle in March 1996

Ferguson would go on to win the title despite being 12 points behind Newcastle in January

As winter turned to spring, Newcastle struggled while Ferguson kept motivating his players. When the two teams met at St James’ Park in March 1996, the gap was now four points.

Eric Cantona, who had recently returned from his ban for kicking out at a Crystal Palace fan in 1995, scored the winner to cut the gap to one – but it is what came after that which really showed Ferguson’s mettle. 

That defeat ended Newcastle’s 100 per cent record at home that season and the Magpies would then go on to lose at Arsenal and Liverpool to concede top spot. 

Newcastle’ form picked up but United stayed dominant at the top. After United beat Leeds 1-0 in mid-April, Ferguson questioned whether the Yorkshire team could create a similar performance when his side played Newcastle two weeks later.

Keegan (above) would bottle the title race and Ferguson’s played on his mind in the run-in

The Manchester United boss then criticised Newcastle boss Keegan for playing in Stuart Pearce’s testimonial a week before the latter’s Nottingham Forest side took on the Magpies in a league clash.

Then, when Newcastle won 1-0 at Leeds, Keegan’s infamous Sky Sports rant came out: ‘You can tell him now because he’ll be watching, we’re still fighting for this title. I will love it if we beat them, love it.’

They didn’t, United stayed top and won the title on the last day of the season. 


United returned to Premier League dominance in the late 90s and after watching Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal win the league and cup double in 1998 – Ferguson had to go one step further. 

That came through the 1999 treble that was sealed in dramatic circumstances – and United took on Bayern Munich in the Champions League final in Barcelona. 

Ferguson won his first European title with Manchester United to seal the 1999 treble

It was the Red Devils’ first European final since Matt Busby earned continental glory in 1968 and it looked like United needed to wait even longer as Mario Basler put the German side in front after just six minutes.

Bayern looked like they would hold onto that victory as they stayed in front right the way through to injury time. Then came two devastating set pieces from David Beckham.

The first was cleared as far as Ryan Giggs, who slammed a shot goalwards which Teddy Sheringham swept home from close-range. United were back in the final – but they were not done yet.  

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (right) and Teddy Sheringham (left) scored in injury time to beat Bayern

Another Beckham corner found Sheringham’s head, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer tapping the ball home on the goalline. 

It was a result that epitomised Ferguson’s never-give-up mentality – United and the Scot now had a first Champions League title under their belts.  


Back in domestic football, Ferguson was met with another rival – Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.

The iconic Portuguese coach led the Blues, now owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, to back-to-back top-flight titles in 2005 and 2006 – and threatened to become English football’s new dominant team at the top. 

Ferguson’s United bounced back in dominant fashion, leading the Premier League table for 36 out of the 38 matchdays in the 2006-07 season.

Cristiano Ronaldo (right) scored the winner as United won at rivals Man City in April 2007

The result earned Ferguson and United their first top-flight title in four years that season

Just one defeat in 12 matches between the end of January and the beginning of May steered the Red Devils to their first top-flight title since 2003. The last of those games saw United won 1-0 at rivals Manchester City with Cristiano Ronaldo – now becoming one of the best players in the world – scoring a first-half winner. 

Chelsea failed to beat Arsenal the following day which confirmed the title was heading back to Old Trafford. 

Despite intense pressure from Wenger’s Arsenal and Mourinho’s Chelsea, Ferguson hauled United back on top and they would win the title for the next two years after that. 


United reached their second Champions League final in 2008, forcing an all-English affair with Chelsea, now managed by Avram Grant, in Moscow. 

Known as the two-day final, as the game dragged on into the early hours of the morning in Russia, this final would show that despite all the attractive football and excellent mentality Ferguson brought about, there was a bit of luck required too.

Ferguson (middle) and Ronaldo (right) won United’s second Champions League trophy in 2008

United took a first-half lead through Ronaldo, who netted his 42nd goal of the season in the process, but they were pegged back by Frank Lampard’s equaliser for Chelsea.

Ferguson’s side failed to find a winner in normal time and extra-time, despite Didier Drogba’s red card in the additional period, meaning the game went to penalties.

The ever-reliable Ronaldo saw his spot kick saved by Petr Cech which left Chelsea captain John Terry needing to score the Blues’ fifth spot kick to win the title. 

Edwin van der Sar (left) saved Nicolas Anelka’s (right) penalty in a 6-5 shootout win over Chelsea

Ferguson was lucky John Terry (above) slipped when he had to score to earn Chelsea the win

Terry slipped on the spot and hit the post, United were still alive. The sent-off Drogba would have been a candidate for that last penalty had he not been dismissed. 

Ferguson’s moment of joy came when Edwin van der Sar saved Nicolas Anelka’s sudden-death penalty to earn United their second Champions League title – and the Scot’s last for the club. 


Ferguson was met with another divisional rival in Manchester City, with the Scot calling them the ‘noisy neighbours’ after their recent takeover from Abu Dhabi.

City won the 2012 Premier League title in dramatic fashion, winning via Sergio Aguero’s injury-time winner against QPR to take the title away from United on goal difference. 

Sir Alex Ferguson waved goodbye from football after winning the 2013 title with Man United

The following season saw United come out firing again, a 3-2 derby win at the Etihad Stadium for United, via Robin van Persie’s late free-kick, proved critical early on in the race as the Red Devils stole the top-flight crown off their neighbours. 

After winning the title via a 3-0 win over Aston Villa, Ferguson announced his retirement from football at the end of the season. He waved goodbye to Old Trafford in typical Ferguson fashion – a 2-1 win over Swansea via Rio Ferdinand’s late winner.

But his final game – a trip to West Bromwich Albion on the final day of the season – was truly brilliant. United went 3-0 up at half-time and led 5-2 deep into the second-half, but Romelu Lukaku’s hat-trick saw the Baggies peg the Red Devils back to 5-5.

Romelu Lukaku’s (right) hat-trick saw West Brom come from 5-2 down to draw 5-5 in Fergie’s last game

Ferguson was not best pleased at his side throwing away multiple three-goal leads to deny him a victory in his final game in management.

But that game was dramatic, eye-catching and utterly bonkers at times – three perfect characteristics to sum up Ferguson’s time in management. 

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