Whether they are still the ‘Biggest Club in the World’ is perhaps up for debate but there is no doubt that Manchester United have enjoyed their fair share of success.
Any great team needs an equally talented manager and with 20 English titles, 12 FA Cups and three European Cups, the Red Devils have undoubtedly had a number of top coaches throughout their history.
Ron Atkinson – 1981-1986
A league title may have eluded him but Big Ron’s stint in charge at Old Trafford might well have marked a turning point, as he brought a bit of glamour back to the club.
He led United back to European football and introduced several youngsters into the team, including the likes of Mark Hughes and Norman Whiteside.
Atkinson ensured his side played open and attacking football, an approach that mirrored his outlandish off-field presence with his brashness often matched by his team’s tenacity.
FA Cup wins in 1983 and 1985 highlighted his spel,l but top spot in the table wasn’t forthcoming. His side won their opening 10 games of the 1985-86 season, only to tail off into fourth in what would prove to be his final full season in charge.
Tommy Docherty – 1972-1977
Similar to Big Ron, Docherty was seen as having the big personality for the big club, but that wasn’t enough to save them from relegation in 1973-74.
However, a drop into the second tier proved to benefit the club, allowing them to move on from previous glories and reinvigorate the squad with fresh-faced young talent.
Promotion back to the big time at the first time of asking followed, as did successive FA Cup final appearances in 1976 and 1977.
The first of those saw The Doc fall victim to one of the biggest upsets in the competition’s history as Southampton beat United 1-0 at Wembley. However, his team bounced back 12 months later by beating the Liverpool of Clemence, Neal, Hughes and Keegan 2-1 to land the club’s first major trophy for almost a decade.
Ernest Mangnall – 1903-1912
As this article has established, there was life before the Premier League and while the big names later in this list dominate the club’s history, the man who preceded them was Ernest Mangall.
Born in Bolton, Mangall’s managerial career began at Burnley and he moved on to United in 1903. Originally hired as a ‘Secretary’ due to ‘Manager’ not being yet used, he guided the club to their first league title in 1908 and the inaugural Charity Shield the same year.
A maiden FA Cup in 1909 was quickly followed by his second league title in 1911 before he moved across town to City in 1912.
Sir Matt Busby – 1945-1969 and 1970-1971
So here comes the debate. Who is the greatest ever Manchester United manager? Sir Matt Busby just misses out in our standings but like the man who got the better of him, he transcended football.
The Scot’s famous ‘Busby Babes’ played thrilling football, only to have their progress tragically halted by the Munich Air Disaster in 1958.
However, as he had done with that side, he saw the future in youth and rebuilt the team, winning the title in 1965-66 and 1966-67, but it was in Europe where his greatest day came. A decade on from the Munich Air Disaster, the team of Best, Law and Charlton beat Benfica 4-1 at Wembley to become the first English club to win the European trophy.
Busby stepped aside in 1969 but his replacement Wilf McGuinness struggled to replicate his success and he returned in 1970 for half a season to steady the ship.
Few have the reputation to reportedly turn down Real Madrid, but despite playing for both Manchester City and Liverpool, there was only one north west club that Busby ever felt was his.
Sir Alex Ferguson – 1986-2013
Inevitably, it is another Scot who tops this list, Sir Alex Ferguson. His record reads 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups and two Champions League crowns, which certainly says it all.
The most iconic season of Ferguson’s tenure came in 1998-99 when the Red Devils won the league, FA Cup and Champions League, the latter coming in typically exciting style, with Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer netting in added time to down Bayern Munich 2-1 in Barcelona.
After years of European frustration, United’s success elevated them into the upper echelon of top clubs and they repeated the trick in 2008, beating Chelsea on penalties in Moscow.
Ferguson was the master of rebuilding sides and evolving with the times, also regularly changing his coaching staff to help his players maintain their enthusiasm.
United have struggled since his retirement in 2013 and even nine years later, some fans would like to see him return to the dugout.
There were 15 years between Busby’s second departure and Ferguson’s appointment and even then he needed three seasons to win silverware with the FA Cup. Old Trafford regulars will be hoping their current woes don’t take as long to fix.