A look at Sir Matt Busby's Manchester United, 45 years since his retirement

Matt Busby Statue

45 years ago today the managerial legend announces his retirement after achieving the impossible at Old Trafford.

On this day in 1969, Sir Matt Busby announced his retirement from Manchester United and brought the curtain down on a monumental era in English football.

Busby had become more than a manager at Old Trafford and was referred to as the embodiment of the club after he not only built a wonderful young team but had to rebuild the club from the ashes after surviving the Munich air disaster in 1958.

It is fair to say that the club would not be anywhere near as successful, famous or legendary as it is today without the graft of the Scotsman who taught the ‘Busby Babes’.

It is also true that the club took many years to fully recover after his departure, a situation which resonates now as David Moyes struggles to keep United at the top level following the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Busby arrived at United in October 1945, the month after the end of the Second World War, straight from his time as a football coach in the Army Physical Training Corps and he set about building an empire.

As a player, Busby had starred for United’s major rivals Manchester City and Liverpool, winning the 1934 FA Cup with City, but it was his managerial career that would define him.

With the assistance of Jimmy Murphy, his trusted coach who he described as his ‘best signing’, he revolutionised the youth system and instigated an exciting attacking brand of football which was played throughout the football club,

This approach bore dividends as United claimed the 1948 FA Cup and league titles in 1952, 1956 and 1957 before disaster struck.

Busby had pioneered competing in Europe and insisted United entered the fledgling European Cup against the wishes of the Football League.

In the 1956/57 season, United took to continental competition like a duck to water, crushing Anderlecht 12-0 on aggregate, beating Borussia Dortmund and then recording their first of many trademark European comebacks by defeating Athletic Bilbao 3-0 at Old Trafford after a 5-3 deficit from the first leg to reach the semi-finals.

The Red Devils then came up against a Real Madrid side closing in on the second of their five consecutive European Cup triumphs and were knocked out 5-3 on aggregate after a valiant 2-2 draw in Manchester.

The following season was when the Munich air disaster happened, a plane crash occurring at a stop-off in Germany after a 3-3 draw with Red Star Belgrade which had sent United through to the semi-finals for a second consecutive season.

The death tally reached 23, including eight United players and Busby himself was extremely fortunate to survive – staying in hospital for two months afterwards and having his Last Rites read to him twice.

This was a true tragedy and a trauma, and irreversably scarred both Busby and everyone associated with the football club at the time.

After a scratch United side were eliminated by AC Milan in the semi-finals, United couldn't have another shot at European Cup glory until Busby had rebuilt the side, but that is exactly what he did.

The incredible strength of character he showed to not only survive the Munich air disaster but make the club even bigger and better has got to go down as one of the greatest achievements in sporting history, and even the history of mankind.

Another FA Cup triumph in 1963 heralded United’s return to the top and Busby, with fellow Munich survivor Bobby Charlton, saw the club come full circle when having won league titles in 1965 and 1967 they finally conquered Europe in 1968.

A 4-1 extra time triumph over Eusebio’s Benfica in the European Cup final at Wembley was a remarkable and emotional way to mark 10 years since the Munich disaster and after that it felt like Busby’s work was done.

The following season he announced his retirement as first-team manager, although he remained at the club and moved into the role of ‘general manager’.

His successor Wilf McGuiness failed to maintain the high standards set by Busby and the great man had to return to the hot seat 18 months after retiring to see out the second half of the 1970/71 season.

As the 1970s progressed United suffered the indignity of relegation and had to look on as eternal rivals Liverpool dominated both England and Europe for many years.

Barring FA Cup triumphs in 1977, 1983 and 1985, United had to wait until the arrival of Ferguson who went about reinstalling Busby’s values of entertaining football and youth before becoming a major force once again.

Now Moyes is faced with a similar challenge to McGuiness, trying to replace a bona fide legend and build upon a dynasty.

While it surely remains unthinkable for Ferguson to return in the way Busby did, Moyes has a lot of work to do.

In this modern era, it is imperative to stay in the Champions League and remain competitive in the transfer market in order to keep yourselves in a position to compete for major trophies.

But Moyes can look to Busby as true inspiration.

The man from Bellshill, Scotland, built a footballing empire on the back of the Second World War and survived one of the greatest sporting tragedies to lead his club to European glory.

If Moyes can harness even the smallest amount of Busby’s legend, and achieve only a fraction of what the great man did, he will have done very well indeed.

image: © edwin.11

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