“I tried to play it down but the urge to lead the team out at Hampden Park obsessed me.”
Ferguson enjoyed 26 highly successful years as Man United manager, winning almost every trophy possible. In his time with the Red Devils, the Scot won 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, two European Cups, the Cup Winners Cup and four League Cups.
When he retired in 2013, Ferguson had few regrets from his time as a manager. Yet, the disappointment of his team failing to reach the Champions League final in 2002 remained.
Man United fail to reach the 2002 Champions League final in Glasgow.
Man United reached the semi-finals of the competition in 2002 and hoped to win the trophy again following their victory in 1999. The former Aberdeen manager announced the previous summer that he intended to retire following the 2001/02 season. He reversed that decision in February 2002, and remained at Old Trafford for another 11 years.
For Ferguson, however, the Champions League final still held very special significance. The match was to be held in Hampden Park, in Ferguson’s home city of Glasgow, and the opponents were Real Madrid.
If Man United could just get past Bayer Leverkusen, a glamour tie in his hometown awaited the Scot.
Bayer Leverkusen advance ahead of Man United.
Yet, the Red Devils fell short and exited the competition on away goals following a 3-3 draw on aggregate with the German side.
Bayer Leverkusen had talented players such as Michael Ballack, Ze Roberto and Dimitar Berbatov in their team. But Ferguson’s side were favourites for the tie.
However, they had to watch on as Real Madrid beat the German side 2-1 in the final in Glasgow, with Zinedine Zidane scoring a stunning volley to win the famous trophy.
“The one I really regret was not taking Manchester United to the final in 2002,” Ferguson said in 2016, before joking that the referee in the second-leg wasn’t aware of “Fergie Time”.
“The whole build-up was about getting to the final in Glasgow, but we lost the semi-final to Leverkusen.
“We were a bit unlucky, we ran out of time. The referee couldn’t understand my time and his time!”
Alex Ferguson: I may have jinxed Man United.
The former Man United manager also speculated that he may have jinxed his team. He travelled to Glasgow ahead of the semi-finals to inspect hotels should they reach the final. He now believes that was a mistake.
“In the build-up to the final at Hampden, I was told to go up to Glasgow and check out hotels,” he said.
“So I went up and checked out hotels that would have been ideal for us. I was driving back from Glasgow and I said: ‘I don’t like it, why have I done this?’
“And then we lost the semi-final, but that’s life.”
Ferguson on Man United’s disappointing 2001/02 season.
In his second autobiography, Ferguson noted in greater detail his disappointment about missing out on the Champions League final in Glasgow. He said it was the end note of a dispiriting and unsuccessful season.
“The 2001–02 season was a fallow year for us,” Ferguson writes.
“We finished third in the league and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, losing to Bayer Leverkusen.
“But there were to be no trophies in the year of my U-turn. This after a run of three straight Premier League titles.
“Then came my announcement, in February 2002. I would not be standing down after all.
“Once the retirement issue was cleared up, our form picked up dramatically. We won 13 of 15 games. I was desperate to make it to Glasgow for the 2002 Champions League final. I was so sure we would get there that I had scouted the hotels in the city.
“I tried to play it down but the urge to lead the team out at Hampden Park obsessed me.
“In the semi-final against Bayer Leverkusen, we had three shots cleared off the line in the second game and went out on away goals after drawing the tie 3–3 on aggregate. Michael Ballack and Oliver Neuville had scored at Old Trafford.
“Also in the Leverkusen side was a young Dimitar Berbatov, who was later to join us from Spurs.”
Man United reached the Champions League final a further three times under Ferguson.
They won the trophy in Moscow against Chelsea in 2008. And lost the 2009 final in Rome against Barcelona and against the same opponents in London two years later.
(Originally published March 5, 2021).