The Busby Way to Talent Management: The Phoenix Rises – Part 2
Busby said “From the start, I had envisaged making my own players, having a kind of nursery so that they could be trained in the kind of pattern I was trying to create for Manchester United”. Busby now was restless. He wanted to pit his team against the best in Europe and not just win the English league. No English club had till then ventured out to Europe. The English Football Association was against English clubs participating in the European cup, where the top 2 or 3 clubs from every European country competed. But Busby wanted to pit his 22 year olds against Europe’s best, the likes of the great Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas of Real Madrid, Eusebio of Benifica, Johan Cruyff of Ajax, Gerd Muller and Franz Beckenbauer of Bayern Munich.
Busby’s philosophy was that if you played in your backyard alley and won, you counted for very little and you will not improve. He wanted his players to spread their wings, to go out and compete against the best teams away from home and test their abilities. The powerful people from the English Football Club were working overtime to spoil Busby’s plans. Busby took them on and once again prevailed. Manchester United became the first English football team to play in the European cup in 1956-57 season. They made very good progress and lost to Real Madrid in the semi- finals.
Busby said that now his boys knew that no one was invincible and that his boys had earned the right to be with the very best of Europe. They were on the road constantly seeking out and playing against the very best. Busby was one of the boys, always on the road with them and by the touch line, every match. He travelled with them by bus or rail.
Then the tragedy struck. In February 1958 they were returning home on a chartered flight from Belgrade, after playing Red Star club in the European cup match. Their plane crashed when taking off from the Munich airport. 21 people on board died. 7 players and 3 officials lost their lives. Busby was grievously injured. Duncan Edwards the rising global star died a few days later in the hospital. Roger Bryne the captain also lost his life. Tommy Taylor and David Pegg were gone. Bert Whalley the club’s coach also perished. Jimmy Murphy the assistant manager and the Busby confidant was luckily away on duty with his national team, Wales. A generation of players, officials and trainers were all gone in a moment. Busby was proclaimed dead twice, only to be revived during his 9 weeks fight in the hospital.
Barely 13 days after the crash, Jimmy Murphy and Bill Foulkes put together a team with 2 survivors from the original team and rest from the youth team, reserves and a few hasty sign ups. When Jimmy and Bill led the team out, the players asked them what they should play for: Jimmy told them – a win what else! True to the Busby spirit Manchester United played the match with tears rolling down their cheeks and won the FA cup match for Busby and their dead and injured colleagues. 49,000 spectators in the stadium and many more around England that day enrolled themselves into a cult: The Man U cult was born!
A few weeks later, before the FA cup semi-finals Busby sent them a recorded message from his hospital in Munich. His message was “Good to hear lads that we have reached semi-finals. Good luck and Play on”. The players felt that the boss was still with them, not on his hospital bed. United lost to Bolton in the finals. Bobby Charlton, one of the crash survivors remarked, “We lost, but it did not matter because a lot of people thought that the club will go out of existence. Not one of us. Busby will be back. We will build a new team and nothing has changed.”
Busby felt that he owed it to his beloved Babes to build another team, one which will complete the unfinished task of a European cup win and bringing the league title back. He was in a dilemma. How could he again build it with a generation of great players gone suddenly? Could he build a great team once more? He had to start all over again. Yet by 1960 he set out to do just that.
He now did not have time. The original philosophy of home grown, youth based talent had to wait. He first needed a team to play and one which can win. He decided to sign a few players: Only a few. He wanted players who had the skills, dynamism and an ability to build cohesiveness by pulling together the other players with budding ability. Dennis Law the striker from Torino Italy was that player. He added the stout-hearted mid fielder Paddy Crerand. Law Scored 29 goals in his first season and Man U won its first trophy in 1962-63 after the Munich tragedy. Law Scored 49 goals the next season.
Law stated “Matt Busby had built the 1958 side and he also had the 1948 side. He had built two great sides before and now it was the beginning of building a new great side. So I signed up for him”. Busby blended the big money talent quickly with Charlton, Foulkes, Giles and Herd. He dispatched off 2 veterans Viollet and Dawson during the off-season. Busby did not forget his youth programme. Out came George Best from the nursery. The grand Busby forward line, the fearsome attack machine was back again with 3 great forwards: Law, Charlton and Best. All three went on to win the European footballer of the year in the next few years. United won six trophies with the new dream team.
In 1968, a full 10 years after Munich, Manchester United won the European cup defeating Real Madrid in a heart stopper. True to his philosophy when United were 2 goals down in the half time during the second leg, Busby entered the dressing room and said “Lads, that’s not the Manchester United way, we do not defend and defend. Go out there and attack – no matter what happens.” Charlton recalled, “That took all the pressure out of us.”
This was his crowning glory: Manchester United had finally won the European cup; a dream he had chased for 24 years for the club, for the 1958 Babes — his lost generation, for the dream team of the 60s and finally for his two decades of relentless grooming and faith in one young talent after another.
Finally, Busby could retire now and he did in 1969.