Sir Alex Ferguson's highs and lows

Posted by John Brewin

Even when reaching the standards that Sir Alex Ferguson has maintained at Manchester United, there have been moments of crashing disappointment that match the crazed highs. Ferguson, though, has used the failures as fuel to fire his successes.

LOW: Man City 5-1 Man United, Sept. 23, 1989

Three years in at United, Ferguson had spent big in the summer. Millions had been lavished on Gary Pallister, Neil Webb, Paul Ince and Mike Phelan. Money brought pressure, but nothing compared to what followed the humbling handed by City at Maine Road. United were abject, and Ferguson feared being seen in public for weeks afterward.

HIGH: Man United 2-1 Barcelona, May 15, 1991

The duck had been broken with the 1990 FA Cup and United were pioneers as UEFA ended the European ban on English clubs. A Rotterdam party atmosphere at the European Cup Winners' Cup final saw United blow away Spain's champions. Mark Hughes, back after a painful exile in Catalunya, scored the goals. United were back in business.

LOW: Liverpool 2-0 Man United, April 26, 1992

In the afterglow of Rotterdam, Ferguson made clear his ambitions to win the Football League title. His team had destiny in their hands until a disastrous glut of four games in 11 days. Defeat at West Ham had all but handed Leeds United the trophy, but defeat at Anfield, of all places, confirmed that United would at the time be 25 years without a championship.

HIGH: Man United 3-1 Blackburn Rovers, May 3, 1993

The gloom of the previous season was washed away by the November signing of Eric Cantona, whose skills and iron-hard will to win inspired his teammates to glory. Aston Villa's slip-up to Oldham Athletic that Sunday allowed a Monday night against Rovers to be a riotous party, though many of Ferguson's United were suffering a hangover from the night before. The hoodoo had been broken.

LOW: West Ham United 1-1 Man United, May 14, 1995

Ferguson had given up on the title, stating that only a "Devon Loch" from Blackburn would let his team back in for a third successive Premier League trophy. United came as close as was possible. Rovers had already slipped up at Liverpool as United pushed for a winner at Upton Park. Andy Cole's misses -- and the heroism of Hammers keeper Ludek Miklosko -- denied a desperate United.

HIGH: Man United 1-0 Liverpool, May 11, 1996

Ferguson had torn up his previous team and flooded the new one with youth. He had also persuaded Cantona to stay on after his nine-month ban for assaulting a Crystal Palace fan. Cantona's goals had overhauled Newcastle United in the league, and in the FA Cup final, his last-minute volley made history: United were the first team of the 20th century to win the Double twice.

HIGH: Man United 2-1 Bayern Munich, May 26, 1999

"Football, bloody hell" is hardly the most sophisticated of epithets, but it was Ferguson's bang-on summation of the night his team won the Treble, a high that even he has not been able to repeat. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's goal exploded a Catalan evening into the best night of United fans' lives.

LOW: Bayer Leverkusen 1-1 Man United, May 1, 2002

Ferguson's greatest failure, the monkey he never got off his back, is his inability to surpass Bob Paisley's haul of three European Cups. He lost two finals in 2009 and 2011 to Barcelona, but on this night, an exit at the semifinal stage denied him the chance to win the trophy in Glasgow, his home city, against Real Madrid. It was a golden chance gone, and it took years to recover from.

HIGH: Man United 1-1 Chelsea (United win 6-5 on PKs), May 21, 2008

At least he has two European Cups to his name. A sodden night in Moscow saw triumph by the width of a post. Ferguson's United never did things the easy way, and if it weren't for John Terry's miss in the penalty shootout, they would have lost. Ferguson, who went four painful years without a league title, had rebuilt a great team once more and won the trophy he wanted most of all.

LOW: Man City 3-2 Queens Park Rangers, May 13, 2012

In the fallout from news of his retirement, it has emerged that Sergio Aguero's goal in the dying embers of last season persuaded Ferguson to go again for a final season. The pain his team felt in the moments after full-time at Sunderland were used as a force for regeneration ahead of the next challenge. Accomplished successfully, it would turn out to be Ferguson's last.

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