Sir Alex Ferguson has proved that management becomes easier with experience. But then, in his case, that would inevitably be true; when he was appointed by East Stirlingshire in 1974, the club had only half a team of signed players and no goalkeeper.

Ferguson's scoring statistics as a player in Scotland (186 goals in 344 matches) are more impressive than the man himself would admit but his on-field career was one of missed opportunity. He was marginalised at Queen's Park and St Johnstone, dropped by Dunfermline Athletic for the Scottish Cup final of 1965 and handed a large share of the blame for Rangers' defeat in the same occasion four years later.

After Ferguson's playing days fizzled to an end at Ayr United, East Stirling was the first club to recognise his coaching potential. Within a matter of months he was handed the reins at St Mirren, where he revived the fortunes of an ailing Paisley side.

Ferguson's young and exciting St Mirren team progressed from toils at the foot of the Second Division to First Division champions, but he was sacked controversially by Willie Todd, the chairman, in May 1978. By the time of his departure, St Mirren had occasional crowds topping 20,000.

Todd later explained that he had "no option" but to dismiss Ferguson, believing his manager had been tapped up by Aberdeen. "There were various other stories at the time, such as one about Alex wanting players to receive tax‑free expenses, but that was not the real issue," Todd said. "The issue was St Mirren being destabilised because the manager wanted to leave."

Ferguson did indeed arrive in the north‑east, where Aberdeen recorded astonishing success at home and abroad. Despite a slow start, Ferguson guided Aberdeen to three Scottish Premier League titles, four Scottish Cups, one League Cup, a Uefa Super Cup and the club's finest hour, in the 1983 Cup Winners' Cup final. A managerial legend had already emerged, as had accounts of Ferguson's dressing-room temper.

By 1985, Ferguson had joined the Scotland national team's coaching staff. He was to take charge in full, briefly, following the shock death of Jock Stein.

Having knocked back the chance to manage Arsenal, Ferguson was to accept overtures from Old Trafford. His achievements at Aberdeen were such that he had simply outgrown the Scottish game.

And yet, during the 1990 World Cup, the then-Hearts chairman Wallace Mercer believed he could close a deal to bring Ferguson back with a package that included shares in the club and the dual title of manager and director of football. After careful consideration, Ferguson declined Mercer's offer as he believed he could make a success of things in Manchester. How prescient that sentiment turned out to be.