10 things we learned from Fergie’s book
A litany of broken relationships and a horse-shaped hole
Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Ferguson paints the picture of Roy Keane, his former captain and talisman, as an erratic and terrifying figure, capable of frightening even him and, certainly, many players inside the dressing-room. Keane ruled with an iron fist and a savage tongue, which Ferguson said was the hardest part of his body. Their fallout has become part of Old Trafford folklore and Ferguson traces the context to the decline in Keane’s on-field powers, and the related frustration he felt with that.
Keane had been furious about what he felt had been substandard pre-season facilities at Vale de Lobo, Portugal, in 2005 but it all kicked off when he gave his notorious interview to MUTV, in which he slaughtered many of his team-mates including, according to Ferguson, Kieran Richardson, Darren Fletcher, Alan Smith, Edwin van der Sar and Rio Ferdinand. Of Ferdinand, Keane is said to have been scornful of the defender’s belief that he was a superstar … “just because you are paid £120,000-a-week and play well for 20 minutes against Tottenham.”
Keane suggested that the squad watched the interview in order for them to make up their own minds and what followed was a ferocious confrontation between him and many of them, together with Ferguson. In front of the squad, Keane slated Ferguson for bringing his personal affairs to United, in the form of his dispute with John Magnier over the racehorse, Rock of Gibraltar. Ferguson said that it had been “frightening” to watch. He had to act and he immediately sanctioned the paying up of Keane’s contract and his departure to Celtic. Ferguson writes that Keane did pop in to see him to apologise but the relationship has since turned ugly again after public comments between the pair. Ferguson also passes judgment on Keane’s managerial career, saying that he needed money to build squads and lacked the requisite patience to do so.
2) Loyalty to the Glazers is undimmed
His attitude to United’s owners is best summed up by a photograph showing him laughing with Malcolm’s sons Avram, Joel and Bryan above a caption that reads: “The Glazers were supportive from day one. They let me get on with the job”. Ferguson says the club was always going to be bought from the day it became a plc and, in a claim that will be met with incredulity by some United fans, insists their ownership model had no impact on his transfer dealings. While recognising the interest payments aroused “protective feelings towards the club”, he says that “at no stage did it translate into pressure to sell a player or excessive caution on the purchasing front”. He relates how Andy Walsh, who went on to help found FC United of Manchester, asked him to resign when the Glazers took over. Ferguson says he considered himself an employee and the thought never entered his head. “I never thought it sensible to upset the management side of the club by adding to the debate on ownership”.
3) Rooney wanted Özil
Sir Alex Ferguson reiterated that Wayne Rooney asked to leave the club at the back end of last season. Rooney, who has denied handing in a formal transfer request, allegedly came into Feguson’s office the day after the title-winning victory over Aston Villa and “asked away”, with his agent Paul Stretford also calling David Gill. Ferguson also revealed that Rooney had wanted United to pursue Mesut Özil before he signed for Real Madrid, responding that it was “none of his business”.
4) Wine with José Mourinho … and his transfer failures
There is warmth from Ferguson in his chapter about José Mourinho and it is clear that the pair do enjoy a good relationship, despite what Sir Bobby Charlton, the United director, said about it essentially being a marriage of convenience. Ferguson likes younger people with a bit of devil in them and he smiled to himself when he saw the manner in which Mourinho first announced himself at Chelsea as the “Special One”.
Ferguson even admits that he went too far in his criticism of Mourinho after United had met his Porto team in the Champions League last 16 first-leg in 2003-04; Ferguson had been infuriated at Porto’s diving but, in truth, he was more angry about how Roy Keane had got himself sent off. When Porto knocked United out in the Old Trafford return, Ferguson found a way to congratulate Mourinho and they shared a glass of wine, which became something of a post-match tradition.
Ferguson writes that he found the wine appalling at Stamford Bridge and he told Roman Abramovich so. The following week, he took delivery of a case of Tignanello from the Russian. But the chapter veers away from Mourinho, as Ferguson discusses a range of topics from George Best to the desire of Nemanja Vidic to enlist for the Kosovo conflict and his personal transfer market errors, chief among them Kieran Richardson, Eric Djemba-Djemba, William Prunier and Ralph Milne. There had been the expectation that Ferguson would discuss why he did not advance Mourinho as his Old Trafford successor. There is no mention of the subject in this chapter.
5) The Pizzagate match at Old Trafford “scrambled Arsène’s brain”
The Arsenal manager emerges as his greatest bête noir over 17 years of intense rivalry. Away from the game, they can discuss wine and he is a diligent “member of our trade”. On matchday, things are different. Even then, says Ferguson, he can identify with “the sharp change in him when the whistle blew”. They got on fine to start with, although Wenger would never come for a drink in his office after the match, but then came “Pizzagate”. Ferguson says he had no idea who left him covered in pizza, although Cesc Fábregas is most often blamed, and claims that losing that match “scrambled Arsène’s brain”. The rift extended until the Champions League semi-final in 2009, when United beat Arsenal and Wenger congratulated Ferguson. Despite their rapprochement, Ferguson has a passing dig at Wenger’s “softer centre” in his later years, adding insult to injury by saying he felt sorry for him during the 8-2 mauling at Old Trafford, and says he has produced only one “truly homegrown” player in Jack Wilshere.
6) Manchester City’s success was hard to stomach
A whole chapter dedicated to Manchester City’s title victory details how their Premier League success was difficult for Ferguson to stomach. His wife, Cathy, told him that the final day of the 2011-12 campaign was the worst day of her life, and that he was determined to usurp them before retirement. Ferguson says United “absolutely battered” City during their 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford, but insisted there was no animosity towards Roberto Mancini. However, Ferguson said Mancini “let himself down” by allowing Carlos Tevez to return to the side after the Bayern Munich incident.
7) David Beckham and regret
It is clear that Ferguson considers David Beckham to be one of his chief regrets. He loved Beckham; he thought of him as a son and had nothing but admiration for the way that he chased his footballing dream; for his stamina, perseverance and desire to prove people wrong. But Ferguson came to believe that Beckham forgot what had made him a star and, increasingly, neglected to work as hard on the pitch.
Notoriously, matters came to a head between the pair when Beckham failed to track back on an Arsenal goal at Old Trafford in February 2003. Ferguson kicked a boot at Beckham in the dressing room, it hit him across the brow and, when the player allowed the wound to be photographed the following day, Ferguson made the decision to sell him. He believed that Beckham felt he had become bigger than him and the club.
Ferguson writes that Beckham had his head turned by celebrity; that he made the conscious decision to pursue fame away from the field. He tells the story of how the Beckham camp tipped off dozens of photographers about one of the player’s new haircuts (which turned out to be the shaven head), and how Beckham refused to remove his beanie hat before the big unveil, which infuriated Ferguson. He also writes that there was no “footballing reason” for Beckham to go to Los Angeles. Ferguson does not mention Beckham’s wife, Victoria, in the chapter of the book that he devotes to the player. There is no anger from Ferguson, merely dejection that Beckham squandered the chance to become of United’s most enduring legends.
8) He found handling the media difficult in his later years
Ferguson’s way of dealing with the media was to put his “Alex Ferguson face on”. He pines for the good relationships he had with reporters in his early years in Scotland and admits, without irony, “there was an intensity and volatility about the modern media I found difficult”. His distaste for the “young reporters who dressed more casually” is plain and says that by the end he found it hard to have any relationship with the press. His seven-year ban on talking to the BBC is glossed over in a page. The BBC3 documentary that sparked the row was a “horrible attack” on his son Jason, he said, and the BBC would not apologise. In end, he says, they “agreed to differ” but his point was made.
9) He is no fan of the FA – or referees
Ferguson claims the FA used to go after high-profile targets, such as Manchester United and Wayne Rooney, because it resulted in favourable publicity. “It was never really possible to work out who was running English football’s governing body,” he writes. “It’s an institutional problem. Reformers go in there 6 feet 2 inches tall and come out 5 feet 4 inches.” He says Greg Dyke has to reduce the number of people involved in decision making: “A committee of 100 people can’t produce sensible management.” Ferguson also, perhaps predictably, declares that there are no “really top” referees in the modern game, damning them as unfit and “as a group, aren’t doing their job as well as they should be”.
10) Ruud was rude
Ruud van Nistelrooy departed United in acrimonious circumstances in 2006, the final straw, according to Ferguson, being when the Dutchman swore at him on the bench after not being selected during the Carling Cup final against Wigan. Ferguson claimed he did want to sell the forward to Real Madrid but that his behaviour during his last year at the club forced his hand. However, Van Nistelrooy did make a phone call to Ferguson out of the blue in January 2010 to apologise for his behaviour.
And one horse-shaped hole … the Rock of Gibraltar affair
Given its centrality to Ferguson’s later years at Old Trafford, the dispute with Magnier and JP McManus over Rock of Gibraltar is barely acknowledged. It was that bitter dispute, over Ferguson’s right to a share in the horse’s stud fees, that led directly to the Glazer takeover. It is dealt with in a couple of paragraphs, with Ferguson admitting it was “awkward” but at no point interfered with his management of the club. The matter was “resolved” when both sides agreed there had been a “misunderstanding”, says Ferguson, matter-of-factly. He says he is now on “good terms” with Magnier.