Ferguson celebrates 21 years as United's loyalty pays off

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LONDON, Nov 6 (Reuters) Alex Ferguson celebrated 21 yearsn charge of Manchester United today as the head of his union lamented that today's managers were not given the chances the Scot enjoyed in his early years at Old Trafford.

As Ferguson took the plaudits, Chris Hutchings began looking for work after he was sacked on Monday having had just six months and 13 games to make his mark on Wigan Athletic.

The contrast was not lost on Frank Clark, head of the League Managers' Association.

''It took him a while to turn it around at Manchester United and that's a lesson,'' he said of Ferguson. ''I'm not sure you would get that length of time today but it just proves the value of giving your manager a bit of time and help to turn things around.

''He's the ultimate example of patience and the ultimate role model for managers to aspire to.'' Ferguson took over at Old Trafford from Ron Atkinson on Nov.

6, 1986 and, could well have joined the list of short-lived bosses after struggling to make an impact.

His first game in charge was a defeat at Oxford United and his team struggled to become anything but also-rans in the league.

TROPHY WIN With the fans turning against him, Ferguson now says that his job was saved by Mark Robins's winner against Nottingham Forest in a 1990 FA Cup tie. United surged on to win the trophy that season, Ferguson's first for the club, and followed up with the Cup Winners' Cup a year later.

From then on the Scot could do no wrong, ending a 26-year wait for the championship in 1993 and reaching the pinnacle with the Champions League triumph and treble in 1999.

He planned to retire five years ago but decided against it and he remains as passionate as ever about the game.

Looking back to his early struggles at United, Ferguson told last week's Sunday Times: ''You need a good board of directors and I had a board with Bobby Charlton, who was 100 per cent behind me because he could see the work I was doing with young players.

''We were building a football club, not a team. Bit by bit you get to where you want to get to.'' After securing a cupboard full of trophies at United, following a richly productive time in charge of Aberdeen, he never tires of success.

''Last year's championship was as good as the first,'' he said. ''Winning is your drug.'' Ferguson is 66 next month but said he had no plans to retire. ''There are no thoughts about that at the moment,'' he said. ''Definitely not.'' REUTERS AB RK2032

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