Its bestowal of a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, a Hollywood Actress of the Year and a pioneering queen illustrate that the FIFA Presidential Award is open to esteeming off-field achievements. Sometimes, though, accomplishments inside stadium gates are simply too resounding to ignore.
That’s why, four years ago, to mark the 50th anniversary of his professional debut, Pele received the honour for the extraordinary contribution he made to a sport in which he will infinitely reside as one of its greatest-ever players. And that’s why tonight, ten years after the FIFA Presidential Award was incepted at the behest of then Joseph S. Blatter, it has finally recognised the extraordinary contribution of a man who will forever remain one of football’s finest all-time managers.
And just as 2007 was a landmark year for Pele, 2011 was for Sir Alex Ferguson in terms of both sentiment and success. It was one in which the insatiable Glaswegian celebrated turning 70 and, inconceivably, 25 years in the Manchester United hot-seat, while fellow successful colossuses Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich have meantime had 24, 18 and 14 coaching tenures respectively. And it was one in which Ferguson commemorated by winning his 12th Premier League title – a haul that has taken the Red Devils past Aston Villa, Everton, Arsenal and Liverpool, whom they finally outranked last May, to become the outright record 19-time English champions. Ferguson’s metamorphosis of the quivering wreck he inherited in 1986 has also been highlighted by two UEFA Champions League crowns, as many world titles and five FA Cups.
Sir Bobby Charlton enthused: “We are all really lucky at Manchester United – really lucky – to have had 25 years of absolute paradise. Every season we are expecting to win something, and we usually do. And it’s because of the manager, nobody else.
“The success we have had has just been phenomenal. He has been so successful that he must certainly go down as the greatest manager in the history of the game. I would say more than that. In sport, in any sport, nobody has done more than he has done.”
Ferguson made a managerial name for himself at East Stirlingshire and St Mirren, before assuming the controls of Aberdeen in 1978. The Dons had won just one Scottish top-flight title since their 1903 inception. Ferguson guided them to three within a paradisiacal eight-year reign in which they also clinched four Scottish Cups and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.
A prolific forward for clubs including Rangers during his playing days, Ferguson had a brief period as Scotland manager following the death of his mentor Jock Stein in 1985, but quit the role following the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™ and took over at Old Trafford. And although he endured a difficult start, Ferguson and Manchester United have monopolised the Premier League era, winning 12 of a possible 19 titles and amassing 204 points more than nearest challengers Arsenal.
“I don't know anybody who has done 25 years at the top level with the same club,” said Gunners manager Arsene Wenger. “It is exceptional. Certainly nobody will do it again.”
The tributes also flooded in from overseas during 2011. Jose Mourinho said: “Sir Alex is a unique manager in the history of Manchester United. Sir Alex is a unique manager in the history of English football. And Sir Alex is a unique manager in the history of European football.”
And uniquely, Sir Alex Ferguson is now the only man to receive the FIFA Presidential Award for his output as a manager.