Ferguson, Curbishley, or Allardyce?

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Martin O’Neill was lavishing praise on Sir Alex Ferguson today, possibly as a pre-game excuse for Villa’s inevitable 3-0 beating at the hands of Manchester United but more likely because he’s understandably wowed by arguably the Premiership’s Greatest Manager.

“I think Sir Alex is the greatest manager of the modern day,” said O’Neill. “I worked with arguably the best manager ever, certainly the most charismatic, in Brian Clough.

“He’s been absolutely fantastic. His enthusiasm, his determination, all those things that keep it going week after week, month after month, year after year, with players changing and new teams coming up.

“He’s had some very difficult moments, life wasn’t that easy early on and there was a stage where his days were numbered at Old Trafford.

“He had the ability to fight all of that and come back to prove what a fantastic manager he is. The rest of us aspire to what he has achieved – and most of us wouldn’t get within 6,000 years of him.”

If your sole measure for a great manager is winning, then it’s hard to argue against Ferguson’s two trophy-laden decades (sorry, Wenger). But if you’re being a little more fuzzy with your definition of success then it seems unfair not to rope in those who have achieved so much at “smaller” clubs with a lot less money and resources.

Alan Curbishley didn’t get a trophy for keeping Charlton in the top flight, and even having the temerity to flirt with Europe. Everything that’s happened since Curbs bolted The Valley confirms him as a miracle worker. He doesn’t get a giant replica of Gary Lineker’s head for establishing a Championship club in Premiership mid-table, and the opportunity at budget at West Ham should give him the platform to prove himself at the highest level.

Sam Allardyce’s achievements with Bolton are arguably better still. Sans the style and commercial-ready looks, Allardyce was Mourinho before Mourinho arrived. Introducing state of the art training and fitness regimes at Bolton, he carefully dissected the way modern football was played in the Premiership and designed a tactical system that rips it apart at the seams. Rival managers and supporters criticise it because they can’t stop it.

So while Alex Ferguson deserves all the plaudits he gets, this Christmas spare a thought for those who have literally taken their clubs as far as they can go.