Chelsea fan and False Nine debutant, Stu McKain, takes issue with Sir Alex Ferguson’s command of the media and the FA’s leniency in the past when his words have gone overboard…
“I am disappointed with him – we have not had a good record with him.”
These remarks came from Sir Alex Ferguson following Manchester United’s disappointing draw with Tottenham Hotspur on January 20 2013, concerning assistant referee Simon Beck. Arguably, this spiel could have been cherry-picked from any losing match report since the Old Trafford club won their first Premier League title – under his stewardship – in 1993 though.
Although there is no evidence to suggest that Sir Alex’s winning mentality is wavering and I have the utmost respect for his achievements over the past 25 years, I am of the belief that ‘Fergie’ has risen to a dangerous position in football, where he holds a status ‘above criticism’. This belief is two-fold so please stick with me…
Firstly, I cannot remember the last time Sir Alex took responsibility himself, or blamed his team, for United’s failure to secure all three points. Although there may be some method to this madness, potentially deflecting the spotlight from any under-performing players, I would be disappointed in my own manager (Rafa, Robbie, Andre, Carlo, Guus, José, take your pick really) if they failed to acknowledge lapses of concentration from their team or alternatively a successful and well organised opposition.
To use the example of Ian Holloway, admittedly a special case at the best of times, I find his post-match analysis so refreshing and honest:
“We are no good at shutting up shop. Our shop never closes. It could be one of those late-night openings which costs us our position”.
In contrast, you’ll notice that after a United match, the commentaries either highlight fierce criticism of an officiating mistake or as expected, a description of a run-of-the-mill closely fought win [more often than not, punctuated by a Robin van Persie brace]; never a team defeating Manchester United fairly through dangerous attacking threats and a solid back line.
To illustrate this point and show Fergie’s influence on a national level, it should be noted that the Football Association issued no ban for his choice words following United’s win over Newcastle United in December. This indicated that the FA were intimidated by Alex, especially since Villa manager Paul Lambert received a one-match touchline ban having only been reported as saying “I haven’t a clue what [assistant referee Adrian Holmes] saw”, and Fergie walked free.
Secondly, it is no surprise that the FA should be under the influence of Sir Alex, given his constant cries of “Wolf Wolf” in the media whenever he feels hard done by. Take the Swansea game a month back: if it were up to the United chief, centre back Ashley Williams would be facing a criminal trial for simply kicking a ball at his Dutch boy wonder. During an interview with Sky following an off-colour performance (funnily enough), the Scotsman stated that “the FA has got to look into it regardless”, piling further pressure on the governing body.
This is not a new phenomenon that Sir Alex has developed, but a strategy that he has utilised time after time. He was handed a four match touchline ban in October 2009 for questioning the fitness of referee Alan Wiley after a 2-2 draw with Sunderland, a tirade that typically took attention away from a drab United performance that had been rescued via a 95th minute own goal from Anton Ferdinand:
“He was not fit enough for a game of that standard. The pace of the game demanded a referee who was fit. It is an indictment of our game. You see referees abroad who are as fit as butcher’s dogs. He was taking 30 seconds to book a player. It was ridiculous.”
The comments were deserving of a four-match ban, but it is clear from subsequent actions that Ferguson has learnt nothing in the three years that have since passed.
Finally, I don’t believe it is up to Sir Alex to decide who or who isn’t “a big club”. I have to admit that I have no strong affiliation to Newcastle United, but one thing I do know is that they are not simply “a wee club from the North East”. Football is first and foremost a religion in that part of the World, similarly to Manchester, and their history or the loyalty of the Toon Army should never be degraded, as part of some personal spat with a rival manager. This is, after all, the same Sir Alex Ferguson who derided Rafa Benitez’s ‘arrogance’ when he labelled Everton a small club back in 2007.
On the whole, although some of the comments above could be attributed throughout the Football Universe, Ferguson stands apart. The arrogance of United’s manager has led to a universal aversion to one of English football’s most successful clubs, and often sidelines real debate on the merits of his sides’ performances.
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