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Why Sir Alex Ferguson means so much to so many

A personal tribute to the great man and his impact on football, on Manchester, and on me.

Manchester United v Swansea City - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Everyone was caught off guard by the terrible news a few weeks ago that Sir Alex Ferguson had suffered from a brain hemorrhage. He was quickly treated, and, to everyone’s relief, he is now recovering from the operation and starting the rehabilitation process.

Manchester United fans and players past and present all sent out warm messages of love and affection for the club’s greatest ever manager, but there have also been an overwhelming number of messages of love and well wishes from Ferguson’s rivals. Fans, players, and managers from rival clubs such as Manchester City, Arsenal, and even Liverpool have all expressed their admiration for the legendary Scot, and wish him and his family nothing but the best in his road to recovery.

Sir Alex wasn’t just a man who changed one club, his quality helped elevate the Premier League into the global media super power that it is today. Many clubs rose to challenge him, but Ferguson got the last laugh every time. His class and consistency drove rivals insane, but they still feel nothing but respect for him. From Carrington to La Masia his methods are studied and taught to the next generation. His legacy stretches across generations of fans. He is a living legend, immortalized by his work and every player, fan, manager, or club staffer who has ever been influenced by him, whether they’ve even met him or not.

I’ve been a United fan since a very young age, and my first United poster to go up on my bedroom wall was a picture collage of the 2004 team. At the center was a picture of Sir Alex, a man who I’ve only known as a powerful, heroic, and immortal leader. I would pretend I was Wayne Rooney in my youth league games, but when i got home and turned on FIFA I was Sir Alex.

I became obsessed with football philosophy, tactics, and legends of the game brought up in Sir Alex’s system. I begged my parents and grandparents for any United DVD or book of Manchester United and Sir Alex’s rich history of football mastery. One DVD titled “Manchester United 1001 Greatest Goals” didn’t feature as many recent players as I had hoped, but allowed me to witness the incredible performances of United’s greatest, including Sir Bobby Charlton, Dennis Law, George Best, Bryan Robson, and Eric Cantona to name a few. I’d hoped for more Van Nistelrooy, but fell in love with masterclass performances decades before I was even born.

I willingly woke up much earlier on weekends than most American kids to watch United on TV from thousands of miles away with my father, knowing a magical performance was moments away.

One day in May 2008 my dad checked me out of school early on a Tuesday for a “Doctor’s appointment with A. Ferguson.” In reality we were rushing home early from our obligations at work and school to witness Paul Scholes score a typical Paul Scholes goal and send United to only the third Champions League final in their history.

My point is this: Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson became an important part of my life, and drove my passion for sports, research, and writing. I’m not the only one either. Millions of people from around the world love and support a man they’ve never met because he truly means that much to them.

Football is an institution that unites. There are often rivalries, ugliness, and even violence and racism that can distract from the game, but it’s only ever a minor obstacle for a force that brings love and passion wherever it goes.

Bob Marley once said “Football is freedom, a whole universe.” Sir Alex’s work personifies this.

He introduced a new culture not just to United, but to all of Manchester. He brought unprecedented success to a city that for decades had been abandoned by industry, politics, and culture, and to a team that had struggled through years of turmoil, inconsistency, and uncertainty.

Under Sir Alex, United brought prolific domestic and European success back to Manchester, and became the driving force behind the Premier League’s overseas popularity. Manchester began to export culture once again in the 80s and 90s and reinvent its identity. Manchester was a city that refused to die, and Sir Alex made sure his teams would do the same. United was it’ own religion of the footballing world, the Republik of Mancunia. The club was a beacon of hope for the people of Manchester, and Sir Alex not only revived it, he spread it throughout the world.

Sir Alex brought the beautiful game to so many generations in so many different corners of the world. Ferguson’s Red Army, win, lose, or tie, are United til they die. Sir Alex had a health scare, but he’s on the mend. If there’s anyone who knows how to pull of a comeback win it’s him, and he’s got the world behind him.