Manchester United might have found their new Sir Alex Ferguson in Jose Mourinho, according to the man who recruited the club’s most successful manager.
Martin Edwards was United chairman for 22 years and struck gold when he appointed Ferguson as Ron Atkinson’s replacement – and stuck with his hunch through three barren seasons.
Edwards’ faith was handsomely repaid with eight Premier League titles and a 1999 treble before he stepped down in late 2002, shortly after Ferguson had reversed his decision to retire.
The Scot went on to deliver a second Champions League and a further six league titles, success which cast a shadow over his short-lived successors David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.
Mourinho is the third manager to try his luck post-Fergie and Edwards, who recently published a memoir of his time at the club, told Sky Sports the buzz is back at Old Trafford.
He said: “I think he is [the right man] having watched him last year. The home games were not particularly entertaining, but he was building a side.
“I thought he did exceptionally well to win two trophies last year. He gambled on winning the Europa League to get back in the Champions League and it paid off.
“United supporters were delighted, and what he’s done since by the players he’s bought in the summer, I think he’s improved the squad.
“I’m excited this year, and for the first time in a while I feel as though we’re back in exciting times.”
Asked if he could see similarities with Ferguson he said: “Yes, I think so. Alex set such a fantastic record and example it was always going to be difficult for anybody, but with Jose’s experience and the amount of trophies he’s won over time I’ve got great hopes.”
Ferguson’s tenure was not without its hairy moments, and legend has long had it that a Mark Robins goal which kept United in the FA Cup in 1990 also kept his manager in a job.
That version of events is not strictly correct, according to Edwards, although failure to go on and win the cup that season might have had serious consequences.
“It was never as close as the press made out,” Edwards said. “Had we gone to the end of the season without improvement maybe we’d have had to make a decision, but the fact he did turn it around saved the day.”
Only once subsequently, after Arsenal had beaten them to the double in 1998, was Ferguson asked to explain United’s performances.
“He wasn’t very pleased about it,” Edwards said. “But the following year we won the treble.”
Arsene Wenger was courted four years later when Ferguson told the board he was quitting at the end of the season, and when the Frenchman turned down Edwards a contract was agreed with Sven Goran Eriksson.
“All bets were off” when Ferguson had a change of heart, though, and Eriksson was told the job was not his after all.
Ferguson’s appointment was “the best transfer” of Edwards’ time as chairman, although the signing of Eric Cantona from Leeds stands out among player recruitment.
Cantona’s arrival was the catalyst for a first league title in 26 years, and only once during his five years at United did they miss out. That was 1995, and the Frenchman was banned for attacking a Crystal Palace supporter.
“I think we’d have done three doubles if Eric hadn’t been suspended,” Edwards said, although one regrettable consequence of Cantona’s kingpin status was Ferguson’s decision not to proceed with a move for a Bordeaux midfielder by the name of Zinedine Zidane.
“We didn’t know within a year of that Eric would give his notice and leave. That was unfortunate,” said Edwards who counts among his proudest achievements Old Trafford’s redevelopment from “a shed” to a 76,000-seater arena.
“I’d like supporters to look at the stadium,” he said. “It’s the envy of most clubs and we built it out of profits.”