Ferguson: The mystery is becoming history

Date published: Wednesday 23rd September 2015 7:35

There is something desperately sad about Sir Alex Ferguson spilling ‘You’ll never guess what’ yarns to a gleeful public. Is there anything we don’t know anymore?


As you may have heard, Sir Alex Ferguson has another book out. It’s not just any book either, but the book which makes him as prolific an author as the Bronte sisters combined, which I hope you’ll agree is quite something. That nugget reminded me of the wonderful piece of trivia that pop group Blue have as many Greatest Hits albums as actual albums, but I digress.

‘Leading’ is being given something of the hard launch, a series of four UK theatre events beginning at London’s Royal Festival Hall and then on to America to launch the US edition, presumably with Fergie taken into Madison Square Gardens on a massive float accompanied by a ticker tape parade. You can take the boy out of Govan, but you can’t take… actually, you really can.

There was also the customary comfy chairs piece with Jim White on Sky Sports News, a beige interview carried out in a room laid out in a variety of beige. White, on his best behaviour having mopped up after Deadline Day, sat to attention like a Thunderbirds puppet, while I’LL INTERRUPT YOU THERE TO BRING YOU BREAKING NEWS: FERGIE HAD CAPPUCCINO AND WATER, WHITE HAD WATER WITH SLICE OF LEMON. An appearance on Loose Women would complete Fergie’s PR assault. I’m only half-joking.

‘Leading’ comes hot on the heels of ‘Alex Ferguson – My Autobiography’, ‘Managing My Life: My Autobiography’, ‘Alex Ferguson: 6 Years at United’, ‘A Year in the Life: The Manager’s Diary’, ‘A Will to Win: The Manager’s Diary’, ‘The Unique Treble: The Inside Story’ and ‘The Unique Treble: Achieving Our Goals’. That’s an awful lot of anecdotes, and surely an awful lot of repetition. There’s only so many times we can hear about Giggs, Sharpe and that bloody party.

There is an inevitable amount of self-whoring involved in plugging a new book. After putting copious amounts of love, sweat, time and money into its publication, the author is understandably desperate for that commitment not to go to waste. Nobody should be criticised for trying to give sales a fillip.

It should be pointed out, however, that Ferguson is not exactly struggling for cash. His personal wealth was estimated at £34m in April 2013, whilst in January it was revealed that he is paid £108,000 every day by Old Trafford for his role as ‘global ambassador’. Suddenly that praise for the Glazers makes sense.

There is an issue (or just a trend, depending on your view) in football punditry whereby the word ‘opinionated’ has become synonymous with controversial. With an audience increasingly demanding its news in bite-sized chunks that they can consume in seconds, stories have to be bold and brash to be heard. Sex sells, but failing that just say something that lots of people will disagree with. We could broadly label it the ‘Savage principle’; he who shouts loudest steals the stage.

One expects this sort of behaviour from recent ex-professionals trying to make their way in a difficult world with 40 years to fill, but there is something desperately sad about Ferguson spilling such ‘You’ll never guess what’ yarns to a gleeful public.

Even as a staunch Cloughite I can accept that this is the greatest manager in English club history, one of very few able to bridge the game between ‘old’ football and the modern game. Yet this football king, this Goliath of United’s history, has been reduced to a glorified travelling salesman, flogging his secrets in return for money. ‘Quick question,’ Ferguson is effectively asking. ‘Who does your tampons?’

Hearing Ferguson opine that he only managed four world-class players in over 26 years at Old Trafford made my heart sink. Not because his opinion is especially ludicrous, but because I’m unconvinced it’s even his opinion at all. It sounded like a soundbite, a strategically placed piece of controversy designed to make hundreds of people think “Damn, I disagree/agree with that statement very strongly so I’m definitely going to buy the book as soon as I can available at all good retailers for twelve pounds only thank you”.

There is also an element of sadness to the way Ferguson feels the need (or desire) to reveal everything about his methods. Written with Welsh venture capitalist Michael Moritz, his book is styled as ‘an inspirational guide to great leadership’, but basically explains at length how his methods can be transposed into the corporate arena. If it’s football romance you’re after, go read Roy of the Rovers.

One of the most endearing facets of football’s greatest managers is their enigmatic air and the mystery that surrounds their achievements. Their success should be retold through whispered apocryphal tales from those who knew and worked under them, not shouted from the rooftops by the men themselves. Bill Shankly, Brian Clough and Bob Paisley, Ferguson’s three closest rivals for any ‘greatest’ tags, each agreed to one autobiography, but crucially all left the reader feeling like they knew of the man, but not the man himself. Clough in a teaching position at Harvard Business School? You can only imagine the choice response, young man.

It is impossible to doubt Ferguson’s success as an author. His last effort, ‘My Autobiography’, became the quickest-selling non-fiction book in UK history, and the latest addition to his library will no doubt sit on thousands of coffee tables across the land.

Therein lies the melancholia. As the words keep flowing and the pile of books keep growing, what we don’t know about Manchester United’s greatest manager inevitably decreases. It is the dim haze of mystery that adds enchantment. With Fergie, that mystery is history.


Daniel Storey

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