Alagi Yorro Jallow
Attention Manchester United Fans: A good book: Alex Ferguson’s My Autobiography” Short – review celebratory, revealing, inspiring, and entertaining book of the greatest manager nI the history of British soccer.
Sir Alex Ferguson was the most important football man of the past 30 years. However, this does not feel like a critical football book. Given the scale of his achievements, and the brilliance of the football teams he constructed over 27 years at Old Trafford, it feels churlish to carp about the quality of an autobiography published hard on the heels of his retirement. However, Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography is a flawed affair. Undoubtedly moving when, for example, it recounts the manager’s paternal pride in nurturing homegrown youthful talent, it reads like a succession of sporting back pages when settling scores with former colleagues and rivals the game.
Addicts of TalkSport-style football polemic will find a rich fare. The chapter headings suggest a highlights package of the rows, controversies, and personality clashes of the Premier League era. Rafael Benítez, the former Liverpool manager who accused Ferguson of exercising undue influence over referees, is given predictably short shrift (a control freak whose teams were “dull”). Twelve pages are devoted to the feud with Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal boss. More problematically, from a United supporter’s point of view, two central figures in the club’s recent history, Roy Keane and David Beckham are given harsh treatment: the first for challenging Ferguson’s authority; the second for allegedly “making it his mission to be known outside the game” and losing his focus on the pitch as a result.
Was the criticism essential, mostly since Beckham, in particular, has made efforts to mend damaged relationships since his departure from the club in 2003? Keane has accused Ferguson of failing to practice his cardinal virtue of loyalty, and there is something slightly unseemly, after the eulogies and endless tributes following his retirement, in Ferguson’s desire to enjoy a withering last word. This is “control” – the keyword in Ferguson’s management philosophy – exerted well after the final whistle has been blown.
If a final settling of accounts was required, did it have to be hurried out quite quickly? In its construction and style, the book sometimes feels rushed, as presumably, it had to be, once Ferguson decided in December 2012 that he would retire the following summer. Rather lazily, although he admits he does not remember saying it, Ferguson repeats his famous bon mot about “knocking Liverpool off their f… perch” and places it in the late 80s, when United still languished in the Merseyside club’s shadow. The famous phrase described an achievement, not an aspiration, and was made many years later, in 2002. Other passages of the book feel like a headlong rush through events that might have been more profitably reflected upon and then written about further down the line.
Such criticisms are minor compared with the book’s glaring difficulty. Throughout 350 pages, ghost-written by eminent sports writer Paul Hayward, barely four are devoted to the debt-driven takeover of Manchester United by the American Glazer family in 2005. Here, I should declare an interest. I am one of the 4,000-strong group who founded FC United of Manchester as a breakaway club in protest at the £700m debt that the Glazers imposed on a previously debt-free institution. Ferguson has always maintained that the hundreds of millions of pounds in interest payments to service that debt did not affect his ability to buy top players. Very few fans believe him. Incontestably, ticket prices shot up, becoming too high for many younger supporters. The so-called green and gold anti-Glazer protests of 2010 mobilized much of Old Trafford against the predatory owners. They do not rate a single mention in this account of the period.
“The takeover was not down to me in any way,” Ferguson writes. Nevertheless, he could have used his immense authority to fight a piece of corporate carpetbagging that his chief executive, David Gill, had said was not in the club’s best interests. Why didn’t he? For all Ferguson’s continual references to “power” and “control,” his autobiography barely addresses an immense power struggle of them all. Extraordinary.