LONDON, England (CNN) -- When Manchester United hired Scottish manager Alex Ferguson from Aberdeen in 1986, it was with two interlinked goals in mind: to bring the English league title to Old Trafford for the first time in almost 20 years, and to challenge the grip which their northwest rivals Liverpool had held over domestic football for more than a decade.
Alex Ferguson has won 10 English titles at Manchester United.
Ferguson was not an instant success. United finished second behind Liverpool in his first season in charge but initially it was Arsenal who challenged the Merseysiders' dominance as United slipped back to 11th the following year, then 13th and then sixth in 1991.
Though United had also won the FA Cup in 1990 and the European Cup Winners' Cup a year later, Ferguson could not have complained if the club had lost patience.
Yet, since Ferguson finally ended the club's 26-year wait for a league title in 1993, there have been United fans and players who have grown up knowing nothing but success. Inspired by the talismanic Eric Cantona, the midfield bite of Roy Keane and Paul Ince and the dynamism of the young Ryan Giggs, United clinched the league and cup double the following season.
By 1997, a new crop of stars had emerged with Ferguson placing his faith in homegrown talents David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville as United collected multiple league titles and ended a 21-year wait for the club's second European Cup in dramatic fashion, scoring twice in the dying seconds against Bayern Munich to claim the trophy in a 2-1 smash and grab.
And finally, Ferguson's third great team emerged last season, built around the creative flair of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, the cool defensive leadership of Rio Ferdinand and bolstered this season by exciting new arrivals including Carlos Tevez, Anderson and Nani as Ferguson took his tally of English league titles to 10.
"It's my strongest squad, no doubt," Ferguson, named both Premier League and League Managers' Association manager of the year this week, said after the 2-0 win over Wigan on Sunday that clinched the title. "If we win the European Cup I think you would have to put this group of players right at the very top of those I have worked with.
Having seen off the challenge of Chelsea in the Premier League, United now of course face the same opposition in next week's Champions League final in Moscow. Despite his success in 1999 -- and his Cup Winners' Cup successes at Aberdeen in 1983 and at United in 1991 -- it can be argued that Ferguson's status as a truly great manager will only be sealed by a second European Cup.
Some say achieving that goal in Moscow would be the perfect time for Ferguson, now 66, to bow out of football. Yet the work-addicted Scot appears temperamentally allergic to retirement and Roy Keane, a former protege now making his own way in management at Sunderland, believes Ferguson has a very good reason to keep going.
Having initially dreamed of challenging Liverpool's supremacy, with 17 league championship trophies to their name compared with the 18 on display in the Anfield trophy room, United now have the opportunity to usurp their great rivals as England's most successful domestic club.
"It's about winning," said Keane. "What else is there, what else drives you on? It's about being the best. For a club like Manchester United, that's what you're in the game for. If you're the manager, you've got to be winning titles. So the thing is to catch up Liverpool next. They're the target that Sir Alex Ferguson set at United when he first got the job."
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