Sir Alex Ferguson Retires: Ferguson Brought Out The Best And The Worst In Football

For over a quarter of a century Sir Alex Ferguson brought out the best and the worst in the game he loved. In the wake of his retirement announcement, that's the legacy of football's most successful and divisive manager.

For some he is the ultimate winner, the manager with a catalog of achievements that will never be equaled. For others he was a bullying overlord who cajoled his way to success and exercised an iron grip over England's top flight.

The true reality of Ferguson lies somewhere in the middle. Because certainly even his harshest critics can't dismiss his haul of trophies.

Yet even his greatest supporters and apologists can't excuse every method he used to win them. As the English Premier League gets ready for life without Ferguson, it's appropriate to ask what made him admired and loathed in equal measure?

Perhaps it's best to first look at what was missing in the manager who redefined what success in football represents.

Firstly, Ferguson was no trend setter. He blazed no trails that changed the way the game is played or thought about. When people say with a slight revisionist vent, that Ferguson did a lot for the game, what they should really say is he did a lot for Manchester United.

What he did was turn the Red Devils into a bastion of consistent dominance that spanned over two decades. He set United on a pedestal as the pinnacle of English domestic football.

Everyone else was challenged to meet United's pedigree. Some did, but only for a short time. No rival had the secret to sustained success Ferguson seemed to have mastered.

Yet it was the way he kept the United juggernaut rolling that created so much controversy. Depending on your view of Ferguson, he kept United at the top one of two ways.

Either he was perhaps the shrewdest team-builder in history. An overseer with a knack for molding the psychology of several squads and then pushing them to glory through sheer of force of will.

Or he was something akin to a Sith Lord. A master of the dark arts, deviously shaping circumstances to suit his own purposes.

Whether it was routinely berating officials to earn countless extra minutes of injury time at the end of matches. Or not so subtly applying pressure to referees through the press, prior to big games.

For every trophy he collected and every powerful team he produced, there was always something to dim the admiration for Ferguson's accomplishments.

Many have argued that Ferguson made himself the villain as some master act of manipulation. It certainly succeeded in creating a siege psyche in his teams, one that probably strengthened the resolve of his players.

However, the truth is Ferguson often coveted and exerted the lowest common denominator in football. His so-called "mind games" with rival managers descended several intriguing title races into little more than playground-level sniping.

Sadly many lapped up these antics and tried to portray them as the Zen-like thinking of high-brow strategy. Ferguson's manipulations became the accepted way of the wannabe winners.

In a sense, Ferguson came to epitomize the win at all costs, cynical modern society he has often criticized. The shame is that for many that detracts from what was good about his time in football.

Because within Ferguson's legacy are attributes every manager and every team should aspire to. United's protracted monopoly of the Premier League title hasn't been a coincidence.

Few teams in the league, no matter at what end of the table, could match United for effort. Ferguson targeted only those players who would work as hard as he did.

His constant demands for more came to define the club and kept them at the top. While players for other top teams coasted through seasons on reputation, United greats like Gary Neville and Paul Scholes weren't even assured of their place.

Players who had been hugely productive in the past, were pushed to do even more at United. Ferguson's players achieved what he demanded, because he made them believe what they had already done wasn't even enough.

That "never enough" mentality is what United will miss most without Ferguson. He forced his players to get everything from themselves.

Ferguson certainly got the absolute most from his talent and convinced his players to do the same, pushing them to win at all costs.

That's the true legacy he leaves behind. However, the way he crafted that legacy means football's ultimate winner is unlikely to be too fondly remembered outside the Manchester United community.