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May 13, 2013
Last week, the announcement of Alex Ferguson’s retirement dwarfed all other news on planet football. Was there a single European media who did not duly pay its tribute?
No need to reproduce here the list of all the titles and trophees or to add yet another analysis of what allowed him to reach such an outstanding longevity in the fast-moving football business (during Ferguson’s years at United, Real Madrid used 26 different coaches, Bayern Munich 18).
It is interesting, though, to note that the twenty-year time span since his first championship win with United, corresponds to the two decades of accelerated internationalisation of European football, which we have called a ‘paradigm shift’ elsewhere.
The sheer scope of the media tribute this week gives testimony to the depth of this process. When Matt Busby retired from the same position in 1969, after 24 years at United including the epic chapters of the Munich air crash, the re-building of the team and the final triumph of the first European Cup for an English club in 1968, ‘serious’ quality press titles outside the UK like Le Monde or the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung either did not consider such football news important enough or simply did not even notice. Today they can’t afford any more not to report and comment.
Alex Ferguson himself has also gone through (and very successfully adapted to) another massive internationalisation trend: the one concerning the players market. When he won his first championship in 1993, two and half years before the Bosman ruling, his squad counted exactly four non-British players, all of them European (Peter Schmeichel, Denis Irwin, Andrei Kanchelskis and, of course, Eric Cantona).
In the year of the famous ‘treble’, the 1998-99 season, the percentage of non-UK born players had moved from 20% to almost 50%. Of the 23 players Ferguson used in the league games, eleven were foreigners, only one of whom (Dwight Yorke) came from outside Europe, though.
This year, Ferguson’s final Premier League victory was won with a very similar mix, 12 foreigners and 13 UK-born players. The interesting difference is that 6 of the 12 foreigners come from outside Europe.
Simple figures that give evidence to the massive changes that European football has undergone since Alex Ferguson – and Ryan Giggs, for that matter, who was there in 1993 already ! – won their first championship with United.