This week Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates an incredible 26 years in charge of Manchester United and he will soon have a statue unveiled outside Old Trafford to further cement his legend. The Scot is the most successful manager in the history of British football by almost every conceivable measurement, but there is one notable exception where he falls short against another managerial giant; Bob Paisley's record in the European Cup.
A total of 17 managers have won the European Cup/Champions League on two occasions, including Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Brian Clough, but only one man has so far lifted the trophy three times and did so in an incredibly short space of time. That man is former Liverpool boss Paisley, whose triumphs in 1977, 1978 and 1981 still set him apart from some of the greatest names in football history.
To have won the trophy twice is testament to Alex Ferguson's immense expertise and it is worth noting that his two successes came nine years apart, proving his ability to rebuild from one great side to another (only the late Ernst Happel has gone longer between his two European Cup wins as a manager, tasting victory with Feyenoord in 1970 and Hamburg in 1983).
Yet it remains a source of frustration at Old Trafford that, in two decades of near total dominance at home, lifting 12 Premier League titles to overhaul Liverpool's record of 18 top flight triumphs in the process, Ferguson has managed to win 'just' two Champions Leagues - just one more than a patently inferior Liverpool have managed in the same period.
All of which puts into perspective Bob Paisley's remarkable achievement of guiding Liverpool to three European Cups in the nine-year period in which he led the club.
The argument that Paisley was lucky to inherit a powerful Liverpool from his predecessor Bill Shankly, who himself had been forced to guide the Reds from Second Division obscurity, carries a little weight, but too easily ignores the task Paisley faced in turning the club into Europe's finest.
Under Shankly, Liverpool's finest European hour was a 1973 UEFA Cup victory, but more often than not the Reds would crash out of continental competition in the early rounds. In Paisley's first season as manager this pattern continued, when Liverpool lost in the second round of the old Cup Winners' Cup, but he was astute enough to tweak their style of play to suit the demands of Europe, further emphasising the importance of possession, playing the cream of Europe at their own game, but with added British grit.
The results were spectacular, with another UEFA Cup added in 1976, followed by back-to-back European Cup wins and a third triumph against Real Madrid in 1981. By the time Paisley retired in 1983, the Red machine was so slick that a fourth European Cup was won a year later.
His achievements not only put him on a managerial pedestal, but also elevated Liverpool to the ranks of the European Cup greats, spoken of in the same breath as dominant eras achieved by Real Madrid in the 1950s and Ajax and Bayern in the early and mid-1970s.
By comparison, Alex Ferguson has not quite put Manchester United in the same bracket. Three finals in four seasons went a long way to proving his capability in the competition, but comprehensive defeats to Barcelona on two of those occasions put United firmly in their place.
Some like to argue that the modern Champions League, in which the stronger countries are permitted to enter more than one club to the competition, and also includes a group stage, is tougher to win than the old, straight knockout European Cup, but arguments can be made for the strength of both formats. Under the more stringent entry regulations of the old European Cup, for example, Manchester United - having finished runners up to Arsenal in the previous season's Premiership - would not have even been in the 1998/99 tournament, which they memorably won under Ferguson's management.
Likewise, if the Champions League is much more difficult to win than the old European Cup, why did a comparatively poor Liverpool team win the tournament in 2005, finishing fifth in the Premier League having finished just fourth the season before? By contrast, the 1978/79 Liverpool team - back-to-back defending European champions and a side that would win the First Division at a canter that campaign, conceding just 16 goals in 42 games - was knocked out of the European Cup in the first round, having had the misfortune to be drawn against English champions Nottingham Forest (there being no protective seeding or group games to protect the big clubs).
The competition's format has certainly changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent: it is an extremely difficult trophy to win. That is why Bob Paisley's three European Cups in just nine years (eight, considering Liverpool had not qualified for the tournament in his first season in charge) is a remarkable rate of success that Sir Alex Ferguson - no matter how incredible his career - will never match.
What do you think of Bob Paisley and Sir Alex Ferguson's respective records in the European Cup/Champions League? Have your say by commenting below or tweet the author, @worldofbloomers…