A few have knocked him off his perch...

The 7 managers that finished ahead of Sir Alex Ferguson in the Premier League

Sir Alex Ferguson is undoubtedly one of the greatest managers of all time, but even the very best are knocked down and tasked with getting back up every now and again.

After a slow start at Manchester United, his side hit the ground running following the introduction of the Premier League, winning the inaugural title in 1992-93 and capturing a further 12 before his 2013 retirement.

Only seven managers have ever managed to finish above the legendary Scot, which is an achievement in itself. We’ve recalled them below.

Note: We’re talking Premier League era only here, including Manchester United’s unprecedented era of dominance from their first title won under Ferguson in 1992-93. There are a number of coaches that finished above Ferguson’s United in the six old first division seasons from 1986 to 1992. 

Kenny Dalglish

Dalglish had led Liverpool to league finishes ahead of Ferguson’s United before the dawn of the Premier League era, most notably in the title victories of 1987-88 and 1989-90, two of three he won as a manager.

Then at Blackburn, he was responsible for breaking the Red Devils’ stranglehold on the Premier League in the mid-90s. With English record signing Alan Shearer memorably banging in the goals, Dalglish’s Blackburn won the title in 1994-95, pipping United by a point.

Blackburn were the only side in the first five years of the Premier League to finish ahead of Manchester United. Dalglish later went to Newcastle, and returned to Liverpool during Fergie’s final years, but he couldn’t repeat the trick.

Alan Shearer turning out for Blackburn Rovers during the inaugural 1992-93 Premier League season, Ewood Park, Blackburn, 1992

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Arsene Wenger

“He’s come from Japan and he’s now telling everybody in England how to organise their football,” was Ferguson’s disdainful response to Wenger being appointed Arsenal manager in 1996.

But the Frenchman would go on to become the second longest-serving manager of the Premier League era, after Ferguson, and finished ahead of the legendary United coach more often than anyone else.

The peak years of Manchester United and Arsenal’s rivalry is widely considered the best and most compelling of the modern era. Arsenal got the better of United by beating them to the title in 1997-98 and 2001-02 before the legendary Invincibles achievement of 2003-04. They also finished ahead of Ferguson’s men as runners-up in 2004-05.

Gerard Houllier

As above, Dalglish led Liverpool to league finishes ahead of Ferguson’s United before the Premier League era.

But from the 1992 rebrand to Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, Houllier boasted the unique achievement of being the only Liverpool manager to finish ahead of Manchester United. A stark contrast to the post-Ferguson era.

Houllier’s Reds finished runners-up to Arsenal in the 2001-02 season, albeit a distant seven points behind. They were rampant in the latter half of that campaign, winning 13 of their last 15 matches to overhaul United and finish up in second.

That was the first Premier League season that United finished outside the top two, and third place would remain Ferguson’s joint-worst placing.

Claudio Ranieri

Like Houllier a couple of years before, Ranieri led a side to finish ahead of Ferguson’s Manchester United in 2003-04 – but it wasn’t enough for the title.

A second-place finish and an appearance in the Champions League semi-finals were evidence that Chelsea were a rising force following Roman Abramovich’s takeover. But they were no match for Wenger’s Invincibles and for that Ranieri lost his job, to be replaced by the biggest rising star in management… 

Jose Mourinho

“I enjoyed the competition with him. He was something fresh and new to our game. I don’t know what I will do with my wine now. I wish him well,” was Ferguson’s response when Mourinho was sacked by Chelsea in 2007.

After knocking United out of the Champions League on the way to lifting the trophy with Porto in 2004, Mourinho then arrived at Chelsea and led them to back-to-back Premier League title triumphs; the only other team to do that during Ferguson’s Premier League reign.

The Blues finished a massive 18 points ahead of Ferguson’s United in 2004-05, and eight the following year. But the Red Devils got back on their perch in 2006-07, winning the first of three successive titles.

The Portuguese tactician also holds the rare distinction of finishing ahead of Guardiola. Something only three other managers can brag about.

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Carlo Ancelotti

“As time goes on, the more I fall in love with Ferguson,” Ancelotti told Italian outlet La Repubblica in 2011.

“As a coach, he is unusual. It’s not as if he guides the training sessions because he delegates a lot and has an excellent staff. But he understands football like few do. With him, all the players improve.”

Don Carlo didn’t spend long at Chelsea, but over the course of his two years at Stamford Bridge he enjoyed a great rivalry with Ferguson’s United. The Blues stopped United making it a historic four-in-a-row in 2009-10, beating them to the title by just a point – and in some style, scoring a record 103 goals.

The following year United reclaimed their crown, finishing nine points ahead of Ancelotti’s Chelsea.

Roberto Mancini

One that will still sting for United fans to this day, Mancini etched his legacy into Barclays history by finishing above Ferguson on goal difference in the final minutes of the 2011-12 Premier League season – with Manchester City.

The Italian replaced Mark Hughes in the dugout as City looked to push on with their newfound, state-backed riches and a steady ascent saw them mount a title challenge in the 2011-12 campaign, occupying top spot in the league table for much of the season, before a blip allowed United back in.

United beat Sunderland away from home on the final day of the season which crowned them as Premier League winners with Manchester City losing 2-1 to QPR, before quickfire goals from Edin Dzeko and – crucially – Sergio Aguero turned their fortunes around, secured a 3-2 win, put them level on 89 points with United and ahead on goal difference.

It would be their first-ever Premier League title, their first league title since 1968 and the moment that propelled them forward forever. But Fergie got his perfect farewell by leading United back to their perch the following year.

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