He is the most successful British manager ever, yet Sir Alex Ferguson's sometimes confrontational style has also made him enemies. John Anderson looks back on a career spiced with controversy.

He is the most successful British manager ever, yet Sir Alex Ferguson's sometimes confrontational style has also made him enemies. John Anderson looks back on a career spiced with controversy.

He might not appreciate the comparison, given that he stood totally at the opposite end of the political spectrum, but Sir Alex Ferguson certainly shared Lady Thatcher's ability to divide opinion.

The recent death of the Iron Lady provoked as many cries of "good riddance" as it did "rest in peace", and Fergie's retirement is likely to polarise those within football just as starkly.

Before almost single-handedly turning Manchester United into the sport's biggest global brand, this son of the Clyde shipyards had served as a shop steward at a tool-making factory and been landlord at a couple of rough house Glasgow boozers, while cultivating his comparatively modest playing career as an "all elbows" centre forward.

Govan's mean streets

The traits he later displayed as a manager - ruthlessness, intransigence, single-mindedness - were acquired and honed on the mean streets of Govan.

Loyalty was a quality to be demanded and repaid in equally unswerving fashion, and his word was law.

Listen carefully to post-match interviews, and you will note that his opinions are often followed by phrases like "there's absolutely no doubt about that" or "there's no question at all about that."

Loyalty was a quality to be demanded and repaid in equally unswerving fashion, and his word was law.

An early indication of the feathers such an uncompromising set of values was to ruffle in future years came in the immediate aftermath of Ferguson's second successive Scottish Cup final triumph, with Aberdeen in 1983.

Rather than congratulate his players on a 1-0 win over Rangers, he chose to castigate them for what he saw as a sub-standard display, saying there was no way the club could take any glory from "a disgraceful performance".

Ferguson 'hairdryer'

It was not to be the last time players would experience the infamous Ferguson hairdryer.

Among many who fell foul of it were Gordon Strachan, Paul Ince, Ruud van Nistelrooy and even David Beckham, who was the recipient of a flying boot kicked by his manager with all the force and accuracy of a trademark Becks free kick.

Fergie's rule was absolute, and no player was too big to be shown the door.

Fergie's rule was absolute, and no player was too big to be shown the door, as the likes of Paul McGrath, Jaap Stam and Roy Keane found out; and seldom was the parting of the ways followed by an olive branch.

Managers too have discovered Ferguson to be a fierce and remorseless adversary. Kevin Keegan's "I'd just love it" outburst in 1996 demonstrated just how deeply the Manchester United boss was able to get under the skin of opponents and how keen they were to put one over on him.

In his more eloquent and measured manner, Arsene Wenger was another whose desire to see Arsenal topple United seemed to stem from a personal as much as professional level. During the period when his side and Fergie's were the pre-eminent English clubs, it almost became a feud as much as a rivalry.

All hell broke loose

In 2002, when Fergie described Arsenal's double winning team as scrappers, Wenger's brilliant rejoinder was that "everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home".

Two years later all hell broke loose when a pizza was thrown into the United dressing room at Old Trafford after a home win over the Gunners. it was to be the closest Ferguson and Wenger ever came to sharing a meal together.

As recently as March, Ferguson was accused of refusing to greet the former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez properly before an FA Cup tie against Chelsea.

Inevitably, given that Fergie once stated his greatest challenge was "knocking Liverpool off their f****** perch", relations with United's fiercest rivals were no more convivial.

As recently as March, in the latest of the tedious handshake controversies which have pockmarked recent seasons, Ferguson was accused of refusing to greet the former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez properly before an FA Cup tie against Chelsea.

He denied it, but the continuing dislike between the two men is self-evident.

On the famous occasion when Benitez sat in the Anfield media centre and reeled off a list of "facts" about Ferguson's relationship with referees in 2009, the response from the other end of the East Lancs Road deployed adjectives such as "angry", "disturbed" and "ridiculous".

Ferguson 'less than co-operative'

Successive England managers have also found him to be at times less than co-operative, with requests to release players for international duty, particularly in friendlies. One former United player confided in me that he had been told by Ferguson to pull out of an England squad even though he was fully fit.

These imaginary ailments became known inside the camp as "Fergie-itis".

But perhaps the group of people for whom Ferguson spares his most vehement contempt and resentment are the media.

Any Manchester-based reporter who has covered United will regale you with a story about the time they were banned from press activities by Fergie.

Ask any Manchester-based reporter or broadcaster who has covered United over the past 26 years and they will regale you with a story about the time (or times) that they were banned from press activities by Fergie.

Incredibly, this once even extended to the club's own in-house television station MUTV, who he refused to speak to for a spell in 2011.

Most famous of these omertas was directed at the BBC, who he blanked for seven years after a taking exception to a Panorama documentary about his football agent son Jason.

Libel suit never followed

Although Ferguson senior dismissed some of the programme's allegations as being made up, he never followed it up with a libel suit.

I myself was on the receiving end of his wrath once as a junior Independent Radio News reporter in the early 1990s, for sticking a microphone in where it was not wanted, and was left under no illusions as to the fact that my presence had been unwelcome.

As if to underline the complex and at time contradictory nature of the man, some years later I was invited to interview him about the publication of his autobiography, Managing My Life, and he was charm personified as we spent half an hour or so in a fascinating discourse about everything from groin strains to Posh Spice over a pot of tea.

Love him or hate him, it is difficult to imagine football without Fergie and it will be a much duller place when he's no longer ranting and raving from the sidelines.

To adapt one of his own phrases: Sir Alex Ferguson - bloody hell!

John Anderson is a football commentator and sports writer. Follow @GreatFaceRadio on Twitter

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