Manchester United are unique in that they have had just nineteen managers helming the club since A. H. Albut was installed as the club’s ‘secretary’ in 1892. To put that in context, the current winner of the ‘high manager turnover competition’ is Newcastle United, with a whopping 33 managers since 1930.
Despite having so few people steering the ship, the Red Devils have still had some of the most outstanding managers in English footballing history, with Ole Gunnar Solskjær continuing that tradition, and, in this article, we’ll be looking at five of the best.
Affectionately known as Big Ron, Ron Atkinson took over as the head of Manchester United in 1981. Big Ron was famous for his loud boisterousness and was a remarkable contrast to the previous incumbent, David Sexton, who by all accounts was a quiet and unassuming man.
Although United weren’t about to capture the title under Atkinson, possibly because of the financial difficulties that forced him into the sale of Mark Hughes and Ray Wilkins, they did bring home two FA Cups.
Under Atkinson, Manchester United won one of the most famous international matches in British footballing history. Facing down a 2-0 deficit from the first leg, The Red Devils managed a 3-0 win over a Barcelona team that contained Argentine superstar Diego Maradona, who no doubt blamed the loss on the famously unlucky Argentine President Carlos Menem, rather than being outshined by Bryan Robson.
Despite being one of the few managers to see Manchester United drop out of the top flight of English football on his watch, Tommy Docherty is remembered for rallying a club that had been in decline for a while.
Under his managership, United were able to rebuild, focussing on attractive attacking football and bringing forward stars like Stuart Pearson, Gordon Hill, and Steve Coppell.
While the circumstances of Docherty’s departure from the club were unfortunately salacious and have certainly soured his relationship with United, many of the fans remember him as the man that stopped the club’s decline and built the base that would see managers as far as Alex Ferguson have such great success.
Despite technically being one of the Red Devil’s least successful managers, Ernest Mangnall remains one of only three managers ever to have won the league title with the club. His last place position has more to do with the fact that those three managers have shared out over 20 league titles between them.
In actuality, Mangnall led Manchester United to some stunning victories, such as winning the first Charity Shield, the FA Cup, and two of those 20 league titles.
Sir Matt Busby
Very much considered to be the founding father of the modern version of Manchester United we all know and love, Sir Matt Busby joined the club in 1945.
Busby immediately involved himself in the entirety of the running of the club, changing the very nature of how the club and the team interacted with each other and concentrating on nurturing new talent that would act as a feeder mechanism for future teams.
With his ever-present aide Jimmy Murphy at his side, Busby was able to craft a team nicknamed ‘Busby’s Babes’ who were rightly famous for the quality of football they played and the success they achieved.
In addition to his great successes, Busby oversaw one of the most tragic moments in the club’s history, battling through unbelievable loss to rebuild a shattered team that would eventually go on to win the European Cup in 1968.
Sir Alex Ferguson
Sir Matt Busby’s shadow was a hard one to step out of, and many of the managers that followed him didn’t manage it.
The first to truly redefine the club was Sir Alex Ferguson, who, much like Busby, took over a club that was slipping into decline and was able to instil a sense of fighting spirit and determination that would take them on to great heights of success.
The number of awards won by Ferguson with Manchester United would need an article all of their own to recount. The man himself has at least eight honorary degrees, for example, but the only statistic that really matters is, of the 1500 games played with Ferguson as a manager, United won 895 of them and only lost 267.