What Did Dave Sexton Ever Do For Manchester United?
What Did Dave Sexton Ever Do For Manchester United?
Dave Sexton was Chelsea manager after Tommy Docherty left for Manchester United and United boss after Tommy Docherty was sacked shortly after the team he`d built to climb out of the Second Division of English football in 1974-75 upon relegation at the end of the 1973-74 season had won the 1977 F.A. Cup Final 2-1 against a Liverpool team that would have completed the treble of league, European Cup and F.A. Cup that year if United hadn`t defeated the Merseysiders at Wembley stadium, London, to take the trophy for only the fourth time in the club`s history and the first since 1963 when David Herd and Denis Law had scored the goals that beat Leicester City 3-1. United`s 1977 victory was recompense for their failure the previous season to beat Second Division Southampton in the F.A. Cup Final of 1976 which the team lost to a late Bobby Stokes strike in the 83rd minute. Although Stuart Pearson and Jimmy Greenhoff were the goalscoring heroes against Liverpool a year later at Wembley, an extra-marital affair with Mary, wife of the United physiotherapist, Laurie Brown, and the relative paucity of success for the United players during Docherty`s tenure, resulted in Dave Sexton`s being brought from Queens Park Rangers, where he`d nurtured a fine team that included Scotland`s playmaker, Don Masson, England right winger, Dave Thomas, England captain and midfield maestro, Gerry Francis, and the mercurial striking skills of England forward Stan Bowles.
Although Sexton didn`t win anything with QPR, a team he`d bolstered with players from Chelsea, midfielder John Hollins and defender David Webb, the London team had come within a point of the league title in 1975-76. Success with Chelsea had come on the heels of Docherty`s departure as manager there in 1967 where Tommy`s side had won the League Cup in 1965. Sexton`s Chelsea won the F.A. Cup in 1970 and the European Cup Winners` Cup in 1971 before Sexton`s sacking by relegated Chelsea and his move to QPR in 1974-75 coincided with United`s relegation to the Second Division under Docherty. Sexton`s arrival at Manchester United for the 1977-78 campaign looked very similar to his taking over the reins at Chelsea after Docherty`s dismissal. Hopes at United were that Sexton would win a European trophy as he had at Chelsea with the squad Docherty had built there, but hadn`t been able to make the best use of, whereas Sexton had taken the players to successive triumphs in the 1970 F.A. Cup Final and 1971 Cup Winners` Cup. United had won the European Cup in 1968 at Wembley against Benfica of Portugal 4-1, with goals from Bobby Charlton (2), George Best and Brian Kidd, so ambition was high, but would Sexton be able to satisfy the demand for achievement at `the world`s biggest club`, as he had improved Chelsea`s standing in the early 1970s, when Docherty there hadn`t lived up to expectations; despite building a good young blues` side.
The Chelsea core of Tommy Docherty`s League Cup winners` 3-2 against Leicester City were still much in evidence during Sexton`s successful period; `keeper Peter Bonetti, Ron `Chopper` Harris, at centre half, and midfield general, John Hollins, had been in Docherty`s `65 team, and alongside most notably, Peter Osgood, Docherty`s centre forward nurtured since `64, Bonetti, `Chopper` and Hollins would be there for Sexton against Leeds United in the 1970 F.A. Cup Final. Leeds were beaten 2-1 in a replay with Osgood making the scoresheet after a 2-2 draw, while the team beat Real Madrid in the 1971 European Cup Winners` Cup Final with Osgood scoring home and away in an aggregate 3-2 win over both legs. Speculation at United revolved around who`d be the backbone of the team for Sexton for the 1977-78 season after Docherty and could Sexton improve the United team to win as he`d done with the Chelsea side he`d also inherited from Tommy, `the Doc`, Docherty.
Osgood had been in the Southampton team that had beaten United 0-1 in the 1976 F.A. Cup Final in the twilight of the England centre forward`s career, but Sexton had had the dynamic and forceful England captain at QPR, Gerry Francis, and speculation was rife that he`d bring the superstar performer to Old Trafford where he`d command the `serried ranks against the foe`1 (Sam: 2. 8) The reputed fee was 450,000 GBP and United had already lost out to Liverpool on Kenny Dalglish`s much heralded 440,000 GBP move from Scotland`s Glasgow Celtic to improve his soccer experience in England and replace English striker, Kevin Keegan, who`d opted to leave Merseyside for Germany`s Hamburg SV to broaden his own experience after Liverpool`s crushing 3-1 victory over Germany`s Borussia Mönchengladbach in the 1977 European Cup Final. As it turned out the rumors weren’t enough to persuade QPR to part with England captain Francis` undoubtedly great talent as a skilful midfield dynamo and goalscorer, so what would Sexton do? Gordon Hill, Manchester United`s left winger, substituted by tenacious Irish midfielder, David McCreery, in successive F.A. Cup Finals to bolster United`s defence when it looked as if they`d lose by more or lose their lead, was top scorer in consecutive seasons for United (1976-8), but Sexton decided to sell him to Derby County for 250,000 GBP and bring Wrexham`s Mickey Thomas from Wales to play on the left side of midfield. Most commentators believed the sale of Hill contributed to Sexton`s failure, but Dave had other contributions to make before leaving.
The giant Scots` centre forward and centre back pairing at Leeds United, Joe Jordan (350, 000 GBP) and Gordon McQueen (495, 000 GBP), were brought to rectify a flaw many had perceived at the heart of the United defence, where Brian Greenhoff, a converted midfielder, had often looked too small to deal with towering opposition centre forwards like Peter Osgood, for example, which had left Scotland centre back, Martin Buchan, with often too much to do. It was also felt that United`s forward line had lacked height for many seasons since the decline of Brian Kidd, who`d scored against Benfica of Lisbon with his head as a 19 year old replacement for injured `King` Denis Law against the Portuguese side in the 4-1 European Cup Final triumph of 1968, but Kidd hadn`t fulfilled expectations after scoring a career high 15 league goals at Manchester United in his debut season, and it was expected that Joe Jordan`s height would now make itself felt in goals in an area United had been deficient since Kidd`s seasons` tally began to fall away drastically after Docherty`s arrival to replace Frank O` Farrell in December 1972 when Brian had 8 goals so far for the campaign. Brian Kidd would score but 2 more that season, and 4 in 1972-73 followed by 2 in 1973-74 when United were relegated at season`s end.
Although Sexton gave an opportunity to Irish `keeper Paddy Roche in the 1977-78 season in which he made 19 appearances, Paddy`s performances towards the middle of the 1975-76 season when Tommy Docherty had inexplicably decided to drop England `keeper, Alex Stepney, and promote the raw young Irishman to put himself between the ball at the striker`s foot and the net, had been disastrous when it seemed as if United would sweep all before them that season on the wings of Steve Coppell and Gordon Hill. Roche was given a run of five consecutive matches in November, 1975. Although he kept the ball out of the net in two games, he lost ten goals in three losses to Liverpool, Manchester City, and Arsenal. Roche didn`t make another appearance that season and the defeat to Manchester City 0-4 at Maine Road in the 4th round of the League Cup was accounted suicide when the reliable Stepney was available. United hadn`t won a domestic cup in well over a decade and the decision to select the untried Roche over the seasoned veteran, Stepney, contributed to Docherty`s final removal as a manager of unsound judgement.
Dave Sexton promoted a young South African `keeper, Gary Bailey, aged 20, who made 28 appearances in the 1978-79 season. Bailey`d paid his own airfare to attend a Manchester United trial and became amongst the best `keepers of his generation, although he was blamed for letting in a headed Alan Sunderland goal after a seemingly innocuous left wing cross from over by the corner flag by Graham Rix in the final moments of the 1979 F.A. Cup Final. United had lost 2-3 in what was amongst the earliest games Gary played in the team. Ultimately it was Sexton`s farewell, because United never came closer to winning a trophy under Dave`s management. Bringing England playmaker, Ray `Butch` Wilkins, from Chelsea for 800, 000 GBP was a bold move forward. Wilkins would go on to captain England and United. Sexton`s successor, `Big Ron` Atkinson from West Bromwich Albion, would be grateful for `Butch`, who would score dramatically from long range in the 1983 F.A. Cup Final draw, 2-2, with Brighton And Hove Albion, before United won the replay, 4-0. United finished two points behind champions Liverpool in 1979-80 and a leggy 22 year old Irishman, Ashley Grimes, made 20 starts on the left side of midfield, scoring 3 goals. Although Joe Jordan managed to get into double figures in 1979-80 (13) and 1980-81 (15), it wasn`t enough to keep Sexton at Manchester United. Irish defender, Kevin Moran, had emerged at centre back and would remain there for many seasons, but Yugoslavian defender, Nikolai Jovanovic, brought from Red Star Belgrade where he scored 50 goals in 359 appearances was much less impressive in the 19 starts Sexton gave him in the 1980-81 season. Paying a club record transfer fee of 1, 000, 000 GBP for Nottingham Forest striker, Gary Birtles, who started 25 times without finding the net, brought Sexton the sack.
Ron Atkinson`s 1983 F.A. Cup winning side was but the first of only two trophy successes at the club during Atkinson`s tenure as manager. Bailey, McQueen, Moran, Wilkins and Grimes would be the Sexton imports and promotions present in the 1983 line up, while the 1-0 1985 F.A. Cup team would still contain Bailey and former Gaelic football star, Kevin Moran. Sexton had unearthed a `keeper and eventually a centre back, but Ron sent Gary Birtles back to Forest. Atkinson would sell `Butch` Wilkins to Forest at a time when he had the new England captain, powerhouse Bryan Robson, brought from his old club WBA to make a complete England midfield, but `Big Ron` sold Ray to Italian soccer giants A. C. Milan for 1, 500, 000 GBP, as later he`d sell newly emerged young Welsh striking hero Mark Hughes to Barcelona for 2, 000, 000 GBP in a Summer `86 move that further branded him susceptible to European glamour clubs looking to prey on Ron`s weakness for loving the limelight of the newspapers` sports` pages at the expense of the club`s fortunes.
After beginning the 1985-86 season, with three consecutive defeats, Ron was sacked by the United board in November 1986 after a 4th round League Cup exit to Southampton with the club languishing second to bottom in the championship race. Legendary Rangers` centre forward, Scot Alex Ferguson, was brought from Aberdeen, where he`d been the only manager outside of the big Glasgow clubs, Rangers and Celtic, to win a European trophy; the Cup Winners` Cup in 1983. Docherty, Sexton and Atkinson had managed United out of the Matt Busby era of five championships between 1952 and 1967, but the title had eluded all of them. Hughes was pointedly returned by Alex Ferguson in the Summer of `88 for a club record 1, 800, 000 GBP from where he was playing for Germany`s Bayern Munich to commence the 1988-89 season as Manchester United`s centre forward. The F.A. Cup was subsequently won in 1990, with Mark Hughes putting United in front at 2-1 with a confusingly rare left foot shot into the top right corner from the left of the penalty area in the 62nd minute, before extra time and an equalizer for the physically indefatigable Hughes receiving a through ball from Paul Ince and driving a shot along the ground past the onrushing Crystal Palace `keeper into the bottom left corner to level the score at 3-3 in the 113th minute. United won the replay 1-0 with a goal from left full back, Lee Martin, who`d run speculatively upfield before surprisedly receiving the ball on his chest on the edge of the area and, finding it fall at his feet nicely, ran on to blast it high into the roof of the net with no little glee.
Victory for Manchester United in the European Cup Winners` Cup in 1991 followed upon their F.A. Cup Final success of 1990, with Hughes getting both goals in the 2-1 victory over Barcelona. The European Super Cup was won against Red Star Belgrade, 1-0, in 1991, and the League Cup, 1-0, against Nottingham Forest, in 1992, with Hughes` striking partner, Brian McClair, brought from Celtic to start the 1987-88 campaign for 850, 000 GBP, getting the single goal on both occasions. But it`d be twenty six years after their first championship win in 1907-08, under the stewardship of Ernest Mangnall, before in 1992-93 Hughes` stolid reliability as a finisher, combined with occasional genius in front of goal, brought to Old Trafford`s Theatre Of Dreams Manchester United`s eighth championship and the first of the thirteen Alex would eventually win for the club before his retirement season`s last league title in 2012-13.
Alex Ferguson`s eye for a striker was by then legendary after signing such devastating forwards as Mark Hughes (120), Brian McClair (88), Eric Cantona (64), Dwight Yorke (48), Andy Cole (93), Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (91), Teddy Sheringham (31), Ruud Van Nistelrooy (95), Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov (48) so, when United`s spirit seemed exhausted in losing the title on goal difference to Manchester City in 2011-12, noone was surprised as Alex went to North London rivals Arsenal and bought Dutchman, Robin Van Persie for 24, 000, 000 GBP, to score the 26 goals in Ferguson`s last season that won the championship and a hero`s farewell for the manager.
1 https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/view.cgi?bk=9&ch=8 .