Herald Scotland's sports team trawls through the archives

Herald Scotland's sports team trawls through the archives

Aberdeen manager Alex Ferguson, the most prolific trophy winner of recent times in Scotland, will today accept the challenge to repeat that record in England with Manchester United, taking over from Ron Atkinson who was sacked yesterday.

The Old Trafford club lost no time at all in approaching Aberdeen after dismissing Atkinson yesterday morning. Having received permission to speak to Ferguson their chief executive Martin Edwards travelled to Aberdeen last night to secure Ferguson's agreement.

The deal will be formally concluded this afternoon in Manchester and Dons' co-manager Archie Knox move south as soon as the Pittodrie board can appoint a successor.

Although he was well paid at Pittodrie, collecting as much as £120,000 in their most successful year, Ferguson will probably earn more than the basic salaray enjoyed by Atkinson.

"Everything has happened so quickly that I can hardly draw breath," said Ferguson last night.

"Manchester United is the only club I would have left Aberdeen to join. I recall Jock Stein once telling me that his biggest mistake was to turn down becoming manager of Manchester United, and I bore this in mind when I was offered the job today.

"I will be in the dug-out for Manchester United in their game against Oxford United at Oxford on Saturday, and I must admit that I will also be thinking of how Aberdeen are faring against St Mirren at Pittodrie.

"I've had eight glorious years with Aberdeen during which we have won 10 trophies, and I must reiterate that Manchester United is the only club I would have left Pittodrie for.

"I realise that it is a tremendous challenge but is is one that I am looking forward to."

Ferguson and Manchester United supremo Edwards will fly out this morning and there will be a press conference at Old Trafford this afternoon.

Aberdeen vice chairman Ian Donald said: "It is a shattering blow to Aberdeen Football Club to lose Alex Ferguson. We tried everything to keep him here, but the lure of Manchester United, who are arguably the biggest club in Britain, was too great.

"We subsequently offered Archie Knox the position as manager, but he indicate that he will be following Alex Ferguson to Old Trafford.

"Manchester United will compensate us for the remainder of Alex Ferguson's contract, but how do you evaluate the loss of such a manager?"

Ferguson had become such a devotee of Aberdeen that he has turned down offers from such clubs as Rangers, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, not to mention Aston Villa who, I understand, moved for him more recently.

He and his family settled well in the north and only a job of this magnitude could persuade him to leave the place where he has become something of a folk hero.

In his time at Pittodrie - he went there after an unsavoury dismissal by St Mirren in 1978 -he has steered the club to three premier-division championships, four Scottish Cup wins (three in succession) and a League Cup victory, quite the best collection of trophies by any side outside the Old Firm in such a relatively short spell. On top of that, of course, he enjoyed his greatest moment when he saw his side win the European Cup-winners' Cup in Gothenburg in 1983, beating the great Real Madrid in the final.

He was chosen by Jock Stein to be his assistant as manager of Scotland, and when Stein died suddenly during the World Cup qualifying game against Wales in Cardiff last year it was Ferguson who was selected by the SFA as the man to take charge in the finals in Mexico. Now, a comment from the late Scotland manager has weighed heavily in Ferguson's decision to move.

Ferguson made it clear that, at 43, he felt he was too young to become permanent international manager, and when his part-time sting was over he went back to his desk at Pittodrie, this time taking with him Know who, having already been his No.2 before joining Dundee as manager, returned as co-manager.

Aberdeen will now be left with the task of finding another manager in the star mould of recent years. Ferguson succeeded Billy McNeill who had taken over from Ally MacLeod. Ironically Ferguson will now be a direct first-division rival to McNeill in England where the former Celtic manager has made a great start to his career with Aston Villa, whom he joined from Manchester City last month.

The dramatic events in the south began with an unexpected board meeting in the morning to which Atkinson was called and told of his dismissal. The man nicknamed Mr Bojangles then called in his players from training and told them, apparently to their complete surprise, of his departure.

Said Atkinson: "I have enjoyed five and a half years with the biggest club in Britain, the most famous in the world. I have no axe to grind. The board could have been no more supportive and I will say that whoever takes over will find that once key players are fit there will be nothing wrong with this team."

Atkinson joined United in June 1981 amid controversy when he made moves himself after Wes Brom chairman Bert Millichip refused permission for United to speak to him.

He replaced Dave Sexton but was no the first choice as Lawrie McMenemy, Ron Saunders and Bobby Robson all were understood to have rejected the offer to manage the wealthiest club in Britain.

His fondness for jewellery - gold of course - and a rather flashy lifestyle earned him the "Bojangles" nickname, but he had some style when it came to buying players, too. He paid a British record fee for Bryan Robson, £1.5m, from his former club West Brom and £500,000 for another of their men, Remi Moses.

Other costly signings were: Gordon Strachan from Aberdeen, Frank Stapleton from Arsenal, Alan Brazil from Spurs, Jesper Olsen from Ajax, Tery Gibson from Coventry City and Peter Davenport from Nottingham Forest. In all he spent £7m but recovered £5.5m in his sale of players. Even so, on Wednesday, after a board meeting to discuss the situation, Martin Edwards said that "there was no more money available" to buy players.

Clearly, though, the 4-1 defeat by Southampton on Tuesday triggered the Old Trafford board into a sudden change of direction. It is widely believed that Edwards was prepared to give Atkinson this season to lift the first-division championship, which has not been won by United for 19 years, but the continuing run of poor results has obviously proved too much.

In the last 12 months the reputation of the sun-tanned Atkinson, who steered the club to FA Cup wins in 1983 and 1985, has sagged as the team which began last season in devastating style staggered from one bad result to another. Crippled by injuries, they languish in 19th place in the league, and the exit from the Littlewoods Cup by such a humiliating margin has proved the final straw.

Ferguson's first duty will be to supervise the side at Oxford tomorrow when he will see the team short of injured players like Bryan Robson, Gordon Strachan, Norman Whiteside and Johnny Siveback.

Aberdeen meanwhile will be facing St Mirren at Pittodrie without a manager, but they will move speedily as they have done in the past.