Ferguson overtakes Busby milestone
© AFP

Sir Alex Ferguson on Sunday became Manchester United's longest-serving manager as he passed Sir Matt Busby's previous record span at the helm. Sir Alex had hoped to celebrate the mark by landing a knockout blow to Chelsea's bid to retain the Premier League title - but the match between the English Premier League titans fell victim to the heavy snow sweeping much of the country.

Instead, he was able to take time to reflect on his achievement as top names in the game saluted the 68-year-old who has now been in charge for an astonishing 24 years, one month and 15 days (8,811 days) in one unbroken spell stretching back to November 1986. His tenure overtook Busby's total during two stints, from October 1945 to January 1969 and from December 1970 to June 1971.

United's board member and eminence grise Sir Bobby Charlton praised Ferguson, telling BBC radio: "He's been unique. I've never known anyone who works as hard as him or has the brains or who knows what's expected of him. He's been sensational for United. When we first got him you could tell he had the work ethic, he wasn't satisfied with second best, he wanted to be winning all the time."

Unparalleled success
Aside from a difficult first three seasons, Ferguson has come close to that ambition with 11 Premier League titles, two UEFA Champions League wins and five FA Cups headlining his CV.

"In our wildest dreams we couldn't have expected Alex Ferguson to be so successful over all this time - especially when the average time for a manager to stay in any one place is just three and half years," said Charlton, who described the Scot as "phenomenal" while lauding his ability to keep on unearthing young stars," Charlton said. "He's a great judge of a player and how to put a team together. He loves every minute of it and he's going to be with us for quite a while yet - which is bad news for the rest of the league."

In our wildest dreams we couldn't have expected Alex Ferguson to be so successful over all this time.
Sir Bobby Charlton, Manchester United legend and ambassador

Busby himself was a legend at Old Trafford, winning the club's first European Cup in 1968 - but as he approaches his 69th birthday, Ferguson has outlasted his illustrious predecessor, leading England boss Fabio Capello to label Sir Alex the best manager of all time in midweek.

"In the history of football, the best manager is Sir Alex," Capello told a Club Wembley members' breakfast. "He changed the team, he changed the players, he has been really, really good for the club," said the Italian, who wished his contemporary "another 20 years of management at the top level."

Earlier this week, Charlton dismissed popular claims that Ferguson might have been sacked had United lost a third round FA Cup tie to Nottingham Forest. Ferguson had been in the job almost four years without landing silverware but in the event, Mark Robins scored to win the match and United went on to win the Cup.

"The media were the ones who were pushing," Charlton, on the United board throughout Ferguson's reign, told the club's official website. "If Alex Ferguson had got sacked it would have been a really good story for them." But Sir Bobby insisted: "There was not a thought about the future of Alex Ferguson at this club."

Differing characters
Sir Alex says he and Busby were from a different mould - but united by ambition. "Sir Matt was a lot calmer than me - we are different characters, with different personalities," he told the club website. "Scottish people have a determination to do well no matter what."

Ferguson came to Old Trafford after a successful stint at Aberdeen, where he broke a 15-year stranglehold on the Scottish title by Glasgow giants Rangers and Celtic with a championship success in 1980 followed swiftly by two more and a notable UEFA Cup Winners Cup success over Real Madrid in 1983.