Alex Ferguson was the most honest manager I ever met, says Denis Irwin
Many top Irish players blossomed under him – until they were no longer required
Denis Irwin: there were no grey areas with Ferguson – you knew what you could and could not do. Denis Irwin: ‘There were no grey areas with Ferguson – you knew what you could and could not do.’
His bitter dispute with John Magnier might have taken just a little of the shine off things, but Alex Ferguson has made little secret down the years of his liking for Ireland.
On the professional front, there never been any doubt about his fondness for some of the country’s leading players, with Roy Keane, Denis Irwin and Paul McGrath amongst the most talented players to have featured in his 26 years at Old Trafford.
Irwin was quick to play tribute yesterday to a man under whom he won seven league titles. “He’s the most honest manager I’ve ever worked under,” he said. “There were no grey areas with him. You know what you can and can’t do on and off the field.
“He’s very understanding as well. For all the psychologists involved nowadays, he’s the best of them all. He understands, as he needs to, that football is a tough game with different personalities within that game. You have to deal with that accordingly and, as a man manager, I’ve never come across anyone better. It was a true joy to work under him.”
Irwin, one suspects, was a joy to work over too but the other two of the three mentioned above did rather more to test those man-management skills.
In his autobiography, Ferguson recalled the many attempts he made to halt McGrath’s slide towards alcoholism at a time when there was still some chance of salvaging his Manchester United career.
Asked about the Scot yesterday, McGrath observed: “he is an amazing man”, before expressing the wish he had paid more heed to Ferguson’s warnings as it would have resulted in a more successful career.
Instead, he moved on to Aston Villa where he did remarkably well considering his continuing personal difficulties and persistent knee problems.
Ferguson never regretted letting him go, however, insisting the defender had only been able to play on because the standards at his new club were not as relentlessly demanding.
Those consistently high standards were, of course, precisely what Keane appreciated most about Ferguson and the bond between the pair seemed special when the Corkman was at the height of his powers.
It broke, irrevocably it seems, in November 2005, however, with Keane departing the club in acrimonious circumstances after having become overly vocal in his criticism of others, in front of and behind the scenes.
“I said before I was disappointed the way I was treated at the end,” said Keane later, adding in relation to the prospect of a reconciliation: “I wouldn’t have thought so, no. He’s a busy man and I’m fairly busy.”
Others departed on much better terms. Kevin Moran, John O’Shea and, most recently, Robbie Brady, have all paid tribute to the part Ferguson played in shaping their careers.
Giovanni Trapattoni was full of praise yesterday too. “He should be recognised for the incredible results he achieved which are down to his expert knowledge of the game and his capacity for planning that enabled him to rebuild and renew his Manchester United side countless times during his tenure as manager.”
There are stories of Ferguson appearing unannounced at the front doors of Irish families in order to persuade particularly coveted youngsters to sign. The job of future Ireland managers will be that little bit less challenging if Ferguson’s successors are similarly inclined.