Mangnall, Busby, Docherty And Ferguson, Managing Triumph From Disaster
Mangnall, Busby, Docherty And Ferguson, Managing Triumph From Disaster
This article can be found in the May-June 2014 edition of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America`s (NSCAA) Soccer Journal
Manchester United have had only four successful managers, and but three since their earliest triumphs in the league (1908, 1911) and F.A. Cup (1909), when manager Ernest Mangnall, who`d joined the club in 1903, deserted in 1912 for Manchester City after building a successful team. Ironically the heart of Mangnall`s team had arrived from Manchester City in 1905 after the club was found guilty of making illegal payments and the entire playing staff was suspended. Along with Welsh winger, Billy Meredith, arguably the first soccer superstar, Scottish inside left, Sandy Turnbull, left back, Herbert Burgess, and Jimmy Bannister, inside right, were the City players who made the move across Manchester to what wasn`t yet Old Trafford`s stadium, but Turnbull did score the first ever United goal there in a 3-4 defeat to Liverpool on 19 February, 1909.
Top scorer with 27 goals in 1907-08 Turnbull helped United to their first league title in their sixteenth season in the league, and in 1908 he scored the only goal in the F. A. Cup Final against Bristol City. Mid-way through the first half a shot from forward, Harold Halse, hit the crossbar and Sandy drove in the rebound, 1-0. Although `Knocker` West was the top scorer in 1910-11 with 19 goals, Sandy was still there with 18 to help the red half of Manchester win the title before the outbreak of World War I (1914-18) put a disastrous end to the `red devils` earliest prospects. Sergeant Sandy died at Arras, France, on 3 May, 1917, aged 32.
After World War II (1939-45) former Manchester City and Liverpool wing back, Matt Busby, was coaxed into taking on the managerial responsibility at Manchester United`s Old Trafford stadium which lay in ruins and had to be rebuilt after the German bombs. Busby`s team won the F.A. Cup in 1948 and the league title in 1952 before an ageing group of players gave way to the new generation known as the `Busby Babes`.
Successive championship wins in 1955-56 and 1956-57 gave Manchester United the opportunity to challenge Spain`s Real Madrid who had been winners of the European Cup since its inception and would go on to win it for the first five occasions between 1956 and 1960. The `red devils` hopes of challenging the Spanish giants ended at Munich airport on February 6, 1958, when the plane carrying the team back from an aggregate two-leg quarter-final defeat of Red Star Belgrade in Yugosalvia failed to take off in the snow and ice and crashed killing several members of a squad which would have formed the backbone of the England team for the upcoming world cup of 1958 and many more years thereafter.
United lost left back Roger Byrne, the England captain; Geoff Bent, his understudy; Mark Jones, at centre half; Duncan Edwards, the renowned midfield `gentle giant`; wing half David Coleman; Johnny Berry, the England right winger, who never played again, and David Pegg on the left, while England centre forward, Tommy Taylor, also died. Irish internationals, Liam `Billy` Whelan, the Republic of Ireland inside forward, who`d top scored with 26 goals the season before when Manchester United had won their second successive league championship, and half back Jackie Blanchlower, brother of Danny who, captaining Tottenham Hotspur to the league and F.A. Cup double in 1961, always maintained Jackie was a better player even than the Northern Ireland captain, died too.
A patched up United team went on to lose 5-2 on aggregate to A. C. Milan in the European Cup semi-final of 1958. Busby`s Phoenix had to wait almost exactly a decade before it rose again from the ashes of disaster and a young former Manchester City goalscoring star, Denis Law, was brought from Torino in Italy to knock in the goals and put the trophies in the cabinet at Old Trafford alongside a young left winger from the days before Munich, Bobby Charlton. The goalscorer from the wing had transformed a powerful shooting ability to become a deep lying centre forward with long range dynamite in his boots, while a young Irish genius with magic in his body swerves and trickery in his legs would soon enthuse a generation of kids who wanted to emulate his flair for a run at goal and often unstoppable `devil may care` dribblings down the flanks, or through the ranks of the opposition`s defenders, like a knife through butter where a fortress had been supposed.
In 1963 Busby`s team won the F.A. Cup against Leicester City, 3-1, with two goals from striker David Herd and another from Denis Law. By the time United were ready to win their first championship since 1957, George Best had emerged as the teenage Irish wizard who could score from anywhere but was nominally a left winger. Titles came in 1964-65 and 1966-67 before the great day at Wembley stadium, the home of the England soccer team itself, and the European Cup FInal of 1968 in which United triumphed over Portuguese champions Benfica, 4-1. Bobby Charlton scored twice, one a rare header, while George Best and a young striker, Brian Kidd, replacing injured Scot, Denis Law, got the other.
The season Manchester United won the European Cup they lost the title to Manchester City with such luminaries as Colin Bell, the tireless England midfield star known as `Nijinski` because of his poise and athleticism, and winger Stan Bowles, who was vaunted as the latest `new George Best`, mainly because of his evasive runs and desire to score. Sir Matt Busby, as he then was after being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, decided to retire after finishing 11th in the league and losing to A. C. Milan 1-2 on aggregate after a Charlton goal in the second leg at Old Trafford gave them a chance to progress. Losing the Intercontinental Cup over two legs to an Argentine side, Estudiantes De La Plata, that was heavily criticized for brutality, as the Argentine national team had been by manager Alf Ramsay, who had described them as `animals` in 1966 when England won the World Cup at Wembley stadium, London, with the indispensable midfield skills and powerful left foot shot of Bobby Charlton in the side. Busby`s last major signing, Scottish winger Willie Morgan, did score in the 89th minute of the Intercontinental Cup FInal at Old Trafford to make it 1-1 and 1-2 on aggregate after a 7th minute goal from `the witch`, Juan Ramon Veron, father of Juan Sebastian Veron, who would later play with some distinction as a tall and tenaciously skilled midfielder for United, but Busby had had enough. Soccer was becoming too much of a cut throats` endeavour.
The board promoted former Manchester United wing half, Wilf McGuinness, to the position of manager, from his role as reserve team players` coach. Wilf had played a small part in the final days of the `Busby Babes` and had been a part of United`s recovery after Munich. Then he`d played at the side of crash survivor, Albert Scanlon, who had quite literally emerged from the shadow of better players as a forward who could score a lot of goals. Scanlon complemented the already proven striking abilities of centre forward, Dennis Viollet, and their goals, assisted by the ready distribution of rugged tackling Wilf McGuinness, nearly won Manchester United the title in 1958-59, when a wave of emotion that had carried the decimated team to the F.A. Cup Final in 1958 remained strong enough for achievements greater than their talent.
United had suffered a 0-2 defeat in the F.A. Cup Final of 1958 through Bolton Wanderers` towering centre forward, Nat Lofthouse, who had opened his account in only the 3rd minute and had taken advantage of the then rule that allowed the forwards to physically challenge the `keeper to bundle Harry Gregg over the goal line with the ball in his hands for the second goal in the 50th minute. Although Wilf McGuinness wasn`t selected for the Final, he`d made enough first team appearances in 1955-56 and 1956-57 to claim a winners` medal in the championship seasons and was still there after Munich. Continuity was the theme and Wilf McGUinness was the one chosen to maintain it after the board accepted Busby`s retirement and rewarded him by bestowing the honour of lifelong President of Manchester United.
Sir Matt Busby`s retirement was a disaster for Manchester United and Wilf McGuinness failed to win a trophy during his tenure from 1969-71, which even included a brief period back from retirement for Sir Matt Busby so the ship could be steadied. Newspapers reported Wilf had been settling old scores with those who`d been his contemporaries amongst the playing staff and Bobby Charlton was reputed to have been upset over being asked to do push ups in a training session at which Wilf had deemed the former European Footballer of the Year to have been `slacking`. The players didn`t respond well to Wilf McGuinness and in 1971 he was replaced by Leicester City manager, Frank O` Farrell, who reports suggest never left his office during his tenure and United`s failure to win anything was becoming an embarassment.
Tommy Docherty, the former Chelsea manager, hadn`t ever won a major trophy either, although Dave Sexton would win the F.A. Cup (1970) and Cup Winners` Cup (1971) with the Chelsea team he inherited, and become United manager after Docherty in 1977, but now Docherty took over the managership of United in December of the 1972-73 season to begin a major overhaul of the playing staff, which was what he`d done at Chelsea, before their successful spell, and what he was hired to do by the Manchester United board desperate for a return to the Busby` `Babes` style of nurturing young players to greatness. Not fulfilling his early promise as a striker, Brian Kidd was amongst the luminaries to depart, with a paucity of strikes against his name on the scoresheet to explain why. Bobby Charlton saved Tommy Docherty`s getting rid of him by retiring in 1973, while George Best, angered at the lack of support for his attacking flair, told the club he wouldn`t ever play second tier soccer if Manchester United were relegated. At the end of the 1973-74 season United were relegated to the second tier of English football and disaster was upon the club again. Denis Law was wearing the sky blue shirt of Manchester City when he back-heeled the ball into the United net to embarass Tommy Docherty, who`d sold him as a `has been`, and the decline of the red half of Manchester was sealed.
Known for building a team at Chelsea, Docherty at United became known for demolishing a team he didn`t want, but sentimentalism was a thing of the past. The triumvirate of Charlton, Law and Best were gone in a few months, and the team that had won F.A. Cup, league and European Cup was just beyond being sent to the brokers` yard. Docherty kept faith with `the last of the Busby Babes`, Sammy McIlroy, who`d made his scoring debut against Manchester City as a striker in a 3-3 draw in 1971, and Mcilroy took the strikers` birth alongside no- nonsense bluff and dour Northerner, Stuart Pearson, bought from Hull City for 200, 000 GBP, to bulldoze in the goals and get United back into the top tier of English soccer at the first attempt.
Willie Morgan was captain for the 1974-75 season and the second tier of English soccer chased United all the way to the second most valued championship title in England. Alex Stepney, who`d kept Manchester United in the European Cup FInal of 1968 when he miraculously saved what looked like an unstoppably powerful shot from Portuguese centre forward, Eusebio, when the scores were level at 1-1, was still in the goalkeeping jersey for the `red devils`. Having tried a series of left backs to replace Irish full back, Tony Dunne, who`d arrived at United as a final replacement for lost England captain, Roger Byrne, Tommy Docherty had found Stewart Houston, a Scot who`d go on to restore some pride to the role until Arthur Albiston, another Scot, would emerge from the youth ranks to take over the position in startling fashion when Houston couldn`t make the F.A. Cup FInal winning team of 1977 against Liverpool.
Arthur Albiston would go on to be the most decorated player of his generation at Manchester United with three F.A. Cup FInal winners` medals in a period that saw the club rise from mediocrity to modesty. Alex Forsyth had a similar fate. The Scottish full back on the right would win a second tier championship medal before United challenged for the English league title after promotion from the second tier in 1975. Forsyth had to be satisfied with being losing Finalists in the 1976 F.A. Cup to an 83rd minute breakaway goal from Southampton forward, Bobby Stokes, when everyone had anticipated a simple victory for a United forward line that had risen on the right and left wings of Steve Coppell and Gordon Hill to lift the spirits of soccer in England in a way it hadn`t been raised since the days of George Best. Both Houston and Forsyth were gone after the young full back stars of Arthur Albiston and Irishman, Jimmy Nicholl, shone brighter in the 1977 F.A. Cup FInal defeat of Liverpool, 2-1, with goals from Jimmy Greenhoff, who`d arrived from Stoke City for 100, 000 GBP to put more `zing` into the forward line than Sammy McIlroy could provide, who moved back into the deep lying centre forward role made tradiitonal at United by Bobby Charlton.
Jimmy Greenhoff had joined his brother, Brian, who was perhaps the smallest sentre back ever, but made up for that with springs in his heels and a tigrishness of effort that never ceased. Although Jim Holton, who`d played centre back for Scotland in the 1974 World Cup Finals, and Steve James, an England centre back, had been the bedrock of United`s 1974-75 defence alongside the cool calmness of Scots` captain, stopper Martin Buchan, Brian Greenhoff had emerged as a better ball player and, for a while, the traditional giant centre half at the back for United was an unseen presence. Tommy Docherty`s earliest decision as a manager was to bring Lou Macari from Celtic, a striker on the small side who got more than his fair share of headed goals simply by refusing to be beaten to the ball. With Irishman Gerry Daly on the left wing and captain, Willie Morgan, on the right, United had Pearson as a forward supported by Macari, McIlroy, and a player who Docherty kept faith with for a while, Jim McCalliog, who`d arrived from Wolves for 60, 000 GBP in March 1973 and had scored 3 goals in 3 wins for a United side that almost avoided relegation because of it.
By 2008-9 teams were permitted seven substitutes, and could deploy three, which favoured a larger pool of players, and what came to be known as `squad rotation`, where managers rested players to maximize their performance throughout the course of a long season, but in 1974-75 only a single substitute could be named and deployed. Steve Coppell`s arrival at United meant Willie Morgan would switch to midfield, and the single substitute rule left little possibility for McCalliog to play. He left for Southampton before the season`s conclusion and returned to haunt United in 1976 when he was Southampton`s midfield playmaker in the F.A. Cup FInal defeat.
Manchester United stopped Liverpool`s 1977 bid for the treble of English championship, European Cup, and F.A. Cup by winning at Wembley 2-1 with a `lucky` goal from Jimmy Greenhoff that bounced off his chest and into the net, and a run and shoot strike from Stuart Pearson, who put the ball through `keeper Ray Clemence`s legs, as he came out to loom big and impassable in the strikers` eyes. Tommy Docherty had lifted the club from the disaster attending Sir Matt Busby`s retiring in 1969 when Manchester United captain, Martin Buchan, raised the F. A. Cup to the cheers of the supporters` `Red Army`. It was the first F.A. Cup win by United since 1963 and the club`s first trophy since the European Cup FInal defeat of Benfica in 1968. Celebrations were muted by revelations that Docherty was engaged in an adulterous affair with the United physiotherapist`s wife, Mary Brown, who he subsequently wed, but was sacked. From triumph to disaster, it`d be 26 years before Manchester United would win the English league title after their 1966-67 success, because Docherty had thrown away what he`d built for the tremulousness of an illicit love.
Tommy Docherty was the second great manager at Manchester United because he`d brought triumph out of disaster, but disaster had refused to let go of the club and United`s board had to find a better solution than the continuity afforded by choosing the ineffectual Wilf McGuinness, the aloof disinterest of the besuited businessman`s appeal of Frank O` Farrell and the passionate volitility of Docherty`s impetuousness, which had ultimately cost United too dear. In 1975-76 when the team were challenging for the league and F.A. Cup double, Docherty had inexplicably plunged Irish `keeper, Paddy Roche, into the maelstrom of a 4th round League Cup tie at Manchester City, which the team lost 0-4 and Roche was hopeless. Instead of persevering with Alex Stepney, who`d proven his worth constantly since 1966, when Docherty himself had transferred him to Manchester United as Chelsea manager, Tommy bizarrely persevered with Roche in a string of draws and defeats that cost United the league before Stepney was restored just quickly enough to carry the team through to being only F.A. Cup FInalists in a season that had looked like seeing them as eventual `double` winners. Tommy`s success in the F.A. Cup Final of 1977 was marred by a blindness to reality that saw him leave as an adulterate pariah but the club itself had been rescued and the team`s strength was renewed.
Dave Sexton arrived from Queens Park Rangers and immediately announced an intention to bring England captain Gerry Francis to Manchester United from QPR for half a million pounds, but it never transpired because the board refused to accede to what were perceived as the unnecessarily excessive financial demands of a new manager. Sexton`s response was to offload the mercurial skills of prolific left winger, Gordon Hill, bought from Millwall by Tommy Docherty in November, 1975, to form a wing partnership with Steve Coppell. Deemed surplus to a more disciplined effort by Dave Sexton at the beginning of his managerial reign, Gordon Hill had left for Derby County in 1978-79 after being Manchester United`s top scorer with 17 league goals and it was a move hated by United fans that contributed to Sexton`s downfall.
It was a return to the giant centre half and big target man of the `Busby Babes` era when Sexton made a transfer swoop for Scotland`s Gordon McQueen and Joe Jordan of Leeds United at the beginning of the 1978-79 season, which effectively ended the brothers Greenhoff`s days at United. Sexton`s only success was relative. In the F.A. Cup Final of 1979 Alan Sunderland scored a third goal for Arsenal in the last minute of the contest as he headed home from Graham Rix`s left wing cross past United`s eventual replacement for Stepney, young South African `keeper, Gary Bailey, despite McQueen and McIlroy`s levelling of the score at 2-2 with goals in the 86th and 88th minutes. Gordon McQueen had turned in Joe Jordan`s cross after a Steve Coppell free kick wide on the right had sailed over all of the players waiting in front of the Arsenal goal to find Joe Jordan ready to turn the ball back into the centre where McQueen turned it into the Arsenal net. A minute later, Steve Coppell, just over the halfway line on the edge of the centre circle, sent a long through ball in to Sammy McIlroy racing into the Arsenal area where centre half, David O` Leary, was wrong-footed by McIlroy`s holding the ball up with his left foot and slid to the ground without making an effective tackle. Having achieved the feat once, McIlroy did the same again with the pursuing Arsenal midfielder, David Price, before Pat Jennings came out to almost strangle Sammy`s weakened but unerring shot inside the Arsenal `keeper`s right hand post.
Manchester United`s 2-3 F.A. Cup Final defeat to Arsenal led the former Chelsea manager, Dave Sexton, to bring Chelsea midfield `smoothy`, Ray `Butch` Wilkins, to the Old Trafford stadium for the 1979-80 season in which the club just failed to win the championship with Wilkins as the silky skilled heart of the Manchester United midfield. With a forward line consisiting only of dozen or so goals a season `target man`, Joe Jordan, United no longer had the penetration of Stuart Pearson, who`d play for West Ham United in their F.A. Cup Final defeat of Arsenal that same year. Sexton had thought he could win without a recognized second striker to score goals from the balls headed down to his feet by the big man. His strategy was doomed to failure and, although United won the last seven games of the 1980-81 season, the team only finished 8th. At the start of the seaon, Sexton had brought Gary Birtles from Nottingham Forest as the much heralded new striking partner for Joe Jordan, but Gary Birtles failed to score in the entire season after making his debut against Stoke City away on 22 October 1980. For Dave Sexton, `mene tekel upharsin` (Ezekiel: 45. 12), the writing was on the wall, and he was replaced by `Big` Ron Atkinson from West Bromwich Albion, who inherited some good young players coming through and a few strong old heads with some skill left in their boots.
Gary Birtles` improvement under Ron Atkinson`s stewardship led to a return of 11 goals in 1981-82, but it was a sales` window, and Birtles went back to Nottingham Forest almost as soon as it could be decently arranged at the beginning of the 1982-83 season. `Big Ron` had brought Bryan Robson with him from West Bromwich Albion for 1.5 million GBP and the tireless captain of England, known for combining strength, agility and skill, had a goalscorers` eye for the penetrating run on goal from his midfield general`s berth. It was the signal move of a generation and Robson would outlast Atkinson at Old Trafford to go on to be one of the greatest players ever to wear the red shirt of United or the white of England.
Atkinson`s team never seriously challenged for anything but cups and won only the F.A. Cup FInals of 1983 and 1985. His errors were too large for his security zone and he was sacked in November 1986 to be replaced by Aberdeen manager, Alex Ferguson, who`d broken the monopoly in 1979-80 which the two Glasgow clubs, Celtic and Rangers, had had on the Scottish league title since 1965-66, before Ferguson managed Aberdeen to be only the third Scots` team after Celtic, European Cup Winners in 1967, and Rangers, European Cup Winners` Cup in 1972, to win a European trophy. Ferguson`s Aberdeen won the European Cup Winners` Cup in 1983 against Real Madrid, 2-1, and a second Scottish title in 1983-84. Alex Ferguson was the only manager United ever hired with a pedigree, which was still true in 2013 when Ferguson retired and David Moyes arrived from Everton where he`d been for 13 years avoiding relegation and without winning any trophies.
David Moyes` first success was the Charity Shield of 2013-14, which was traditionally played at Wembley stadium between the champions, that is, United, and the F.A. Cup winners, Wigan. Manchester United won 2-0 with goals from Robin Van Persie, who`d arrived from Arsenal the previous season to score Ferguson the 26 goals that gave him a record 20 league championships, a slight lead over Liverpool`s prodigious haul of titles, and an easy chance for a pot for David Moyes in the Charity Shield as his first match in charge. Van Persie started the move for the first goal with a pass out to the black French left full back, Patrice Evra, on the left wing. Persie ran for the Wigan area and Evra crossed for the Dutch striker to power in a header from 15 yards. Evra started the move for Persie`s second in the 59th minute. Danny Welbeck, the black England centre forward, whose paucity of success in front of goal the previous season, when he`d scored only once in 27 appearances, had been the main reason for Ferguson`s bringing Persie to Old Trafford, played the ball to the Dutchman rather than shoot himself on the edge of the area. Van Persie, despite having four defenders in close attendance, turned on to his left foot and fired in a low shot, which took a deflection off the heel of James Perch and wrong-footed Wigan `keeper, Scott Carson, to find the net.
Moyes` errors on inheriting a team that had won the title by 11 points from Manchester City were to come, but Ron Atkinson`s prior to the appointment of managerial great, Alex Ferguson, were almost legendary. Having unearthed a diamond of a striker in Mark Hughes, Atkinson saw him score 16 and 17 goals in successive seasons, 1984-85 and 1985-86, before selling him to Barcelona, while `Big Ron` seemingly couldn`t wait to break up the England centre midfield pairing he`d constructed in Ray Wilkins and Bryan Robson. Wilkins went to A. C. Milan for the beginning of the 1984-85 season and for the same money Atkinson had paid for Robson, 1.5 million, and United were big enough not to have to.
The major success story of the Ron Atkinson era was `Big Norman Whiteside`, who began as a striker in the traditional `target man` role and was the youngest ever player to score a goal for United at 17 years of age on 15 May against Stoke City at Old Trafford on the last day of the 1981-82 season. Norman Whiteside`s best season was the year he played alongside Mark Hughes, but he just failed to make double figures. While Hughes scored 16 goals in 1984-85 Norman Whiteside got 9, which was a single goal less than his best ever, the previous season`s 10. Although `Big Norman` played in the F.A. Cup Final wins of 1983 and 1985, his lack of real success in front of goal meant Ferguson would transfer him to Everton for the start of the 1989-90 season. Norman had scored the only goal of the 1985 F.A. Cup Final against Everton when United were down to 10 men after centre back Kevin Moran had been sent off for a second bookable offence in the 78th minute when he brought down Peter Reid who was through on goal. Had Reid scored Everton, who were champions, would probably have achieved an unprecedented treble of league, F.A. Cup and European Cup Winners` Cup, which they subsequently won, but United had hung on for extra time. When Whiteside in the 110th minute curled the ball from the right side of the Everton area beyond `keeper Neville Southall`s outstretched fingertips inside the left hand post, United had 10 minutes to hold on and did so.
Kevin Moran was another success of the Atkinson era, although inherited from Dave Sexton. With black centre back partner, Paul McGrath, Kevin Moran formed an all Ireland partnership at the heart of the Manchester United defence. `Big Ron` brought central defensive midfielder, Remi Moses, to Old Trafford in the deal that saw Bryan Robson arrive. Remi Moses was the first black player to be a recognized first team player at United. It was a triumph of Ron`s that he made it possible for black players to aspire to achieve success with a club that hadn`t seemed to give even credence to black ability. His first signing at Manchester United was John Gidman, a right full back to compete with Jimmy Nicholl, but another discovery of the Sexton era, Mike Duxbury, would eventually replace both of them before deciding to leave Old Trafford in the season of Alex Ferguson`s first silverware, the F.A. Cup of 1990, when central midfielder, Mike Phelan, was preferred in Duxbury`s specialist full back position, which he`d been filling regularly since his debut on 23 August, 1980, when he came on against Birmingham City for Kevin Moran.
When `Big Ron` Atkinson brought Arsenal centre forward, Frank Stapleton, to Manchester United at the start of the 1981-82 season, he had forwards enough in Hughes, Whiteside and Stapleton, but the decision to let Hughes go to Barcelona and break up the England centre midfield, envied by the rest of the English league, by selling Wilkins to A.C. Milan, fit well with many people`s perceptions of `Big Ron` as a big time Charlie susceptible to an ego-massage and a glass of European wine. Norman Whiteside wasn`t prolific enough as a goalscorer and estimations of Alex Ferguson rose highly at Old Trafford when he brought back Mark Hughes from where he was playing with Bayern Munich in Germany and bought a proven goalscoring centre forward, Brian McClair, from Celtic. Frank Stapleton scored 78 times in 365 appearances at United but reached double figures in only his first three seasons with a top score of just 14 in 1982-83. Two F.A. Cup Final wins in 1983 and 1985 meant that a goal ratio of 1 in 4.6 appearances wasn`t ever going to be good enough.
In the 1983 F.A Cup Final against Brighton and Hove Albion, Frank Stapleton scored in the 55th minute from a right wing cross by Alan Davies that left Frank with a simple tap in at the far post. Alan Davies, who made only 10 apperances in total for United between 1 May, 1982, and 5 May, 1984, was making his F.A. Cup debut after an injury to Steve Coppell that would result in the England winger`s retirement. Davies provided the cross for Frank Stapleton`s goal which cancelled out a 14th minute Gordon Smith headed goal into the bottom right corner of `keeper Gary Bailey`s net after a ball played in from behind by Brighton right midfielder, Gary Howlett, had become a cross by the time it arrived in the United penalty area where Smith rose to meet it. Although Ray Wilkins put United back in front in the 78th minute with a curled left foot shot from outside the Brighton area that found the top left corner of `keeper Mosley`s goal, Brighton and Hove Albion centre back, Gary Stevens, equalized in the 72nd minute from a corner by central midfielder, Jimmy Case, who played the ball behind all of the players waiting in the box to captain and central midfield partner, Tony Grealish, who pushed the ball forward into the area where Stevens crashed it past Bailey and the contest was drawn, 2-2.
In the replay United were rampant and the result was 4-0. Captain Bryan Robson scored the first goal on 25 minutes from outside the Brighton area on the left with a cracking left foot drive that ran all along the ground and into the bottom right corner. United`s second came from a right foot cross from Alan Davies on the left to `Big Norman Whiteside` inside the penalty area who headed past Brighton `keeper Moseley on 30 minutes. Robson`s second and United`s third came from an Arnold Muhren free kick wide on the left where Norman Whiteside had been judged to have been brought down by Brighton centre half, Steve Foster. Bryan Robson rose to direct a header goalwards from Muhren`s free kick but succeeded only in reaching Stapleton`s head at the right of the Brighton penalty area. Stapleton directed the ball down with his head towards the left of the Brighton goal and Bryan Robson, followng up, rammed it in left-footed at the far post on 44 minutes. With a 3-0 halftime lead, United were cautious enough and Arnold Muhren, the Dutchman, scored from the penalty spot in the 62nd minute after Bryan Robson had been unfairly held back by Gary Stevens on a run into the right of the Brighton area. Muhren stepped up to calmly drive the ball left-footed along the ground and into the corner of the net.
The 1986-87 season began disastrously for Manchester United with three straight defeats and when `Big Ron` Atkinson was sacked in November, 1986, the club was second from bottom of the league. When Alex Ferguson arrived allegations of drunkenness amongst the playing staff were rife and disaster again loomed large on the horizon. Gordon Strachan, the tricky right sided aggressive midfielder bought by Atkinson from Aberdeen, where Manchester United`s new manager, Alex Fergsuon, had developed the player, was expected to be a mainstay of the new United under Ferguson, but Strachan went to Leeds United, and after Leeds won the title in 1991-92 it looked like another fatal managerial mistake from the boss of a club that hadn`t won the league for 26 years at the beginning of the 1992-93 campaign.
Mid-table finishes in Ferguson`s first seasons led to his bringing to the club Norwich City centre half, Steve Bruce, Arsenal right back, Viv Andersen, Celtic centre forward, Brian McClair, and Aberdeen `keeper, Jim Leighton, who was so inept and ridiculed by the United fans that he was withdrawn from the F.A. Cup Final replay against Crystal Palace in 1990 after a 3-3 draw and replaced by Les Sealey as United won 1-0 thanks to a speculative dash from his left back position by Lee Martin who, at the culmination of his run, surprisedly crashed the ball into the top left corner of the net from the left side of the penalty box. Chesting forward a ball he received from right sided midfielder, Neil Webb, who`d arrived from Nottingham Forest at the beginning of the season, Lee Martin discovered he could do little else but drive it into the Palace goal.
For the 1989–90 season, Alex Ferguson had transferred to Manchester United, Neil Webb, central midfielder, Mike Phelan of Norwich City, midfield generalissimo, Paul Ince from West Ham, centre back, Gary Pallister, at Middlesboro, and Southampton left winger, Danny Wallace, although 18 year old Lee Sharpe had started as first choice left winger that season and would be again to devastating effect. In September 1989-90, however, United suffered a humiliating 5–1 away defeat against city rivals, Manchester City and, following an early season run of six defeats and two draws in eight games, Alex Ferguson described December 1989 as `the darkest period ever suffered in the game` and United looked to begin the New Year at Old Trafford`s `Theatre of Dreams` as relegation candidates.
After a run of seven games without a win in 1990, United were drawn against Nottingham Forest in the F.A Cup 3rd round away. Form said United would lose and Ferguson would lose his job but a single goal from opportunist striker, Mark Robins, whose strikers` skills competed but briefly at United with those of Brian McClair and Mark Hughes, rescued United`s season and Ferguson`s career. Mark Hughes prowling deeply on the left side of midfield, seeing Robins making for the penalty box, curled a ball intelligently with the outside of his right foot onto Mark Robins` head and the 20 year old striker directed it past the Forest `keeper into the bottom left corner. With the winning second goal against Oldham Athletic in the F.A. Cup semi-final replay, after the first game ended in a 3-3 draw, Robins` strike in the 114th of extra time came after former Stretford End goal hero, Andy Ritchie, had replied to a 52nd minute Brian McClair strike 9 minutes from normal time. Paul Ince had managed to thread a ball across the face of the Oldham goal form out on the left wing with his left foot which found McClair waiting at the far post for a simple tap in. Mark Robins was ultimately the substitute hero of the 2-1 win, coming on in extra time as a replacement for the tiring legs of defender, Lee Martin. Mike Phelan, running onto a long through ball down the inside right position, pushed it on and into the path of Mark Robins on the right edge of the area where the striker struck right-footed from an angle becoming ever more acute into the left corner of the goal as the Oldham `keeper rushed out to block.
Mark Robins didn`t make the team for the Final, and 1990-91`s resurgence in the goalscoring form of first choice centre forward, Brian McClair, again left Robins out of the team but he left Old Trafford colder and wiser. In the following 1990-91 season Manchester United won the European Cup Winners` Cup with two goals from Mark Hughes against his old club, Barcelona, where he`d been called `El Torro`, largely because of his bull like approach to elegant Spanish defenders who played like matadors against a forward who didn`t shirk physical contact and disdained showiness for effectiveness. Bryan Robson had chipped a free kick forward for Steve Bruce to rise on the right edge of the penalty box and nod the ball goalward. Mark Hughes made no mistake as he ran onto the ball at the far post and footed it into the net where it`d appeared to be on its way in anyway in the 67th minute. Mark Hughes` second came in the 74th minute from Bryan Robson`s perceptive left-footed dinky forward chip at the right side of the halfway line. Mark Hughes ran onto the ball on the edge of the Barcelona area as the `keeper came out to drive him wide right. Still keeping possession of the ball, Hughes drove it in along the ground from the acute angle as the Barcelona defenders ran in too late to clear. Despite a free kick goal from Dutch centre back, Ronald Koeman, in the 79th minute, Hughes goals gave United a 2-1 win. Alex Ferguson had dispelled the gloom in the corridors at the Old Trafford stadium and Manchester United had struck triumph from disaster again.