the next day and he agreed to see me.”
Donald made a last-ditch bid to keep his man, with the staggering gesture of offering Sir Alex ownership of the Dons, but to no avail. Compensation was quickly agreed and permission was granted for talks to begin. They didn’t take long. As Sir Alex later admitted in his autobiography, Managing My Life: “To a great extent I was a captive candidate, and happy to be so.”
Two days after signing on, Ferguson watched on as his new charges were dealt a chastening 2-0 defeat at Oxford United; a result which laid bare the poor fitness levels of the squad he had been bequeathed. Further unsettled by confirmation that a drinking culture had been established within the club, the Scot assembled his players in the gym at The Cliff.
“I made it plain that I meant to put an end to Manchester United’s reputation of being almost as much of a social club as a football club,” he wrote. “I told them that they would have to change their ways because I certainly wasn’t going to change mine.”
Further concerns were raised about the physical strength of the existing squad, and a short-sightedness which had gradually decayed the club’s youth and scouting systems. By the time Queens Park Rangers arrived at Old Trafford for Ferguson’s home bow, he used his first column in United Review to spell out the enormity of his task, while also conveying a stony determination to realise it.
“Taking over a club of Manchester United’s magnitude is an awesome task,” was his opening gambit. The sobering clarity continued: “I am not really interested in what has happened here in the past. I don’t mean any disrespect to the great achievements of Manchester United over the years. It’s simply that there is now only one way to go, and that is forward. The aim at this club must clearly be to win the championship. That is the only real way to lay the ghosts of the past.
“There always has to be a starting point, and I see the championship as the basis for Manchester United’s future. Success has a snowball effect as I found at Aberdeen… It’s not something that can be built overnight, and it could take a few months before I can create a true relationship with the players. But that is what I shall work towards and I am going to