On this day: Sir Alex's landmark game v Lyon
Sir Alex Ferguson racked up his 1,000th match as Manchester United manager on this day in 2004 against Lyon and reflected on the changes at the club since taking charge in 1986.
There was a nostalgic sense of occasion at Old Trafford before the Champions League game as chief executive David Gill presented the manager with a vintage bottle of wine, from the year he took over the reins, before the serious business started.
The boss had, typically, made it clear that his primary focus was on gaining three points to move top of the group, rather than becoming too concerned with any personal landmarks.
Gary Neville fired the home side in front, with a rare goal, despite not feeling well on the evening and seriously contemplating coming off. Although Mahamadou Diarra equalised before half-time, Ruud van Nistelrooy netted to secure the Reds' 2-1 victory and continue his remarkable scoring rate in the competition.
The French club's line-up contained Michael Essien and Florent Malouda, who would go on to play against us in the 2008 final as Chelsea players.
“All day, I was a bit nervy but I kept saying to myself that it was the 999 games before it that mattered,” said Sir Alex after the Lyon match.
“It was a fantastic night and I was very pleased with my players. I am proud of them for the way they represented themselves.It was an open game and we could have scored a few more goals. Some of our football was great.
Before the game, Sir Alex had allowed himself to ponder the changes between 1986 and 2004 when he sat alongside Paul Scholes and addressed reporters at a press conference.
“Emotionally, I have changed a bit,” he mused.
“I have mellowed a lot. I am not the same man I was 18 years ago.”
Turning to Scholes, he asked:
“Correct?” Of course, the midfielder agreed with the assertion!
“When I came down to United 18 years ago, I remember going to Barcelona and I always remember Sir Bobby [Charlton] saying this is where we should be,” the manager continued.
“But I made the point - look at the staff they have. Barcelona had many masseurs and physios, so did AC Milan and the Madrid clubs. At the time, we only had eight staff, including youth development, scouting, a physiotherapist and a doctor. Now I have a staff of 36, including five physios.
“In my 18 years here, sports science has developed in a way that I never thought I would ever see. Back then, I depended on my memory for everything. Now you can just press a button and it all comes up in front of me - even how we are going to score the next goal!”
Everything had changed during Sir Alex's tenure when he lifted his first trophy in 1990, securing the FA Cup after a final replay win over Crystal Palace. Yet he pinpointed the following season's success in Europe as being the key moment for him, perhaps unsurprising considering his affection for taking on the best that the continent has to offer.
“You can have an inspired six-game spell in the FA Cup and cause a surprise,” he said.
“The Cup-Winners' Cup is entirely different - you know when you get Barcelona in a final that it is a real European final. We acquitted ourselves terrifically.
“After 1991, the acceleration in our progress was amazing - 1991 was a watershed for this club.”
That season marked a return into Europe for English clubs after the ban in the wake of the Heysel Stadium Disaster, with the effects still felt for many years.
“That gap was a terribly debilitating problem for English football,” added Sir Alex.
“Juventus became the barometer for our European performances. The first time we went over to Juventus, you could see the intimidation of Juventus' name.
“Being in the ground was too much for us but we got better and better.”
We certainly did and United, despite questions being asked of the manager and team at this point, would go on to conquer Europe again three seasons later, and reach another two Champions League finals under the great man.
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