There are fewer bigger clubs in world football than Manchester United. The Red Devils are one of the best known teams across the world, usually boasting the biggest names in the sport both on and off the pitch. As much as the players have brought success to Old Trafford, they have been guided by some of the best brains the sport has ever seen. It is why United has such a vast trophy cabinet and won everything that is possible for a club in football. So just who have been the greatest Manchester United managers of all time?
5 greatest Manchester United managers ever
Few people will recognise the name but it was Ernest Mangnall who laid the foundations for Manchester United to become a domestic powerhouse. Mangnall was in charge of Manchester for much of the early 1900s taking over in 1903 after moving from Burnley as the club changed from Newton Heath to Manchester United. In his first season, Mangnall took United into the top flight coming second in the Second Division in 1904.
From there, he slowly shaped his side into challengers for silverware and won their first major title winning the 1907/1908 First Division trophy. Further silverware would come thick and fast as United would also win the 1908 Charity Shield and the 1909 FA Cup Final. The Scot would add another league title to his trophy haul winning the 1910/11 First Division title. However, he would shock the club and city when he would leave United in 1912 to join cross-town rivals Manchester City.
With five trophies under his belt, Mangnall still remains United’s third most successful manager ever despite his exploits coming well over a century ago.
Sir Matt Busby
Few names are as revered at Old Trafford than Sir Matt Busby –ironic that played for both Liverpool and Man City in his career. However, The Scot spent over 25 years with Manchester United over two spells and brought them their first true era of dominance and is an automatic pick on any list of the greatest Manchester United managers ever.
Joining The Red Devils in 1945, he quickly took to turning his side into title challengers helping them finish second for much of the initial post-War years. Once the 1950s arrived, Busby turned his team into a unstoppable force claiming the 1951.52 First Division title and then back to-back titles in 1955/56 and 56/77.
The “Busby Babes” were the talk of Europe although the 1958 Munich air crash changed all that – killing 10 club members including star midfielder Duncan Edwards. Busby rallied through the tragedy rebuilding his squad around stars like Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best. The new talent saw Busby’s team thrive again to win two more league titles in 1965 and 1967 as well as their first European Cup trophy in 1968. He soon retired from management in 1969 and despite a brief return in 1970 – finally stopped in 1971. His legacy is almost unmatched with Old Trafford now sitting on Sir Matt Busby Way and having stands and statues built in his honour.
For much of the 1970s, Manchester United were kept under the watchful eye of Scotsman Tommy Docherty. Although his reign started in abysmal fashion – relegation from the top flight – he turned things around to bring silverware back to Old Trafford. Their relegation in 1973 saw Docherty reshape the squad significantly and the results showed as they won the Second Division title in 1974 and bounced back like a phoenix.
The end results were impressive with United finishing third on their first season back in the top flight in 1975. From there, Docherty’s side remained title contenders although the only other silverware Docherty would capture during his time in Manchester would be the 1977 FA Cup famously beating arch-rivals Liverpool in the final. An off-field scandal that summer would see Docherty sacked in a huge public saga bringing a short and sudden end to a successful stint with the club.
Few figures have been divisive on the touchline than Ron Atkinson but that didn’t mean he didn’t get results and he is a surprise entry on our list of the greatest Manchester United managers.
For five years, “Big Ron” was at the helm at Old Trafford with varying degrees of success. With English clubs banned from European competitions due to the Heysel Stadium incident, Atkinson focused on domestic competitions becoming a master in the FA Cup. It was here where Big Ron brought two FA Cup trophies back to Manchester winning the 1983 and 1985 editions and earning United their first silverware in almost a decade.
Despite not being able to claim any league titles, the success brought some faith back to the club although a poor start to the 1986/87 season see Atkinson removed from the post not knowing just what would happen with the appointment of his successor.
Sir Alex Ferguson
Known for his sharp mind, no-nonsense attitude and his love for chewing gum, no-one has quite replicated what Sir Alex Ferguson achieved at Old Trafford. Taking over the club in 1986, “Fergie” swiftly changed the mindset of the club rejecting the renegade off-field antics and focusing on a more professional approach.
This tactic paid off winning several cup competitions including the 1990 FA Cup and the 1991 UEFA Cup Winners Cup. With an influx of new talent arriving in the early 1990s drilled to Ferguson’s ideal traits, an era of dominance was about to unfold. As the Premier League was formed in 1992, United took the new English top flight by storm winning 7 of its first 10 editions.
Alongside that, United were now becoming just as formidable in Europe too famously winning the 1999 Champions League final with two late goals to seal a famous treble – a first for an English club. Moving into the 2000s, the trophy haul continued winning 6 more Premier League titles and 3 Champions League titles.
Ferguson would retire in 2013 after winning his 13th league title. With no less than 29 trophies under his watch at Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson is undoubtedly one of the greatest managers in both Manchester United and football history regardless of era.
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